A few months ago I wrote a post called Imagine You Are Dying. I wrote that post because I had been imagining exactly that. Due to a health scare, and despite my initial best efforts to avoid it, I had been thinking a lot about what would happen if I were to die, and what it would mean for my family.
At first it seemed a rather dark topic to think about, but after re-examining it with an open mind I realized that for me it was necessary. My pragmatic side needed some reassurance that even in the worst case scenario (for which the odds were very low) – everything would be fine for my family. At least the parts that I had any degree of control over. Like finances.
After I got those initial thoughts down on paper, I went into a period of limbo. I was waiting for a follow-up test to be scheduled, and the whole matter slipped to the back of my mind, quickly replaced by the “urgencies” of day to day life.
We were traveling to France, our oldest was going back to school, we had booked travel to see family over the Thanksgiving holiday (the Canadian one), prepping for Hallowe’en, pumpkin patch trips and all that jazz.
The lump, the inconclusive tests, and all the sinister implications that came with them faded into the noise of everyday happenings.
The Follow-up Test
Then a number of weeks ago, the date of the MRI scan was suddenly looming in front of me. My mom readily ignored my insistence that I could go to the appointment alone, and instead travelled to see us and baby-sit our youngest so Mike could take me.
I told her repeatedly this was unnecessary, and that I would be fine – but in true Mom fashion, she completely ignored me and came anyway. I was super thankful.
As the days ticked closer I could physically feel the tension in my body building. I tried to shake it off. I couldn’t.
My mind continually returned to the fact that once this test was complete, limbo land would be over. I would have to deal with whatever this was. Good, bad, or ugly. Or at least that’s what I thought.
On the day of the test I came downstairs to have my youngest run up and give me a huge hug. “Where you goin Mama?” he asked as I put on my jacket and shoes.
“Mommy just has some errands to run with Daddy, we’ll be back soon!” I flashed him a cheery, confident smile and planted a big smooch on his cheek. He ran off, ecstatic that he would get to spend the morning with his Nana.
I felt a lump in the back of my throat as my mind briefly contemplated how I would possibly handle things if I had to explain a less than ideal outcome to our kids. I focussed heavily on maintaining a positive demeanour, on the outside if nothing else.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was quickly processed through, handed a bunch of forms to complete and sent to a back waiting area. The forms kept my mind occupied.
Until the MRI technician came out and explained to me that they would be completing both a regular MRI and a contrast MRI while I was there. My stomach sank. I’d had a contrast MRI in the past. I knew that meant they would have to insert an IV to inject a dye solution.
I hate needles. Like struggle not to pass out kind of hatred. But of all needles, I have a particularly strong aversion to IV’s. Because they stay in. It’s not just a quick poke, look away and done. Nope – they are right in there. I’m nauseous just writing about it.
Mike knew immediately – he shares my feelings about needles. He gave me a sympathetic look, rubbed my back and reassured me that it would be over soon.
At this point Mike and I parted ways, and I was escorted into a side room. The technician seated me on a hospital gurney and started swabbing my arm. My mental dialogue went like this.
“Stop it – it’s just a needle. You can do this – you’ve got this, just take a deep breath, look away. You’ve gone through labour for Pete’s sake – this is a walk in the park. Breathe in and out, the hard part will be over in a flash”.
This internal monologue was on repeat for what felt like forever. The technician was muttering, and I felt the needle poking me over, and over, and over.
“Ugh – he can’t get it” I realized, just as he let me know he was having trouble. “Please let me know if you feel any pain” he added gently.
Hmmm…….like any pain other than the needle jabbing me repeatedly? Like more pain than that? What kind of pain exactly do you mean? My mind wandered along this train of thought as he continued to assault my arm.
At this point I could feel the sweat building on my forehead, and the lightheadedness hitting. The technician, still focussed on my arm, looked up briefly to deliver the unfortunate news that he would have to try my other arm. After a glance at my face, he quickly added that he would have me lie down for this one.
I complied without objection. Hey – why not pass out – maybe they’ll just get the whole thing over and done with while I’m out cold? Right?
A few more pokes in the right arm and we reached success. If you count having a needle and tube sticking out of your arm success.
I stumbled over to the MRI to get prepped to actually go into the tube. If you’ve never had an MRI before, it’s quite the experience. First off – it’s loud, very loud. They have you put ear plugs in to lessen the noise, but it really just takes the edge off the sounds the machine/magnets produce as they rotate around you. You are also slid into a small, enclosed tube, with strict instructions to take only small, slow breaths, so it’s helpful not to be concerned about small spaces.
Before you go in, you answer a long list of questions about any chance that you might have metal in your body – lest the MRI heat up the metal or rip it from your flesh. As I was going in, I couldn’t help but question if maybe I forgot about some obscure incident during one of my countless DIY projects that may have left a little metal inside my body.
For this particular MRI, I needed to be face down, in a weird semi-push-up position. The technician asked me if I would be able to hold the position for 20 minutes.
Ummm…..sure?? Do other people do this successfully? I had been wondering when I was going to get my arm/ab work out in today – I guess this seemed like as good an opportunity as any to multi-task.
Then they asked me what kind of music I wanted to listen too – sliding some headphones over my ears to dull out the sound of the machine a little further. How about something calm I suggested weakly. Classical music promptly came floating through the head phones.
I tried valiantly to breathe small, regular breaths. But of course – by focussing on my breath it only made me want to breathe more deeply, or faster. Slow, shallow breaths are not an easy accomplishment.
I forced myself to think of other things and my breathing steadied. Then I wondered if the whole thing was 20 minutes long in large part because they need to give people time to stop thinking about their breath. My thought cycle about my breathing started over again.
I could swear it was more like 60 minutes, and the part where they warned me that the dye was coming and I felt my arm go ice cold as the dye circulated through was less than pleasant. But soon enough I was getting out of the tube, my arms and chest aching from the awkward position, and the IV was suddenly removed from my arm.
Then the technician advised me that the results would be ready in 7-10 business days, ushered me out of the room, and I was done.
Ok – 10 business days. I can do that. No problem. I just waited months for this 3rd test, 10 days was easy breezy. Right?
The Phone Call
I’d committed to putting the whole thing out of my mind for at least 14 days, because I figured they would probably take longer than expected. So when I got the call 3 days later letting me know the results were ready and a follow-up to review the results with the specialist needed to be scheduled, my entire brain was in conflict.
Okay great – I don’t have to wait so long. That’s awesome. But was it? Why were they calling me back so quickly? Did the specialist see everyone after this test? Why was the lady on the phone being so nice to me? They are never nice – they are always in a rush and sound like someone pee’d in their cheerios.
At different times during that afternoon I used my honed skills of deduction to alternately convince myself that the results were excellent, and then dire. Finding snippets of our conversation that in all likelihood meant absolutely nothing, to support my harebrained theories.
Fortunately Mike came home and reminded me not to read into anything, just a few more days and I would be getting the results. That seemed positive.
Somebody needed to tell my brain that.
The Waiting Game
I like surprises. Surprises are fun. This surprise was not fun. This surprise felt like agony.
Over the weekend I wondered if on Wednesday morning our entire lives would change – or if nothing at all would change. Would I be a person with cancer, or just a person who had a simple health scare?
I found myself smelling my son’s freshly washed hair as I read him his bedtime story, treasuring his giggle as he pointed to pictures in the book, and explained aspects of the story to me from his two year old perspective.
It occurred to me multiple times that this is how I should be living every day. Paying attention to those little interactions – enjoying them as they come. Downgrading almost everything on the to-do list.
But then I simultaneously launched myself into multiple projects. I had been planning to convert our guest roomto a play room for our kids, complete with a wall bed for when we did have guests over. This was clearly the weekend to paint it, refinish an old toy box, install some new window casings/trim, and start working on a large batch of wooden signs.
My productivity levels hit highs they haven’t seen in ages. It kept my mind occupied.
But then – there were still those brief moments of the day where I was alone and found myself desperately thinking: I really don’t want to have cancer. If I have cancer, I really don’t want to die. Please be nothing, please.
The more dire thoughts were admittedly interspersed with some vain ones – if the news was bad, what would I look like without hair, without boobs? Would I even care? Would a chemo diet finally knock off those extra 10 lbs that never seems to go away?
The Results (Or Not)
Then came the day of the appointment.
Mike had thoughtfully asked his mom to come visit in order to watch our youngest so that Mike could again accompany me to the appointment. She also committed without hesitation. (Thank you.)
I busied myself in the morning, tried to think about how this would all be over in a couple hours, and trundled off to the hospital with Mike. We sat, and sat, and sat…….and finally – the doctor came in to deliver the news.
The MRI had detected something that was similar in appearance to a type of cancer, but it could also be nothing.
Hmmm – that’s super helpful.
Then came the news I didn’t want at all – more tests were needed. But there was debate about what those should be. The radiologist thought I could just come back in 6 months and re-test to see if things had grown. If yes – probably cancer. If no – probably not.
That sounded like a horrible game plan to me.
Luckily – the specialist disagreed. She thought a biopsy was in order. Time to definitively identify what this whole thing was.
I was game. Big time. At this point, my hatred of needles didn’t hold a candle to just sorting this whole thing out. I couldn’t help but wonder why we hadn’t just done that in the first place? Like 5 months ago.
Much to my relief, while we were there, they booked me the appointments for the biopsy and the subsequent results. The biopsy would take place a week later, and the results two weeks after that.
3 more weeks of limbo…….