LOS ANGELES—I sat down in the living room with ice packs and a glass of Pinot Noir, and tried to concentrate, convinced I should feel something profound before knowing the results of my biopsy, I closed my eyes and took deep breaths.
Not knowing whether the lump in my breast was benign or malignant seemed the best time to think about things.
Photo by Jocelyn Holt
As always, I define myself at first by what I’m not. This situation was no different. Should a cancer call come in, I made a list of reactions to avoid. There’d be no:
Bargaining. As a matter of principle, my nightly prayers, grievances and observations would stay the same. God is used to me and my lectures. To add “Please save me” or “Give this to someone who deserves it” would add a level of desperation that neither God nor I would appreciate. Whatever will be, will be. We’d handle it together, as we have other crises, like lima beans in my salad or NBC’s cancelation of "Freaks and Geeks."
Nonsense. No “Lifetime” movie-of-the-week revelations or breakthroughs. A-ha moments are against the rules in my house; they make as much sense as folding underwear or quoting Glenn Beck. I gave my husband permission to leave me if I got that starry look in my eyes, started reading spiritual guides or mumbling affirmations. I made a promise to refrain from posting status updates with sentiments such as, “Everything happens for the best.” I didn’t need an illness to understand the nonsense inherent in such an outlook. I once owned a Bon Jovi album.
Regrets. Looking back over the last 40 years, with the exception of once eating a mouthful of crab, I wouldn’t do a damn thing differently. No need to second-guess myself or engage in revisionist history. My actions, both good and bad, have led to a great life. I’ve done my best, said every “I love you” and “I’m sorry” that needed to be said and will continue to let the chips fall where they may.
Fear. It’s about as attractive as the compression pantyhose I wear when mopping the house, but at least those things make my legs feel better. Fear is absolutely useless.
Later that night, my mind shut down and I fell into a peaceful sleep. For the rest of the weekend, I welcomed the concern of friends and family with a measured and confident tone.
“Are you okay?” they asked.
“I’m fine,” I replied. “For now.”
This was the result of my assessment; this was my profound thought. I felt fine, no matter what, for now.
One of my readers put it best ”“ most of us are incubating something, we just don’t realize it. If a physician calls and says, “All clear,” what does it mean? Celebrating no longer feels right. Two years ago, a dear friend underwent a biopsy that turned out to be benign. Today she is beginning her second round of chemotherapy for breast cancer.
So whether I get that dreaded call today, tomorrow or next year, I’ve decided that I’m going to be fine no matter what.
As it happened, my lump was benign. I smiled and exhaled a little after that phone call, but celebrating still seemed false. After all, they will follow up with a diagnostic mammogram and clinical breast exam every six months for the next two years. If nothing changes, I can go back to yearly appointments after that.
Government panels suggested that early mammograms aren’t necessary. I couldn’t disagree more. The worry and exposure are real concerns, but women have been saved by early detection—women I know. So I’d rather be safe than sorry. The introspection that comes with an abnormal mammogram helps as well. I am more confident about my choices and appreciate those in my life more than ever. I have no idea how I would have handled a different diagnosis. My usual cocktail of bitterness and humor would probably have carried me through, but I don’t know for sure.
Something tells me, though, that one day I will know for sure.
And so I’m fine. For now.