I came home from work seven weeks ago to a message on my home phone.
For whatever reason, I am one of the last remaining people who cannot get comfortable with giving up my land line.
The irony is that though I can’t get rid of it, I often forget to even check it for messages because anyone who knows me is going to call my cell phone anyway. Go figure.
But on this particular day, for whatever reason, I remembered to check it and actually had a message from someone other than a telemarketer.
The moment I heard the woman’s overly cheerful, scripted message, I felt an instant and intense wave of nausea.
She hadn’t said anything was “wrong.” In fact, she spoke so calmly that I could almost convince myself that everything was fine.
But I knew better.
A phone call from the radiologist’s office less than a week after your annual mammogram is not good.
I had heard the horror stories too many times.
They don’t call to say “nice boobs” or to commend you for showing up for your appointment. There just aren’t gold stars for participation as a grown up. (Too bad.)
Because it was after hours, I had to wait until the next day to call back.
At 8:30 the next morning, I was (still) wide awake and pacing the floor- dialing the phone number for Charlotte Radiology every two minutes so I could speak with them the second they opened.
I was exhausted from the ongoing battle with my thoughts. While I initially decreed (to a grand audience of one- me) that I simply would not think about the possibility that something was really “wrong,” that edict lasted about as long as my willpower to eat healthier and exercise that generally arrives every Monday morning and is gone by the afternoon.
And once the notion that “something” was “wrong” seeped into my brain, my thoughts quickly careened out of control to worst possible scenario land.
“I am fine. This is just a fluke.
You aren’t fine. You are sick.
They called the wrong person.
Why shouldn’t it be you?
I have to stay calm. I have to have faith.
You should have done more, been more.
I have lots of life left to live.
It’s too late. It’s over.”
In spite of the fact that I am surrounded by argumentative/difficult people (a/k/a lawyers) on a regular basis, I have never debated an opponent more frustrating than myself.
The morning phone call with the radiologist’s office went as you would expect it to go. I actually felt sorry for the lady I talked with as I thought about how many tearful, panicked women she spoke with on a daily basis who begged for information and reassurance that she simply could not give.
“Saw something suspicious.”
“Need you to come back in for more tests.”
“There will be a radiologist on site to meet with you.”
No, no, no.
The week between the phone call and the appointment literally felt like years.
I only told a few people what was going on as I didn’t want my spoken words to give added life to the monster under my bed.
I tried to go about my daily life as though everything were “normal,” subconsciously hoping that if I pretended hard enough, the universe would simply follow my lead and resume the regularly scheduled program known as my life.
But that didn’t happen.
When the day of my appointment finally arrived, I drove 40 minutes in the pouring rain.
Once I arrived and got checked in, it hit me that as much as I had hated the uncertainty of the last week, I might hate the impending certainly even more.
When the nurse called my name and took me to an examination room, she opened my folder and began scanning it.
I tried desperately to read through the stoicism of her face.
“We called you back because the radiologist who read your mammogram saw something… in both breasts… that concerned him.”
I did not cry. I did not move. I don’t even think I breathed. I just looked at her as though she was speaking a language I did not understand.
Had she just said both breasts?
What kind of idiot doesn’t even consider that possibility? My job is analyzing risks for God’s sake. Come on.
I had a million questions- but none I felt prepared to have answered at that point in time- so I just nodded my head and did as I was told.
I spent the next hour having my breasts contorted into every possible shape and machine- X-rays, ultrasounds, 3-D images.
I am confident there are now more photographs of my breasts than even the Kardashians can claim.
Every few minutes, the nurse would take the films to the radiologist so he could review them and decide what else he needed to see.
She was nothing short of amazing. In spite of seeing hundreds of women like me every month, she managed to make me feel like she was my personal cheerleader.
When the radiologist finally had everything he needed, she came back in and told me he would be in to talk with me in a little while.
It felt like a really big little while.
Those were the radiologist’s first words when he opened the door and came into my exam room.
(Pretty sure my personal cheerleader had told him I was one of “those patients” (i.e. she is about to lose it- skip the niceties and get to it)).
I have never been more thrilled to hear such an average description of myself.
In spite of the good news, I found myself unsettled and uncomfortable in the weeks that followed. I kept replaying it all in my mind- hoping that it would inspire me- no- that it would force me- to do something drastic- give up my career, cash out my 401(k) and move to Italy where I would live off cheese and Gelato and spend my days writing and my nights drinking wine….
The cheese and Gelato part? Check.
The wine? Check, check, check.
The other stuff? Not so much.
It would have made for a great story.
But it wouldn’t have been my story.
The truth is that what I was terrified of losing during that week wasn’t some future life, and the regret I felt wasn’t over things I hadn’t done.
The fear was of losing the life I had- and the regret was for not having appreciated every single second of it.
We push ourselves so hard to be better- to keep obtaining and attaining.
We read self-help books, set goals, make resolutions.
We criticize those who seem content to stay where they are in life and label them as “lazy.”
Our future plans, our desires, the half empty portions of our respective “glasses” are frequent topics of our conversations.
When is the last time someone asked if you were happy and you answered “yes”? No qualifications. No “buts.” No “whens.” Just yes.
It’s an incredibly blurry line-
When your “want list” is empty, are you being thankful or are you settling?
If you are content with your life, is that a reflection of gratitude or of a fear of change?
Are we really striving to be better or are we creating future contingencies for happiness to justify being unhappy today?
I don’t know the answer to those questions.
And I am not sure the answer is the same for all of us.
But I do know that I don’t need a villa in Italy or fame or fortune or dramatic changes to be happy.
Sleeping late makes me happy-
as does a day at the pool with my family,
the first cold sip of a 20 ounce diet mountain dew,
going to Target,
watching people reunite at airports,
an empty day on my calendar,
falling in love,
completing a crossword without looking up any answers,
reading a good book,
my grandmother’s caramel cake,
drinking wine with my friends,
writing for no reason other than that I feel like it,
hearing “You’re okay”–and realizing that God has given me another chance to fully appreciate the amazing life He has given me.
I am happy with the regularly scheduled program known as my life.