those calls do not always come in the form of a phone ringing, but this one did.
it was early monday morning, i was minding my business, taking a stroll on the round-about that is the basement treadmill. phone rang. i answered.
“hullo, this is the lynn sage breast center at northwestern memorial hospital,” said the voice on the other end of the line. i felt a grand canyon of unanswered question gouge into the empty space between her last utterance and the silence that fell after it.
“yes,” i finally spoke up, voice creaking, begging to know what was coming next.
“the radiologist…,” i heard her say, then something about my last mammogram, the one two weeks ago. “abnormal… they’d like you to come back… as soon as possible.” so flowed the hyphenated string of words, the sound of my heartbeat drowning out whatever came between.
and so my week began with a crash and a boom. we scribbled in the appointment, the voice and i. it would be first thing the morning after the fourth of july independence holiday.
next up, the pounding of the digits on the phone face. tried to call the mate. he wasn’t there, and i wasn’t leaving that message. so i called my mama. rounded out my life list of swears-in-front-of-my-mother with a new addition, the f word. glory be to the heavens, she echoed it right back. it was a morning for firsts, all right.
and so began a 72-hour trip to heck and back.
that’s all it takes for a girl with an imagination like mine to see her whole life unspool before her eyes.
you thought you were headed to cambridge, i sassed myself. not without an oncologist’s phone number tucked there inside your pocket. you thought you liked your curly wild silver hair? imagine it missing. and so it went, through most of the week.
i saw fireworks through eyes that wondered what the morning would bring. i took a shower and barely glanced down, for fear that the sight of those troublesome lumps would make my knees buckle under right there beneath the pounding beads of shower stream. i pictured myself sprawled out on the couch in the bay window of the cambridge three-flat. wondered how i’d lug the groceries up the stairs. wondered if chicken broth and saltine crackers would be the mainstays of my cambridge foodstuffs.
it’s the reality check that tumbles us to the ground. it’s the fear of God that shakes us to our core. it’s that rare-enough interlude when we feel the world as we know it slipping through our fingers, when we can’t quite close the gap, can’t contain the fall.
i can’t say that it was wasted time, not at all really. it’s that top-to-bottom accounting of one’s life. weighing out all the bits, sifting through to what matters, what matters fiercely.
why, setting the table seemed a joy. grilling vegetables, pure pleasure. holding hands with the ones you love. listening to my college kid speak these words: “not you, mom, you’re invincible.” standing in front of the mirror, deciding that unruly mop atop my head, it’s who i am and i am not about to surrender it. not without a tussle anyway.
i consider all of it a practice drill for sizing up the joint. it’s not a bad thing — how could it be? — to take inventory of the whole of your life, to divide it into piles, this here’s essential, this does not amount to a hill o’ beans.
and in the end, all that mattered was boiled down to one short list, one simple prayer: dear God, let me live out my days being a mother to my holy blessed children. let me be there, God, on the days when they need me most. let me get that little one straight into high school, please. let me filter down into their backbones and their spines. let my sparks of light illuminate the darkest corners of their soul. dear God, give me sunrise skies in the mornings, and starlit domes at night. let me dwell, quiet, in the garden. let me smell the roses on the climbing vine. dear God, let me walk beside the ones i love. let me hear their voices, peals of laughter; let me brush away their tears when next they fall. dear God, give me the simple joy of sitting together at breakfast, of taking to the front porch with a tin of pie and two forks. give me blueberries piled high. and the unbroken blessing of a day without a worry.
but most of all, dear God, give me one more round with my little boy. he’s not ready yet to run without me at the finish line.
and sure enough, i signed into the special room yesterday morn, the one at the end of the long hall, the one already filled with too many other women with too much worry etched into their cheeks, their eyes, the corners of their mouth. we sat there, a sorority of holy desperation.
until at last they called my name. pointed the way down the long hushed hall. there, behind a door marked “A,” as i went to set my coffee mug on the top shelf of the skinny locker, as the nice lady handed me the hospital gown, instructed me to leave the ties in front, before i saw it coming, the coffee came tumbling down, all over me, on my once-white t-shirt and khaki shorts, dripping down my knees, straight to the tops of my garden-stained toes.
“may that be the worst thing that happens to you today,” said the nice lady, as she grabbed a hunk of tissues, mopped me up.
a long dull 45 minutes later, after the ladies with the magic wand pressed it back and forth, over and over, across the top of the lumpy place, at last came word that in fact the coffee spill had been the worst of it: “go home,” the attendant said.
simple as that. it was all over. the radiologist read the images, determined nothing lurked there.
“that’s it?” i asked.
“that’s it. you’re done.”
i climbed off the table. shoved open the door. walked back to the locker where my stained clothes hung.
i spent the rest of the whole long hot day whispering these simple words: thank you thank you thank you God. thank you, one more time, for the breathtaking chance to wrap my arms around my boys with not a worry in the world.
in the end, that was it, the only prayer that mattered. and the one that, this time, was wholly answered.
what was your last close call? and in the end, what’s on your short list of most essentials? the things you cannot, will not, live without?
My last abnormal mammogram reading turned out to be calcium deposits. THERE? When I’ve got see-through bones? Still the nonmalignent medical irony was a relief.
Mulling over what’s most important in a over-stuffed life, it comes down to being there for my father to the end.
beautiful. bless you…….
after the sifting, what’s left is so utterly pure….
(p.s. i am with you on the medical irony. calcium deposits, there? could we arrange for a shifting, perhaps, over to the long bones, the hollow bones….)
I confess I had to skip to the end of this one right at the beginning. Hallelujah, hooray. Let’s have coffee. Really.
Oh, bam, thank God. Thanks be to God. Have had that same call, twice. Last time was while I was planning my friend-since-second-grade’s funeral and bringing home her ashes, dead from breast cancer at 50, her 8th grade son motherless. I went to see the surgeon, blessedly a most compassionate woman. She listened to me, then got to business. I was going to need biopsy, but as she turned at the door, she looked straight at me and said, “Your friend? That is not your story.” It was like a benediction. And while I still have Dr. Jacobson’s titanium staple marker in my breast, she was right. Indeed, it was not my story. Thank you for reminding me to be grateful every day. I am so incredibly relieved to hear your “all clear.” Truly, as soon as I saw the photo, and now, I am welled up in tears. Thank God, thank God, thanks be to God that all is well. xoxoxoxoxoxo
benediction, indeed. that is not your story…..oh, we love power and conviction and compassion in a surgeon. but the words “8th grade son motherless,” leave me limp at the knees. bless him. bless him. he is my prayer today. oh lordy………..
He is now a rising senior and thriving, but will be forever changed by this on ways we can only imagine. Many of his friends’ mothers acquired an extra son when Ann died … and Jack is being watched over by the community of mothers who know how blessed they are to be able to see their children grow. Meanwhile, Ann’s ashes are still in my guest room until Jack is of age to decide where she should be at rest. And there are days I still grab her and weep …
Oh thank God in heaven. I sat here holding my breath with every word, waiting (and hoping) for good news at the end, my heart in my throat. Thank you, God. You WILL go to Cambridge, dearest, wonderful, curly-headed bam. Oh, and when you sip coffee with jcv, please save a seat for me.
I wish I could hug you right now. xoxo
you are, darlin. all that’s between us is a few (thousand) miles. and those are nothing when measured by the heart…..
phew!!!!!! thank you for so elegantly expressing the rabbit hole that many of us have been down in one way or another. and rather than just walking away dazed and relieved you of course remind us to be grateful. deeply grateful. xo
Darling bam, I’ve been in that same old waiting room “A” many a time. Was just there less than two weeks ago on a Friday for my “routine” mammogram. Ended up not being routine. The tech guided me back to the very nice radiologist. She showed me the images of my left breast, the one that has the little clips in there from 14.5 years ago when I first had breast cancer surgery. Now there are some new microcalcifications. They weren’t there last time, she says, and shows me up there on the computer screen. Little tiny grains of salt. That’s what it looks like. Harmless looking really. But she tells me that their tiny size and the fact that they’re clustered together is an indication of cancer. And she tells me that I need a biopsy. She answers the questions I can think of to ask and then I’m making an appointment for the next Tuesday for the stereotactic biopsy. (that experience is a whole other story!) And then on the very day that you get the best news, July 5th, I get the call with the biopsy results. It’s not the best news. But it is the second best news. DCIS. Not invasive. Probably no chemo. But it is in that same left breast that was radiated 14.5 years ago and so that complicates matters. I’m meeting with the surgeon today. Will know a lot more this afternoon. And like you my prayers have been centered around my darling children. So now I’m getting another chance to practice realignment. Ugh. I read a card recently that said “I’m ready for some blessings that aren’t in disguise.” Amen.
oh, dear darling, i have chills up and down as i read, and i am searching my desk for a megaphone so i can call the chair ladies to prayer here. oh, darlin. what can we do? can we all leap in and tackle those damn DCISs? can we please find a cure for this dread disease? why, why, so many women we love harbor some phase of this, holding it so close, too close, to their hearts? i will find you in a form not just here at the table. yes, an end, please, to blessings in disguise. some naked blessings, please. sending love, and a hundred thousand prayers.
chair people, start your prayer engines. xoxox
Ah, the blessing and the curse of an active imagination. I have been there, able to spin tales of a future life based on an idea, a fear, a dream, a hope. I have also, as most of us have, been in that same room at Lynn Sage and the places it can lead that imagination. So glad there is a happy ending to this story..