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In Suspense…

It’s the day after Christmas, 2:42pm and having gotten up at 9am, I have returned to bed surrounded by a new book, my laptop, an occasional cat, and a cup of chowder with which to wash it all down. Decadent and divine, it’s the day after and exactly what I need to be doing. A neighbor friend and I are texting and my sister and I are, too. I love watching blinking ellipses as friends real-time type, and then getting that rewarding toaster oven “ding!”, the sound that your toast or text is ready. As it turns out, a watched ellipse does a text produce. 

It’s the day after and exactly what I need to be doing.

The end of the year has me thinking about waiting for things, as we do as children for Santa at Christmas, and as adults for the better part of the year, anticipating things we want to have happen or acquire, or feelings of hope that a pleasant surprise might be around the corner. It seems we all want something to look forward to.

For days now I’ve been waiting on USPS. I adore sending my sister her Christmas box filled with little things – some she wants and others she doesn’t know she does… yet. Normally perfectionistic with wrapping details, for 2020, I felt incredibly accomplished to have even found a box to fit it all and emerged from the long PO line Covid-free and victorious, tracking number in hand. I’ve signed up for text alerts, little dings to sound along her package’s journey to Chicago, but so far there are no sounds, just a vague “in transit” status each time I check. I’m certain the magic is still swirling inside that box, but the failed by Christmas arrival has taken some of the pressure off all the wondering and tracking.

I couldn’t wait for Lucie – at 13.5 dog years (mid ’80s people years) and hobbling along as best she can – to see her gorgeous pale blue memory foam bed, the one I drove to the far recesses of Smyrna for, the falling snow and sunset more than making up for the trip. I kept nudging her to try it, even putting her in it several times, but she wasn’t having it, preferring the smushed limp one she’s so accustomed to.

Upstairs enjoying post-Christmas lounging, I let the sleeping dog lie where she wanted and just look what happened! She explored the new setup and on her own terms found a comfortable position. My son did tuck the cat under her paw to amp up the cuteness factor, but the dog’s position in the bed is entirely her own doing. People and pets happen on their own time.

With all the fun and glow of the holidays, there are plenty of omissions and unfinished business, expectations unmet, people you’ve lost and now miss, and pressure about the new year, the new chance, the new slate. Every year end, I hear John Lennon’s song Happy Xmas and linger over these lines: “So this is Christmas, and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun… Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.” 

I always think about the past year and year ahead and wonder, aside from all my busyness, what is it that I have done? What is it I am supposed to be doing? Some people are eager to dive into the next year, already filling their slates with a flurry of appointments, zoom calls, reminders. Others on the sidelines are waiting on a nudge from the Universe to direct them where to go. I suppose I’m a combination, additionally weighed down by the ever nagging question, “Will I stay healthy in the year to come? And the year after that?” 

A few days before Christmas I felt a tenderness and twitch in my thigh which I’d noticed for a few days. I had resumed running and wondered if maybe that explained it. And I had stood in my kitchen in my fabulous yet unsupportive new Old Navy boots baking three days in a row. Despite this, my brain jumped to the unknown: Is this how breast cancer returns, showing up right here, right now on my left thigh? Writing this now, it all seems ridiculous, but at the time, that theory felt logical. 

So logical in fact that I called my oncologist and after pressing his triage nurse on the issue, I learned if cancer did return my symptoms would not be how it would manifest, and my dull aching leg is very likely from multiple days of standing. Instead I might see a rash, swollen ankles or other larger noticeable things that don’t necessarily bring pain. Through my now tears, I told the nurse what my oncologist had initially said, that surgery (lumpectomy) was the cure and treatments (chemo, radiation) were the insurance. But is that really even true? In that moment I needed her to ask the doctor whether he says this to all his cancer patients or if these words were particularly suited for me.

Given that it was Christmastime during a pandemic with likely a full actual and virtual waiting room of cancer patients, it was a bit much for me to interrupt the doctor’s day to ask that he qualify a statement he’d already made, all so I could get off the anxiety track — especially since I caught the lump early, have a good prognosis and for the most part have taken terrific care of myself. Ten minutes later she called to tell me that he confirmed his words were unique to me, he does still believe my surgery was the cure and my treatments were the insurance. 

This information helped immensely. Now my two cups of coffee brain (turns out one cup is plenty for the generalized anxiety set; two and a caffeinated panic settles in) could begin to mentally fill in the upcoming calendar since I could clearly envision myself living in it. Every twitch, every throb, every everything on a difficult day can flood me right back to that initial fear surrounding my diagnosis. I remind myself I’ve done all the right things, but then turn around and question why is it I can’t get some assurance that it will be enough? I need that plus a little faith too. I know this uneasiness is going to lessen with time. It is just taking a while…

Every twitch, every throb… can flood me right back

2021 is coming at long last, and I expect to step into it confidently and gushing with good health. And like a flower waiting to bloom, I’ll just keep stretching out in the sun and taking in nourishment, knowing it’s what I need. Instead of watching for signs of hope and surety, and wondering what exactly it will or should look like, I think I’ll just stand tall and see what happens.

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