Ponder this:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Live like you were dying

On April 9, I went to the doctor for a long overdue checkup. And because I had found a lump where a lump should not be. 
On April 12, I had some non-invasive diagnostic tests.
On April 13, I had a biopsy done. Four skinny little worms of core samplings of my tissue laid on a saline-soaked gauze pad. The doctor showed them to me. I could see the white of the tumor among the pink of the apparently normal tissue. They looked like two-and-a-half-inch-long strips of chicken meat, with a little white fat.
I got dressed and met the surgeon in the hall at a little writing desk.  He told me where the tissue would go, when the results would be back. He was putting a rush on it, he said, and I should have my husband with me, or a friend, on April 16.
That's when I made The Mistake.
I asked him, "What do you think?"
He said: "I'm concerned that it's a breast cancer. But I've been wrong. That's why we do biopsies."

For a good portion of the drive home, I was talking to myself.  
  • Of course he thinks it might be cancer. Why else would I be having a biopsy? 
  • There are lumps that aren't cancer.
  • You don't know yet. You don't know yet. You don't know yet.
Jack Daniels whispered in my ear, "Let's talk it over." He was my companion in times of trouble for so long that it was a simple reflex of my brain.
I stopped and bought a chocolate mocha cake.
I stopped and filled the car's tank with gasoline.
I cried the three miles home from the gasoline station.
The trees, just beginning to be limned in green fuzzy buds. The sky. The hills. The hills!
I said to my Higher Power, "Please let Heaven be at least as beautiful as this."

When I was little, the beginning of summer vacation felt like standing on a mountaintop in the sunshine, surveying a limitless number of days of reading, playing croquet or cowboys, long warm evenings of catching lightning bugs.  Now I know school summer vacation is sixty-five finite days.
Driving home, stopping at the mailbox, coming down the driveway and seeing the house that we built standing against the background of hill and sky, driving into the barn, turning off the car, hearing the dogs' ecstatic barking: all were numbered now. Tick, tick, tick off a list of checkboxes.
I got out of the car, clutching the mail and cakebox.  

I let the dogs out and we walked around the yard. I stopped in the front walk and let out my two milligrams of Fiery Anger: I deserve MORE. I deserve BETTER! 

We all came inside and I fixed the dogs' supper. I told myself I should go outdoors and enjoy the weather, but my body was too tightly clenched.  I took off my clothes and put on my robe . . . and went on this informative and comforting website.  

...and then decided if I wasn't dead yet, and if the treatment might not kill me, I might as well go outside and live. That's when I got the garden trowel and Max's ball...

The sky was even bluer than before, the clouds perfect little puffs of silver white, the hills stronger and more steadfast.  The dogs' voices were music, the dandelions snapped out of the garden beds as if they were joyfully jumping free.  The trees, the messy brush and weeds along the stone walls, were just as they should be and impossibly beautiful in their perfect random arrangements.  The breeze was perfume. I laughed with the love of all of it. 
I brought in a wagonload of firewood against the forecasted damp cool days. What patience I had with that process . . . a chore that I have habitually hurried through, making it harder than it had to be.  Like so much of life.

On April 16, the surgeon's office phoned at 12:40. The doctor had a cancellation, could I come in at 1:30 instead of 4:00?
"I would be delighted," I said. "Let me call my husband and I'll call you back in five minutes."
Husband said, "Sure.  I'll meet you at the doctor's office." I called the office to say I would be there within the hour.

We sat in the examining room for ten minutes before Dr. S. blew in, dressed in blue scrubs that matched his eyes. He was smiling.
"You have everybody confused!" he told me.
"The lab always has two people look at each sample. One said, 'I think it's...' The other said, 'Mmm, it might be, but I don't know.' So . . . your tissue has been sent to Yale for examination."

I had been prepared for "It's nothing," or "You're dying." So unprepared was I for nuanced speech that I couldn't grasp what Husband was able to hear. Between Dr. S. and Husband I finally understood that yes, it is cancer, but most likely (no one wants to say it out loud until Yale weighs in) it's cancer that is usually encapsulated and doesn't go speeding off to lymph nodes. Dr. S. hastened out of the room and back with his book, "The Breast," and showed me pictures of the likely suspect: "This is what it looks like under the microscope."

Usually this kind of cancer occurs in two percent of breast cancers . . . in non-Caucasian women fifteen or twenty years older than I am. That's why the lab technicians are so keen to make sure that it's what they think it is.

All the way home, the completely overcast sky looked bright blue. 

May 6 at 9:00am we will have confirmation.
And we will proceed.

Given the choice, I wouldn't have missed this last week for anything.

"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, 
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
~ from Live Like You Were Dying, Tim McGraw

Thank you to Hilary at 


rachel said...

Oh, June, what is there to say to this? Such a beautifully written and moving account of what follows when the fear we all share becomes real. My heart goes out to you.

You know we'll be holding our breath till May 6th and wishing you the best of all possible outcomes.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

What a moving account of a dread-filled time. I recall being in a similar circumstance waiting for the results of a biopsy. I was walking the dog as sunset - wondering if this was literally the sunset of my life. Orange/pink clouds rolled low overhead and suddenly, after going around for a week thinking 'please not me', the words came 'why not me?'. With those words I was washed with a sense of peace no matter what the results would be. I did not have cancer - but I am ever so grateful for the change of perspective produced by the brush with it.

Continue to find sustenance and joy in mother nature's arms.

Fran Hill said...

I read your account and then I re-read your 'About Me' profile again. Snap.

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Oh June, Your beautifully written post made me cry. I am praying hard for you and the outcome. IF it is cancer, it sounds like it is the 'best' kind to have (if there is a BEST kind)...

One of my very best friends (my age --67) has breast cancer and hers is in her bones. She has two young grandchildren and another on the way. She (like you) decided to live every minute to its fullest --not knowing how much longer she will have on this earth.. I admire her so much... BUT---I'm also sad for her.

Death is part of life. We all know that... BUT-we are never ever ready to go. Your post is just perfect. None of us know how long we have on this earth.. AND--we all (no matter what is going on in our lives) need to live EVERY day in the fullest way we can.

Thanks for such a great and beautifully written post.
Hugs and Prayers,

threecollie said...

Oh, dear, I don't know what to say either. This is hard news indeed. I will hold hope and good thoughts.

Recycled Cottage & Garden said...

Prayers, good thoughts and good karma are being sent your way.

Joe Todd said...

There was a time when Jim&Jack talked to me all the time as you know. I did go skydiving once a few years back and even checked online about Bull riding but decided against that. No need to break any bones at this stage in my life.. "Living one day at at time and enjoying one moment at a time." Prayers are with you

Friko said...

Beautiful piece of writing, as always.
Dear June, whatever it is and will be, life does not end here. There is time to live and spare.
For one thing, cancer is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was, for another, any time is for living.

Any serious illness brings us up short; if we have the sense, we will look around us, as you did, and see everything we have in this world.

Like Bonnie, i have said "why not me", several times now; wasting time is for fools.

Wanda..... said...

June, we all should hope to be so admirable in facing the prospect of such news. Your account of heightened appreciation of the here and now was so moving. You are at the forefront of my prayers.
I wish you the best.
Wish I could share that Chocolate Mocha Cake with you!

janetrades said...

Life altering events, indeed.

My father died some almost 14 years ago of esophageal cancer. As it progressed, he joked about beating all of us to the next stage of scenery. Death is not an ending, it's just another turn of scenery on the path we're all walking/living/experiencing.

I hope that your path stays in this scenery for quite a long while longer. I've been reading along for some months, but haven't commented much (any?). I love your sense of humor and the beauty you see in the world. Thank you for sharing.

Many healing wishes and hopeful thoughts to you.

Von said...

Good news and hoping even better on May 6th,I so understand you not wanting to have missed it.These experiences are so good for us, letting us know we are human and letting us experience feelings we might otherwise not.Very best wishes...

Beth Camp said...

Your post takes us all on that journey of facing down our fears and knowing our days have limits. You've given the very best advice. I'm hoping you will have good news on May 6 and will be keeping you in my thoughts, dear blogger. Your post so matches the title of your blog -- Aging Gracefully!

#1Nana said...

I want to write just the right comment, but I can't say it any better than those who have commented before me. I admire your outlook and positive attitude. A friend of mine who was a great storyteller used to say about negative events in his life "Well, at least I got a story out of it." You've written a beautiful post...hang in there, we're pulling for you!

Hilary said...

You have a beautiful outlook which will take you far. Sending my best thoughts your way.

Autumn Mist said...

Like others before me, I am truly moved by your situation. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Carolynn Anctil said...

I just want to wrap you in a warm hug. So beautiful, so strong. May God's love reach down and envelope you in His tenderness. Holding you in my heart.

Barb said...

Oh. I see now what you meant in your comment to me, and, of course, we both know it's right - we do not lose control because we never had it. I am praying for the "good" kind of cancer. (Is there such a thing?) I'm starting to appreciate NOW more, and from your post, I know that you are, too. I'm thinking of you, June.

järnebrand said...

Very beautiful. Live life like you were dying... gets you thinking, doesn't it? Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
My heart feels for you, as I am trying to send all the good karma I can find your way... I am glad you chose that chocolate cake instead of listening to Jack.
Hugs/ Jo.

Tammie Lee said...

Hello June,
your words are written with an eloquent wisdom that makes my heart lean forward. But more so I lean forward so that my heart is closer to yours. I wish you qualities that will serve you each breath of each day.

ethelmaepotter! said...

I come via Hilary's Post of the Week; congratulations on a well-deserved honor.

Having gone through kidney cancer two years ago, I can definitely relate. You've described the progression of emotions perfectly and eloquently. And WHEN you get the good news that the cancer is not lethal, you WILL appreciate life that much more.

Even though that's one of my favorite songs, I tend to forget its message from time to time. Thanks for the brilliant reminder.

Anonymous said...

This was heartrending and scary and beautiful. I have become a fan and a follower thanks to Hilary at Smitten Image for finding and naming you in her search for The Post of the Week.

Jinksy said...

I can only add my good wishes to evryone else's, as well as congatulate you on such a heartfelt, heartwarming post.

Brian Miller said...

tight piece...beautifully written and heavy with true feelings...congrats on teh POTW!

CiCi said...

I like the part after the biopsy when you describe what you see and feel. I was enthralled with "the sky was bluer...the dogs voices were music...
the breeze was perfume. That whole description is absolutely beautiful, just like your strong spirit.
Congrats on the POTW.

Pauline said...

oh that see-saw of emotions! This is a beautifully written piece. Congratulations on POTW. It is well deserved.

Land of shimp said...

Hello, first of all, congratulations on the post of the week mention over at Hilary's blog.

Ay yi yi, that feeling of fear and dread, and that sudden awareness of what our lives actually are, and contain.

I hope with all my heart right now that you will be well, and I believe that it will be the truth of the matter. Remember though, no matter the ultimate diagnosis, this does not sound any kind of death knell, rather it defines the battle.

If there is a battle? You are up to the fight, don't forget that. You know why you love your life, and what is in it. You know for what you would fight, and it is a battle that can be won.

This is a difficult thing to put into words, but no matter the outcome, you are loved, you do love, and you are very much alive right at this moment. May you have many, many, countless moments of exactly that circumstance for many years to come.

I'm hesitating to put anything else down here, but I think I'll just go for it, and hope it helps. Right now, even as I type, my mother-in-law is battling an advanced form of breast cancer. Nearly eight years ago her husband walked out of the door, on his way to work, and an accident on the road took his life.

There is a fragility to our existence at all times, isn't there? Even at the moments we are not aware of it in any keen sense, it exists.

Thank you for that reminder, and again, be well. I truly believe you will be.

Daryl said...

First let me say this I am a cancer survivor and I have some important advice .. get angry, get really really angry this is invading your body. Then use that anger to be strong. You can win this fight. You will win this fight. Stay angry, stay focused and do what the doc tells you.

AND ... Congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary

Frank Baron said...

I'm glad I followed Hilary's trail of internet breadcrumbs. :)

Every challenge presents us with the opportunity to test, prove, and improve our character. And it seems plain to me that you have the right stuff to deal with whatever comes.

I'll check back. Enjoy the day. :)