Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Last week, as we started our vacation to Kentucky, I received a voice mail message every woman dreads, "please call us about your mammogram results as soon as possible." I got the message late at night on the road and had to wait until the next morning to call my doctor's office. It was a long ride to Irvine, Kentucky where my aunt lives. My husband and I sat quietly with our thoughts as he drove through the rainy night; each imagining our worst case scenario. I thought about all the things I would miss my children doing if I died from breast cancer. I wondered if I had the energy to fight this disease. I tried to think of how I felt recently and, then, attributed every ache and pain to metastasized cancer. I tried to convince myself it could be something else. I emailed two friends desperately hoping they'd say their doctor's routinely called with results. Despite being exhausted, I had trouble falling asleep that night. I anxiously woke at 6 am, knowing I couldn't call the doctor's office until 7. When I called, I found out they weren't open until 8. After several attempts, I finally talked to a nurse who told me the mammogram detected a small nodule on the left breast and they just wanted to be sure it was nothing. The imagining center would be calling to schedule a second mammogram with an ultrasound. Glen and I breathed a partial sigh of relief and resumed our vacation.

Now, on the eve of the repeat mammogram, I am plagued again with sleeplessness. I will know for certain tomorrow what the results are. I wish there was a fast forward button. Once I know the outcome, I will deal with it. I do well in a crisis. But right now, what I imagine is worse than anything. I have high hopes that it will turn out to be a cyst or fibroid. I plummet into despair that it will be cancer and I won't live to see my children grow up. I worry about how Glen will handle it--will he be strong for the kids or so devastated he can't function? I picture my children living with friends or relatives because he is so overcome with grief he can't care for them. I picture myself lying on a bed, thin, dying, unable to fight, my children crying at my bedside. I know these are unlikely scenarios. But that is what the waiting does. It feeds on our darkest fears because we don't know what to do. We want to rally against something, but we aren't sure who or what the enemy is. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism--picture the worst possible outcome so whatever the reality is it can't be as bad. I don't know. I do know it is almost 1 am, I'm still awake, and Tom Petty knew what he was talking about.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Won't you take me back to school...

This past weekend was my 25th high school reunion. It was a full weekend of events, re-connections, new connections, and memories. We gathered at the Captain’s Table, a meeting place during our summers home from college. Getting ready, I remembered the tedious hours I spent in front of a mirror during the late ‘80s trying to get my hair just right before heading to meet friends at ”the Table.” I remembered the insecurity I felt about not having the right clothes, not getting my hair teased up enough to pass muster, or not feeling “thin” enough. I briefly re-experienced that feeling of worry about still not fitting in before heading to the bar this past Friday night.

Anyone who lived through the ‘80s knows “The Breakfast Club”--a classic examination of the social constructs of any high school and the insecurities most teenagers feel. Through that movie, we saw those who appeared confident and in control were just as troubled as the rest of us. The movie seemed to say, “no one is secure, everyone is struggling with their issues.” Perhaps this is true. While I don’t know everyone’s back stories, I do know that some people I felt envious of, intimidated by, or disliked in high school, I now felt deeply connected to. Partly, we have all grown and changed. But, even more so, there is a shared history between all of us, whether we only recognized each other in the hall or were close friends: a shared history that you really don’t get anywhere else in life. For some of us, it went as far back as kindergarten or early dance classes. For others it didn’t start until 7th or 8th grade. But, there is something comforting and familiar about the people you shared a building and teachers with every day for at least four years. Even those of us who didn’t travel in the same circles have the same stories about Mr. Dames and the New York Times, or Sharon Walworth and her tough teaching style. We share stories about football rivalries, Mr. Cone, the airplane park and the Bright Star Diner. In essence, we share growing up.

Any apprehension I had disappeared Friday night. I talked with people I was close friends with but had lost touch. I talked to people I hadn’t known well during school, and I talked to people I hadn’t liked (probably because I didn’t really know them). I shared in everyone’s triumphs and their sorrows. Saturday night was more of the same, more relaxing, and more full-filling. Sunday, was a visit to the old high school and a trip down memory lane. Some of the people there I didn’t know that well, but I left Sunday afternoon thinking of them as friends.

As I watched the next generation playing in the high school courtyard, I thought how easily my children make friends. I thought about how they’re just starting school and what a wonderful group of friends they have. Of their friends, I wonder how many will move, drift apart, or be separated by artificial barriers like popularity, sports, geekiness, or music. I wish a slightly different experience for my children- I want them to be more confident in high school than I was. Right now, they seem on track for that. But, I hope they have the same quality of memories that I have and such a wonderful group to share them with.