... these are the things that scare me...
Whenever a checkup approaches, I begin to sense a murky shadow become more and more defined, just behind my right shoulder. That's cancer, sneaking up behind me, waiting to tap me on the shoulder again. It's right. There.
On bad days, I feel like it's not a matter of IF the cancer will come back but WHEN it will, even though my oncologist, He Whom I Adored, assured me that once he was done treating me I wouldn't have breast cancer. (Then why do I still need to have mammograms? So confusing. Oh, I can get MORE. Awesome.)
On good days I think "Oh hell no! I kicked cancer's ass! I need to live like I'm going to live forever (or at least till I'm 93 like my great aunt and her siblings did) because I GOT ANOTHER CHANCE TO." Those are the days I stop and take pictures of flowers and little things that I see that just make me happy. My Instagram feed (Carlyq80, naturally...) is full of happy and bravado.
I went for my scheduled mammogram a couple of weeks ago, with a dear longtime friend who volunteered to bring me to chemo and was genuinely upset when I didn't take her up on it. Fine, I said, will you go with me from now on when I get images? Absolutely, was the reply. And she hugs me every time we meet, and helps me walk in the building when I just want to run back to my car and drive, and drive, and drive. And she waits in the waiting room for me, typing away on her laptop, while I go and stand before the machine, shaking, knowing that I will whimper in pain all through those "extra compression on the scars" images I dread so much.
- - - -
My mother in law is declining progressively. She appears to have Parkinson's. (I've believed so for years, but she has adamantly refused to even HINT at any symptoms to the only doctor she will allow to examine her. He takes her blood pressure, mumbles a little something about the aortic aneurysm we repaired a couple of years back, and goes away, not even realizing how useless he is to us. ) She has good days where she can walk almost unassisted, and bad days where she slumps to the side and forward and twitches so hard she almost falls out of bed, and is too weak to eat or even swallow but a few sips of water. And she sleeps.
I look at her and feel love for her, for the 24 years I have known her, and I feel pain for what she is going through, as the last shreds of her dignity are slowly stripped away. I sometimes go to a dark self absorbed place where I wonder how long it will be until the diapers and wheelchairs and hospital bed will be for me. Years? Decades? I tell my kids to someday put me in a kayak and let me paddle toward a waterfall, and they manage not to realize I'm serious.
I know that some of the gloom I feel is from Tamoxifen, and every now and then I can't take it...literally, I can't take the medicine. I look at the pill and put it back in the bottle. I will take it tomorrow. And I feel the difference, and it gives me hope, even though I know I don't dare pull that stunt again for another month or two. The day is brighter, and I am more content and optimistic.
- - - -
The doctor called me into a small room, and I got dizzy. I tried to breathe and listen and understand. She read my films, and she sees what are probably calcification spots, but until they're larger sometimes it's hard to tell, but there's nothing big enough to biopsy, and I should follow up with my surgeon and probably have an MRI in six months.
I remember how quickly things happened the last time, and I said to myself "This is different. It's not the same." But another voice was saying "I KNEW IT. HERE WE FUCKING GO AGAIN."
I walked out to my friend, and she looked at my face waiting for the smile and thumbs up, and all I could muster was to move my hand in a "Eh, so-so " motion before I started to cry. I sat down next to her and she put her face right in front of mine, inches away. "YOU'RE FINE. BREATHE. YOU'RE FINE. You've come through so much, you're going to be fine." And I cried.
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The aide who cares for my inlaws every night seems to have a knack for calling with her daily updates just when I have managed to find a moment of tranquility. She is our guardian angel and my biggest nightmare all rolled into one. She cooks for us, she washes their bodies and tries to help them cope with their steady loss of any independence at all, she cleans their house and keeps us from having to see certain things that would break our hearts. She is a drama queen and a martyr and we couldn't do this without her. Mom is really bad today and she can barely walk and I had to hold the cup up to her lips. But I can handle it. Well what the fuck is it then? She's really bad, or you can handle it?
My frustration bubbled over with one son the night before my visit with my surgeon. We screamed at one another, disagreeing about whether she is well enough to go to get the eye exam she has been demanding for weeks. I quit. "YOU take the daily calls" I shout, before I slam down the phone. My husband brought up nursing homes and muttered some frustrated remark about "until they're dead" and I fled the house. The wind danced all round me as I walked around the pond, comforting me. The darkness closed in around me, and I walked, and walked.
- - - -
The smell of the hand sanitizer slaps me in the face every time I walk in to the my surgeon's exam room. It brings it all back. The surgeries that left me unable to use both arms for days, the wound that reopened and got infected and stayed open for ten days of misery and excruciating packing and re-bandaging. The tiny yellow tube/ hose that was put in when they took more margins and repaired the other damage. I was so happy to see that go.
The med student is so young, and so very cute and earnest. I was probably out drinking one night in college when he was born. He looks right at me with his big gray eyes, and tries to explain to me that these results are not bad. Not at all. He does a better job explaining that certain words like "probably benign" mean this and that, and they wouldn't use those words if there was any reason for concern, and when you look at the scores and grades and.... (he starts to lose me there.... but he was pretty damn cute...)
It helps. I start to unclench my fingers. My surgeon comes in and restates everything he just said, and her decades of experience doing exactly this type of thing over and over carry me back to a limping optimism and growing relief. The shadows recede again for a while. I text my friends and let them snoopy dance and cheer for me.
- - - -
While I was in cape cod, on our last night we went out to an Italian restaurant a bit farther away from the house we use. When we were walking out of the restaurant, the sun was starting to set. I begged Mr C to hurry back. I had my good camera with me, and I wanted to photograph the sunset on the beach 200 steps from our house.
He dropped me off at a point where I could get to the beach in less than a minute. He and the kids went back to the house to play pranks on one another and eventually join me on the beach. But while I was there alone, it was magical. The wind was alive around me, and I could feel the endless energy of the earth and the sea. The water stretched out like the future I hope to have, one wave right after another and another. I shot and shot and shot so that when the fear comes back, I will have these photos to look at to remind me how I felt when I wasn't afraid.