I ask this question because I really want to know.
Because, well, cancer. I think about less and less these days. Those months of terror are in the rear view mirror and sunnier skies are ahead. Whatever the future brings so be it. Banjo Man and I are going to enjoy ourselves and be grateful we’re still together.
But…several years ago I knew something was wrong with me. I was so tired. Unnaturally so. I began to ration my trips down to the lake and back up the hill. I worried I was getting too old for the trek up and down. I fell asleep in the living room chair every chance I got. I no longer wanted to stroll along the streets of Austin or walk on the treadmill on winter mornings at home.
I was very pale, no matter how much make up I wore. Summer was my friend, and the “sun glow” that you’re not supposed to subject your skin to was welcome. But otherwise I was sickly white.
I assumed my CVS cosmetics were to blame. So I bought blusher from an expensive make up stall at the Baltimore airport. It immediately evaporated into my ghostly skin. I complained the next time I was at that airport and the bored salesgirls looked baffled. I found “cheek stain”, which stayed on but was a bit clownish if I wasn’t careful.
“I’m dying,” I would inwardly declare. I knew it but I never said it aloud.
I attacked my closets and cleaned out decades of stuff I’d collected. In 2018 finished seven quilts so that my kids wouldn’t have to deal with my unfinished projects. I bought labels with my name printed on them so everyone would know I had made them.
And yes, I went to doctors. I never got dramatic and said, “I’m dying and I don’t know why” to them, but I complained about being tired and pale and worn out. They all tried to be helpful. There were blood tests (many) and an EKG and (annual) mammograms and medications and B-12 shots. I was reminded that I wasn’t getting any younger, that I needed to exercise more, maybe it was my thyroid or my metabolism. I gave up sugar and carbs and lived on 900 calories a day so I could lose weight and therefore have more energy.
Nothing worked. I was dying and I knew it.
So I then assumed it was my heart and inside of me was a ticking bomb. I was going to insist on every cardiac test that existed at my next annual check up.
But that exam never happened, because instead I showed up at the doctor’s office with the–finally–obvious symptom of breast cancer. And it was a pretty damn big symptom, too. For weeks the doctors said it was 2 cm. but that was only the tip of the iceberg. The tumor would end up being 6.5 cm, shocking the medical experts. All the pathology showed it was a very slow-growing tumor though. A woman in the exact same situation as me said her doctor told her that hers had most likely been growing for ten years.
The morning after my surgery, Banjo Man arrived in my room and stared. “Are you wearing make up???”
“No. For heaven’s sake.” I’d barely managed to brush my teeth.
“You have color in your face,” he explained. “Do you think it’s because the cancer is gone?”
We stared at each other. And then I cried.
The damn evil thing had been sucking the life out of me for God only knows how long. And nobody could find it. And because I’d always had yearly mammograms I never dreamed that breast cancer was the issue.
So…this is a long-winded way of saying that if you have that terrible dread in your gut or that little whisper in your head, please see your doctor. See three doctors. Or more. Keep going until someone figures it out and helps you.
Trust your gut, the warning that something is wrong.
Because, despite tests and drugs and vitamin supplements, you need to believe what your body is trying to tell you.
I wish you all a healthy year ahead.