Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On getting a mammogram

I awoke this morning with a sense of being light as thistledown, my trunk made of air. I had dreamed I was part of a large festival of choirs, and in my dream I sang "Marching to Pretoria" very well, on tune and able to shape the notes without that quavering of old age. It is still running in my mind. I am used to my tinnitus. Because I have it, I think I might welcome the silence of death. As for the song, we used to sing it in church camp. We didn't know what it was about, but didn't care. It has a rousing rhythm.

In the kitchen I pointed out to Tom the paperwhites, soft green blades that shot straight up from a large bulb in a nice little vessel, gift from a friend who does this every single Christmas. I said to Tom, "All that was stored in that bulb. All it needed was water."

He is a scientist, and he said, "It is water."

I said, "And a code." It fascinates me that a living thing is an association of patterns held together by a code. But that's my way of seeing. Something holds it together. A consciousness? Just the karma, it is made of so many bits and pieces, and they will wear the way they do, like parts in a car. Carma.

I have had so much illness that I have no future. I realize that when I sit with friends who talk of major life changes. To people with their health, there are infinite possibilities, and so often I see my friends sitting on those possibilities, procrastinating, in the belief that they are in control of their future, and that it is definitely going to be there, like some storage room full of gold that cannot rot or be stolen. They can do it next year, or the year after that. I don't know how next year will be for us - probably worse. I am very comfortable in the knowledge that this is all I have: my home under my feet right now, the wood floor vibrating as the furnace runs. The sound of Tom in the kitchen, turning a page in the newspaper.

You have probably noticed that there are many things to remind me of my mortality. Yesterday it was the annual mammogram. When I called to make the appointment they got me right in just a few days later, because I had breast cancer once, many years ago. That's the policy, to get us in for those mammograms.

I don't really think of myself as a cancer survivor now, but as a kidney patient. As for cancer, I like to consider myself not in remission but cured. I liked to think that five years out, when I got off tamoxifen, I was done with cancer. But deep within I now know that it can strike any time, anywhere. You don't have to have symptoms. And my first cancer was found on a mammogram. So I don't want to have a mammogram, and somehow the appointment gets procrastinated.

Of course a mammogram hurts, and worse in the breast that had surgery, even though the people at JamesCare are both skilled and kind. But what hurts worse is sitting afterwards waiting while the radiologist looks at the films. The waiting room is thoughtfully arranged, with coffee and tea and snack bars, and cheery bright magazines. But you wait. This time it was about half an hour. The door opens, people come out, but they are not for you. I felt raw. I leafed through the pages of a Metropolitan Home without interest in decorating anything in my home. It's where I live.

Finally the door opened and the nurse called my name. I gathered my parka, bag of clothes, and essential comfort scarf, and went through the door with her. They don't tell you anything until you're through the door into the hall. Then they say it right away with a smile:

Everything looks fine. You're free to go.

Everything went out of me with a whoosh. It was as if I had been holding my breath all this time. Then I clumsily found my way through the halls to the exit. I have been doing this for 13 years, but I get it wrong, and someone helps me.

In the car I ate part of a snack bar, willing the sugar to help me concentrate and drive home safely. There I told Tom that next year I will ask him to drive me. Sure, he said. That's what it's about.

A thought about this little ordeal. In early years I believed that if I meditated enough I would be calm in the face of anything. I guess that's how I saw enlightenment, as a state that was beyond being human, as detachment from everything. But it seems to me that now these medical events rock me more than they once did. That that's being alive. I'll take it.


  1. Yeah! :-) Was I holding my breath? Nah... I was waiting to exhale with you!

    deep bow,

  2. thanks, grandma, i needed this

  3. Hurrah for your clean bill of health. As for the tinnitus, I have it too. I just read about a music therapy program that helps your brain sort of rewire itself, and thus rid you of tinnitus. Don't know if Marching to Pretoria is involved, but why not? That's a peppy little tune. You can read about it here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=music-to-the-ringing-ears-new-thera-2009-12-28&SID=mail&sc=emailfriend