I hang up the phone and stare at the mammogram images on my computer screen. There it is right in front of me; a visible spot that looks different from all of the other breast tissue. A distorted and unusual area that requires a follow up mammogram, a spot compression and an ultrasound.
“Could it be breast cancer?,” I wonder. My mind races and I swear I can hear my heart thumping in my ears. Life is fragile, I know. Do I need a reminder at 9:43 on a Tuesday morning?
Pure, unadulterated and uncontrollable fear washes over me. It blindsides me. One minute I’m checking my voice mail and the next I’m struggling to catch my breath and hold back tears.
When I take a shower that first evening I stand and sob. Big, heavy sobs that force me to squat in the bathtub as the weight of my worries press my body down to the ground.
The logical part of my brain keeps telling the emotional side to relax and calm down. I cry and then stop; shaking my head in disgust as reasoning relinquishes control to fear and sadness.
I quietly remind myself that I don’t have all of the facts. How can I get this upset about a diagnosis that hasn’t been made? The results are inconclusive and nothing is definite. No one said I have cancer. I repeat that mantra hundreds of times in my mind over the next few days.
Life is Fragile
I’ve simply been asked to return for a repeat mammogram. Most women wouldn’t panic after hearing that news, but panicking is exactly what I’m doing.
Why? Well I’ve been on the wrong side of medical statistics before. I landed in the emergency room at the ripe old age of twenty-seven with a pulmonary embolism.
“You are one in a million,” my surgeon said. Too bad those odds didn’t help me win the lottery. Instead I was checked into the hospital and placed on a heparin drip. Six months later I was still searching for the cause. My medical mystery dumbfounded thirty-four doctors. None of them could figure out why my body continued to throw blood clots that nearly killed me over and over again.
Ever since that first, near fatal day I’ve let my mind wander to the worst possible end-of-life scenarios. Catastrophic thinking takes hold of me and once the thoughts pop into my brain it’s hard to let them go.
At first I cry for the unfairness of it all. I feel sorry for myself. I’ve faced my fair share of medical issues. I’ve walked down the lonely road of invisible illness and I don’t want to deal with medical professionals or a failed medical system ever again.
I fear for my life and health, but it’s the thought of my children that overwhelms my emotions and makes it completely impossible to hold back my tears. I have so many questions about their future lives.
Would my death taint their view of all that is good and right in this world? Would they remember the lessons I’ve taught them so far in life? As time goes on will they remain kind and thoughtful? How will they navigate the difficult paths of life without two parents to guide them?
Will my husband remind them to lean on one another, to take deep breaths when they are nervous and to keep a worry stone in their pocket when they feel troubled?
I think back on all of my favorite moments with them and weep at the thought of missing their future highlight reels.
I go to sleep that night and put my phone in another room so I can’t search the Internet for breast cancer facts and information. I listen to music and try my best to drift off to sleep. The next morning I wake up and start my routine just like any other ordinary day.
But for some odd reason, as I get dressed, anger rises from deep within. It’s bubbling up inside of me in all its glory. I don’t want to endure the pain of disease and treatments that might ravage my body. I want every precious second I can get on this Earth and I want them all to be healthy. “It’s not fair,” I silently scream.
Why am I so angry? I don’t know exactly, but as I get ready to start my day I begin to ruminate on wasted time. I think about the people and events that have wasted my precious energy and that’s when I picture her in my mind.
Toxic People and Wasted Time
A woman who has repeatedly brought unnecessary drama into my world. If I have cancer in my body it’s probably because of the stress and burdens this person has placed upon my heart and soul.
I’ve lost count of the number of fights we’ve had, the number of times I’ve gone to sleep with stomach aches or woken with my heart racing. How many fights have I gotten into with family members because of her antics? How many times have my husband and I stayed up late discussing her mind games?
I find myself enraged by the thought of wasted time; the days, weeks and months this person has taken from me. I am shocked by the rage that boils inside of me. My temperament is typically quite calm and even keeled, so I find my thoughts and feelings incredibly unnerving.
I try my best to push the resentment out of my mind. I decide this person has taken too much from me already. From this point forward I won’t let her take any more.
By the time I drop my children off at school my mind has cleared. For a little while I manage to keep fear, sadness and anger looming in the background. I feel peace and contentment as I pull the car into my driveway.
Eight years ago I chose joy over money for the first time in my entire life. After the birth of my first child I quit my six figure job to become a stay-at-home parent. Thank goodness I spent that time outside of a cubicle.
But I’ll be honest. I’m greedy. I want more. As I contemplate my future health one question comes to mind, “How can I get even more time with those I love?”
A few years ago my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. Our relationship was broken and shattered. I failed our business then we failed one another, but we’ve rebuilt our lives over these last few years.
I am grateful for our relationship and for our ability to mend broken hearts since that time.
Financial Peace of Mind
One night, while snuggled up watching television, I make an announcement to my husband. “If I die your future wife can’t have my money. I’m serious,” I tell him. Then I start uncontrollably laughing.
“What’s so funny,” he asks. “I can’t stop picturing myself haunting this place if you don’t comply,” I tell him.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he says. “Don’t worry I’ll give the money to the kids.”
“Well, I might haunt you anyway,” I say. I wave my hands and begin making spooky ghost noises.
Later that night I wonder, “Have I enjoyed my life enough?” It’s great to have a pile of money in the bank for a long, healthy life, but what if I don’t live that long? Maybe I should have spent more money.
Thankfully, I don’t have any financial concerns. My husband knows how to log in to all of our accounts, pay all of our bills and manage our finances. We are financially independent, which certainly helps to ease my mind.
There is great peace in knowing I could leave this Earth and, (financially speaking), nothing in my family’s life would need to change.
This reminds me that my definition of success doesn’t include financial figures. In fact, at the end of the day, money does not provide the most pride. I am proud of the way I have chosen to live my life. The focus I have placed on those things that are most important.
You know it’s the non-monetary stuff that provides the greatest sense of accomplishment; pushing through difficult hurdles, spending time with my children, maintaining relationships, helping others and feeling joy.
It’s impossible not to feel grateful for this life I’ve been blessed to live so far.
The Fragile Nature of Life and Time
Life is fragile. Tragedies, illnesses and other unexpected bumps in the road remind us of that fact. Unfortunately, a long life is not guaranteed. Some of us will get to live to be one hundred while others will live a fraction of that time.
I began this post the day after I received that phone call for a follow-up mammogram. Thankfully I found out a few days ago that my recent tests are all clear. There are no signs of cancer at this time.
Since receiving that news I have vowed to focus on the things that matter. To use this experience as a wake up call, (for the second time in my life), that I should not take life for granted.
How to Make the Most of Limited Time
So here is what I’m going to do.
First, I’m spending quality time with the people I love. I’m calling my mom and dad more often and chatting with them even though I have a laundry list of things to do. I’m carving out time to be with my husband and sending my kids away so I can truly focus on him. When I spend time with my children I put my phone away and fully engage in their play.
I am pursuing my passion for writing. I’m keeping a notepad in the car with me. An old fashioned pen and paper help me clear my thoughts and capture my words. I’m also researching writing classes that I can take to improve my craft. There is no sense in delaying my dreams or passions any longer.
I’m counting my blessings and recognizing all of the ways my life is absolutely amazing. When I stand in a long line at the grocery store I focus on the fact that I can physically stand. When I walk outside I take a moment to feel the warm sunshine or to recognize the drops of dew that have gathered on the windshield of my car. I am focusing on gratitude instead of grumbling and complaining, which is so much easier to do.
I cut toxic people out of my life as much as I can. Limiting my interactions will lighten my heart and my soul. I cannot change the past, but I will not repeat the mistakes in my future. In fact, I refuse to look back at my life and let that anger boil over in me again. No one should be burdened with those unexpected and ugly feelings when facing a medical crisis. It was by far the most shocking part of this whole ordeal.
I am also doing my best to let go of the negative feelings surrounding those toxic people. Those emotions are obviously weighing me down. Instead, I want to focus on positivity and joy. I want to forgive those people who have brought such turmoil into my life. It feels necessary to free myself from the pain they have caused.
My recent health scare was absolutely terrifying, but maybe I needed the not-so-gentle reminder that life is fragile. If I’m not careful I could easily go through the motions of daily life; mindlessly wasting the limited time I’ve been granted.
I hope to live a long, healthy life, but length is not as important as quality. Every morning from this point forward I vow to ask myself:
- How can I make the most of this fragile life?
- How can I live my best life now?
If I only get one crack at this life I better make it a good one.
** Part one of this story begins here: A Follow Up Mammogram: An Unexpected Call Back. I wrote this post because I found lots of technical information on follow-up mammograms and tests, but everything I read was so incredibly clinical and technical. I wanted to give a voice to all of the women out there who were frightened and looking for answers like I was.