I really don’t think about it much anymore. You might think that’s ridiculous since I have to dress my way around the mutilation every morning. And it’s true that every time a bruise or bump show up, there is a degree of panic. And yes, I can’t get past a ceremonial right of passage with my kids without referencing that day when I wrote in my deepest fears in my journal – that they might have to navigate the murk without a mother.
I know that sounds like a lot, but if you knew how much I used to think about it, you’d realize how much progress I’ve made.
So I went to see the ninja this week for my six-year check up without mentioning it much. I mean, really, how many times can I go back to that well, asking to be lifted up by people whose arms deserve a rest?
It’s a reality I’ve learned to live with: y’all have moved on and rightfully so. I’m always going to be on this leash.
I kept my mouth shut about the simmering anxiety this year. I walked up to the check in desk with a smile and tried to be blasé, but when they handed me a sheet to review my medical history and initial, I stood there staring at it like I was functionally illiterate.
T3 N1 M0
Only us lucky folks who’ve seen this room and walked this floor know what that means. It’s how they stage cancer. That means the invasive portion of my tumor was bigger than 50 mm, had spread to 1-3 lymph nodes, but there were no distant metastases. That’s stage IIIA.
And just like that, I was back to my first visit to this office, 8/15/08, when this amazing surgeon/ninja let me cry in her consultation room for an hour as she explained it all to me, including steadily and calmly telling me that 67% of people with similar diagnoses are still alive after five years.
Back in those hell days, the gears in my mental functioning would slip momentarily, and I’d have this crazy thought. I’d scoff and say, “of course I don’t have cancer.” This while bald or hospitalized or breastless and severely burned. Just a moment when the chain would slip off the gear, then go back to normal.
This Monday at the doctor, it was more derailment than slippage. Textbook PTSD, baby.
The woman behind the desk had to tell me more than once that I needed to initial the stupid form. Then they handed me the electronic check-in device that looks like an iPad/EtchASketch/Magnadoodle. I aced that portion of the exam and beamed when they complimented me on my quick completion of the copay. In a too-strained, too high-pitched, way too loud voice I responded, “YEAH WELL I’VE DONE THIS BEFORE.”
Fortunately, I managed not to let the crazy out by bursting into a Leonard Cohen song.
Baby, I’ve been here before, I’ve seen this room, I’ve walked this floor.**
Then I slowly and deliberately returned to my waiting room chair, just in case the world really had tilted in the last few minutes. I didn’t want to lose my footing.
As my 14-year-old daughter would say… awkward.
This is getting lengthy. Bottom line – it’s over for now. Full of jitters on the way in; exuberant on the way out. “You’re fine. See you next year,” the Ninja said.
You might disagree, but I don’t think that this reflection is an annual act of deliberate self-immolation. As I am wont to say, you can’t know how far you’ve come unless you know where you started. You can’t just pack it all up and store it in the attic. Your mileage may vary. So many metaphors, so little time.
** I did post that line to my facebook feed after I returned safely back to my waiting room chair. Here’s the song, treat yourself. I don’t think the line I referenced made the original cut. Apparently, he wrote 80-some verses while sitting in a hotel in his underwear. Google any number of covers. I think Jeff Buckley’s is the best. The line shows up at about 2:45 in that version.
But for cripes’ sake people, this is NOT A RELIGIOUS SONG. Please stop pretending it is such.