the perks of a cancer scare

I started writing this post at 6:44pm on January 24, 2013. Exactly one year ago, at 6:44pm on January 24, 2012, I was poring over medical journals on my living room couch. I hadn’t eaten a full meal in days. I hadn’t slept a whole night. Because at this date and time in 2012, I had just had my first biopsy and was waiting to find out if I had breast cancer.

The worst of it was the waiting. First, you wait to see your doctor, who only confirms what you already know – yup, there’s a lump there; yes, it might be cancer. Then, you wait a couple of weeks to get an ultrasound and a mammogram, and even then you wait until the radiologist comes around to tell you that the edges look a bit irregular, and you have to get a biopsy. So you wait a few more days to get a biopsy, where they talk to you in soothing and professional tones, and you lie on your back on an exam table staring at this faded picture on the ceiling of a white sand beach while they stick you with anesthetics and extract a microscopic amount of stuff from that foreign entity that has grown underneath your chest. And then you wait again, desperately, to hear whether or not you are 29 and headed into the fight of your life.

The irony was that in the middle of all that waiting to find out if I had cancer, it finally hit me that waiting has really been a sort of theme in my whole life. Waiting to record my music. Waiting to start writing. Waiting to pick up running again. Waiting for the right time to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do. And suddenly I found myself on that January evening, waiting to hear the worst news I could ever wait to hear, and finally realizing that I was done waiting. I might not have that long. I need to going with my life while I have a life to get going with.

So I made plans. I made commitments. I put myself on the line without a semblance of a long term goal or a bottom line. Because when you think you might have a life-threatening illness, you don’t really have to worry about that kind of thing. You just want to make sure that you make the most of what you’ve got.

Four days later, they finally told me over the phone that it was a benign cyst. It wasn’t cancer. I was finally done waiting. But in my mind, I was done waiting four days ago. Cancer or no cancer, I wasn’t going to wait around to live my life anymore.

So I worked my butt off. I recorded my music. I started writing again – songs, fiction, blogs, prayer journals. I made new friends. I started running (and kept going). I tried competitions (and lost). I let people into my heart. I learned to trust new people with my songs, my poetry, my problems, my (gasp!) short stories. I tried to be a better friend, a better wife, a better daughter.

It was the best year I have had yet.

Today, I had my one year follow-up. Leading up to it, I felt like it had been so long that I couldn’t even seem to find the cyst anymore. It felt smaller, literally, like it had shrunk over the last 12 months. But as soon as I set foot on the radiology floor, all the old fears crept into the back of my head. I guess that fear will always be there. Death is easy to talk about until you walk into a place where people go to meet with it. And I laid there on the exam table again, waiting for the radiologist to come around and tell me what he saw.

Same as before. No change. It’s still not cancer. You’re good to go. See you when you’re 40.

Once again, I’m done with waiting, at least for another 10 years. But really, I was already done waiting 12 whole months ago. Because if there’s one perk to a cancer scare, it’s learning that there is no reason, no wisdom, no gain at all in waiting for your life to begin.


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