5 Ultrasounds

This morning, I had an appointment for 5 ultrasounds. Not that I’m experiencing any pains, my doctor just has some ‘concerns’ and is particularly diligent with me because of my family history. As a result, my entire torso has now been photographed and mapped, inside and out. 

Over the course of the hour, between the neverending instructions – lie down, turn left, raise your arm, wipe the gel, go to the bathroom, lie down, take a deep breath, turn right, go to the bathroom, sign this waiver, lie down, spread your legs, take a breath – I had a lot of time to think. I found myself being swept up in distressing thoughts.

The first time I was sent to the bathroom, I glanced at myself in the mirror and thought ‘oh, I look pretty good today’. When I glanced back, I thought: ‘what if this is the day that begins my story of how I found out I have cancer?’ I paused for a moment to consider the enormity of that thought, then brushed it aside and returned to the examination room.

As the tech slid and pressed her wand across my body, I became acutely aware of every little lump, every dark spot on the screen, every moment she paid a little extra attention to one spot over another.

I started to think of all the people I’ve known who have had cancer. They’re all women. Probably each of them had an exam like this that started with a routine checkup and their doctor saying “hm, I feel something weird here. It’s probably nothing to worry about, but I’m going to send you to have it checked out just in case.”

I wondered if they were scared or if, like me, they had gone into it assuming everything would come out just fine. I wondered if, at the moment when they found out they had cancer, they felt totally alone in the world, or if they knew they’d have someone by their side holding their hand the whole way. I wondered who would be by my side. 

And the tears began to stream down the sides of my face.

I wondered how these people I’d known felt every time they’d prepared to go in for treatment. I wondered if I would be scared of chemotherapy. I wondered if I would believe that I could beat the cancer, or if I would just go through the motions hoping for the best.

I wondered if I should stay home this afternoon instead of going to work, because really life could change on a dime and I’d never see it coming, and I should make sure to at least spend this one afternoon in peace. I wondered if the lab tech already knew there was something wrong with me, and was thinking to herself ‘this poor girl’ as she completed my exam.

Then I realized I was spinning, catastrophizing. I took a few deep breaths, tried to stay away from scary thoughts, and eventually put my clothes back on. I bought some groceries. I had a short nap. I went to work. 

I believe my tests will all come back negative. But with my family history, it’s likely that one day I won’t be so lucky. If that few minutes on the table was a glimpse into how I’ll feel then, I just hope that when the time comes I will be surrounded by loving people I can count on because I am going to need all the strength they can give me.

Until then, I will do my best to remember to be grateful for my health, every day, for as long as I can.

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Time Travelling

Last week I travelled back in time. I returned to my family cottage where I had spent many, many summers; where I had suffered my only childhood physical injuries – a broken tooth from a nasty bike fall, a sprained ankle from a weeping willow jump, and a hatcheted thumb from poor log-splitting technique. I had spent countless hours catching frogs on sunny days, watching soap operas on rainy days, and playing Monopoly on any day my family would humour me enough to start a game.

As I strolled along the receding creek, I saw flashes of myself as a young girl wearing oversized rubber boots, searching intently for frogs to scoop up into my tiny hands. That little girl thought life would all just fall into place in the natural order at the appropriate times – graduations, boyfriends, marriage, children, farm ownership. That little girl thought the coldness in her family was normal, and that persistent loneliness was something everyone felt.

It wasn’t until my late thirties that I learned my childhood experience actually wasn’t ‘normal’ and, for years after, I tumbled through the stages of grief – deep sadness, dark anger, eventual acceptance. And just when I thought I was done…

In a cardboard box in a back room at the cottage, I discovered piles of papers with stories and poems I had written as a child. Hundreds of pieces of paper documenting my desire to feel loved and valued and respected (and, apparently, my admiration for the colour blue). I found a school journal entry that lamented how much I had needed my mother after my bike fall, and felt lost that she wasn’t there.  I found a note from my father to my teacher, written on a permission slip for a school excursion, offering to pick me up at a subway station but stating in no uncertain terms that I was not to be left anywhere unsupervised.

This box held the utmost minutiae of my life from 1985-1986. After these last few years of feeling angry at my parents for everything they hadn’t done for me, I was suddenly overwhelmed by such a deep appreciation for everything they had done for me. What kind of father would pack up and store a box like that for 30 years? A father who loves his daughter. And what kind of mother is so deeply needed and longed for when pain and fear overwhelm a young child who made the simple mistake of speeding down a hill too quickly on her bicycle? A mother who provides love and comfort to her daughter. They weren’t perfect but they did love me the best they could.

As an adult, standing on the same ground where those little-but-big rubber boots once stood, I wanted to crouch down, reach through the time-space continuum and give my little girl a big hug. I wanted to tell her life doesn’t go the way you think it will, it’s full of surprises – good and bad – but in the end, you’re ok. You’re not perfect, but the good news is: nobody is.

And love isn’t perfect. It’s messy, but that’s ok too. People will love you in all sorts of ways, and not love you in all sorts of ways, but the good news is you actually don’t need any of them in order to love yourself.

And even though at the beginning of my journey back in time I had wanted to apologize to my little self for being such a disappointment and making such a mess of her grand plans for our life, by the end of it I felt like we both could look at the mess and see what a beautiful work of art (in progress) it actually is.

Now, I can hardly wait to time travel again. Backward or forward, it seems to me it’s a pretty amazing journey either way.