Sunday, September 7, 2014

Watersheds

I've never felt as vulnerable as I do right now. Awaiting a diagnosis will do that to a person, I suppose, and yet what I am discovering is that this fragile period is opening me up in ways I hadn't anticipated. I walk around with one of my breasts chronically tingling, as if ready to let down at any moment, and I find that the feeling itself makes me more generous with others.

An example: I have never felt such maternal affection for the children in our classroom as I do right now. These nineteen children are dear. Others concur; we do have a wonderful group this year. But it's more than that, for me as I am right now. I am wide open, exposed to each and every one of their tender young hearts. And open to adults, too: I am seeing so much that is good in everyone with whom I interact.

I would not have expected this gift - of seeing beauty wherever I cast my eyes - to blossom from a bed of fear and worry. But it makes some sense. These pinprick reminders of mortality heighten empathy, for we all - no matter how different from one another we may seem - will spend an equally fleeting time with feet placed perpendicular to earth.

Today I find myself close to tears, of gratitude for you and you and you, and gratitude for all of this. All of it. I walk around the house as I open windows wide to the treat of cool, dry air. I pass a mirror and notice that I am beaming. I hadn't known that my smile was as broad as it appears reflected back at me, but neither am I surprised to find it so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Partial Update

The problem with disclosing this situation, as I have chosen to do, is that people will expect an update. And that's only fair. I do not regret sharing my story - perhaps someone will benefit from it, if only by thinking, "Huh. I haven't had a mammogram for too long." That's to the good.

But today was disappointing. I guess I half-expected to walk in and have the doctor say, "It's all been a mistake. You're good to go."

She didn't. She said, "We take this very seriously." So I had an EKG and bloodwork. I will have further diagnostic testing done next week, and surgery on the 17th.

I asked the surgeon about my odds, you know I did. She replied, "With this condition, we use the 2/3 rule. 2/3 benign, 1/3 not."

The duct will be removed on the 17th and then sent for biopsy. Biopsy results will be in on the 24th. That's three weeks more of waiting and worrying about the Big C.

If there is cancer, well then a second, more invasive surgery will have to follow the first.

I can't really believe this is happening. It hasn't sunk in yet. I keep wondering whether this is my new reality or just a blip.

1/3, 2/3.

(Oh, and the surgeon is adorable - she looks like Mindy Kaling of The Mindy Project - only even prettier than Mindy. She could be my daughter, she is that young. And well dressed. So there's that.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Odds

Frightened.

My first instinct was to call my mother. I can't call my mother.

So I am going to write here, and yes, I know that this blog is supposed to be shuttered, but if I don't write this through I think I will explode.

Warning: Physical details ahead may make some uncomfortable. Stop here if I am describing you.

Last week my right breast started bleeding. The nipple, I mean. (Aside: I hate the word 'nipple.' Also 'moist.') I looked on the internet, of course. "See a doctor immediately," I read. Ever obedient, I saw a doctor yesterday. She had me take a blood test to monitor prolactin levels and set me up with an appointment on Tuesday to see a breast surgeon.

A breast surgeon. I didn't even know the specialty existed. But why not? Heart surgeon, lung surgeon...

Here is what I've gleaned from my research:

The source of the bleeding is most likely to be benign - a ductal papilloma, they call it - but it will still need to be excised. (60% of cases fall into this category and need no further follow-up.)

30% of the time biopsies show precancerous cells, and further treatment is warranted.

And the other 10%? Cancer: ductal carcinoma in situ.

I have a long weekend during which to ponder all of this. I am trying to focus on the 60%. But my mind is stubborn and keeps sneaking out to smoke and drink and generally get up to mischief with the unlucky 10%.

You see, my right breast has been wonky for decades. So wonky that I have a little tag in it to mark a spot that does not need further biopsy. Like a cow, or a shark, I have been tagged.

Yesterday I told the doctor that my breasts have always been more trouble than they were worth. D cup, anyone? That she could feel free to lop them off, and I wouldn't care. She laughed. I laughed.

But I'm still not sure that I was kidding.

There is no end to this post, not yet. Perhaps on Tuesday I will be able to finish it off in a satisfactory way. The odds of that look to be around 60%.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Skin and Bone: A Farewell of Sorts

It was a September day so balmy that it carried regret on its back, the sense that summer had come and gone without enough respect paid to the great outdoors. The children were in school. The little one had not cried at drop-off, and I was feeling relieved, and daring to be hopeful about drop-offs to come. Across from the preschool was an abandoned train station and its tracks, covered over now by nature's restorative efforts. The parents of children attending the Montessori school typically scrambled down and then up the other side of the trackbed, a shortcut enabling them to reach their cars faster, and start their days sooner. 

Somehow I skidded down into the base of the channel. My thong sandals were flimsy. There must have been morning dew. I don't really know. I didn't pay attention to the chain of events that would seem important only in retrospect. My right leg made contact with the bottom of the U-shaped ditch, and I heard the snap of bone. And then, incredibly, a second snap.

I sat stunned for a minute. I assessed my predicament through a sudden fog. I stared at my right foot, which was angled in a grotesque and improbable way. I looked to both sides of me. Where were all the parents? On the road to my right I saw the short school bus that had disgorged, minutes earlier, a small group of kindergartners. The bus driver sat lounging in her seat; the bus' accordion door was folded back to welcome the warm air.

This story is not about my broken leg, although the leg was in fact broken. Both tibia and fibula. Accidents happen. Even freak accidents happen. They happen to healthy 37-year-old women on sun-kissed days when all one's ducks seem to be in a row (no tears at drop-off!).

However, this story is about my broken leg, in one sense: during my six-month convalescence (a period including three surgeries, two plates, eleven screws, near-total bedrest, and excruciating sessions of physical therapy), I began to write.

Why, then, did I make a point of telling you about the bus driver? Because when I was sitting frozen in that ditch, having recognized that I was unable to move, I could scarce muster the courage to raise my voice, shout, "I need help." My first reaction - not horror at my twisted leg, not pain-fueled hysteria - was embarrassment. Shame. I did finally yell for help, directing my volume toward the bus driver, but I found doing so as agonizing as my injury. As for the bus driver, good soul, she went into the preschool to fetch the director, and call for an ambulance.

Soon teachers were at my side, and parents too. I remember wondering how they could have appeared so quickly, when a moment or a lifetime ago they were nowhere. A clutch of women made a circle about me, clucking sympathetically, chatting about their own history of broken bones, ailments, and accidents. As women do. Never in my life before or since have I wished so fervently to spit out ugly, venomous words and scatter them like seeds, to stop these women from speaking about nothing when there was so goddamn much pain, which had flown up and off the scale, finally, and was now sending streaks of lightning across my visual field and causing my stomach to knot so fiercely that vomiting felt a foregone conclusion. Instead I smiled and nodded and felt for all the world as if I were hosting a coffee klatsch right there on the weedy, pebbled trackbed. There would be no speaking my truth, not on that day.

When a month later I began to write - encouraged by a blogger friend - it all came tumbling out, the mess I'd kept closeted for years, so thoroughly closeted that I'd completely forgotten about the existence of the closet. I wrote and wrote and wrote, publishing every day and sometimes twice in a day. You thought I was prolific, readers of my blog, and I was, but only because there was so much pressure behind what had been stopped up for too long.

I 'found myself' (as much as I detest that expression) in my forties, and I couldn't have done that without blogging. I had articulated a divide: between my thirties, when I dared not speak my truth, and my forties, when I wasn't so much speaking my truth as shouting it. But this divide was artifice - a literary device. The real divide came before I reached forty years old. It came on September 14, 2005, when I broke my leg and realized that even in duress I was apologizing for drawing attention, for causing trouble, for creating a fuss, for being me.

I am grateful, so very grateful, for blogging, for you, the people I've grown to love through blogging - you who never turned away from me during my metamorphosis but instead embraced me. At least one of you will surely laugh and accuse me of crying wolf, claiming to be done with blogging when in a few months I will prove otherwise. At that accusation, which we all know to be well-founded, I shrug. I can write only what I believe to be true at the time I'm writing it.

But hey, that shrug? Means that I am finally comfortable in my own skin. It's taken forty-six years and a lot of experiences I'd rather not have had. And yet: God! I am so thankful to be here, now.

My leg has healed. The two plates and eleven screws, they will remain inside me for the entirety of my life.

I like to think that some of us just need a few screws and plates - and a blog - to help us become ourselves. 





Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vote For Our Future

I live in a small town. The main business of the town is education, whether it is the education of small people or relatively larger, college-aged people. Education: its Latin root means to draw out from within, or to lead forth. Given that so many of us here a) are in the process of being educated; b) have children who are in the process of being educated; c) have returned as retirees to a place where we or our loved ones were once educated; and/or d) work in the field of educating others, we ought to be especially sensitive to the laudable goal of 'leading forth' our community's children. At a time when society's burdens and challenges are acute (global warming; overpopulation; drug-resistant bacteria, among others), it would seem especially important for us to raise creative thinkers who will meet these burdens and challenges with aplomb.

In order to do that, we must have learning environments that facilitate, not hinder, a twenty-first century education. We need spaces that encourage collaboration and "out of the box" problem-solving, interdisciplinary instruction, and technological innovation. At present we have a high school that enables none of these things. The high school is far outdated. Its condition has so deteriorated that students must prepare for extreme heat in a classroom, extreme cold, and/or the possibility - very real, sadly - of flooding. Classrooms are small, isolated, and not technologically 'smart.' High schoolers must walk back and forth across a busy street multiple times in one day to attend their classes, some of which are in one building, the rest in another. What a waste of precious learning time!

On May 20th the referendum to build a new high school will come up for a vote. I honestly can't see why anyone would vote against this referendum. One visit to the aging high school should convince even stalwart opponents of the dire need for action. I have listened to naysayers' complaints: these are predominantly about increased property taxes to finance the construction of a new high school. I wish I could help such people see bigger, broader, further, help them see the need for a new high school not as a choice but as a moral imperative. It is not about the adults among us, or it shouldn't be. It is about the legacy we leave our children, our friends' children, our grandchilden, our friends' grandchildren.

For it is these children who shall inherit the earth.

Vote yes on May 20th. Vote for our future.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Field Trip

Faith has a face. Today it is stubbled and lined, weary. Faith wears a baseball cap artfully placed to conceal a bald spot, or two. Faith wears jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. Faith keeps a Diet Coke by his thigh, the bottle tipped, too skinny to fit properly into the vehicle's cup holder. I implore Faith to drink that Diet Coke. Faith adjusts the side view mirrors and sighs, a bone-deep sigh. He coughs and clears his throat. I wonder: has he slept? Has he slept enough?

Forty children on this bus. No, they are not children. They occupy the uncomfortable space between children and teenagers. A gum-smacking, malodorous, coltish space. He, Faith, sees a mass of pimpled, noisy, rude riders. I see the toughest part of youth, so tough that this age group is segregated from older and younger kids into a three-grade outpost we unironically call middle school. I see the tears each and every one of these awkward bodies shed at night, when they believe no one is looking. I see diaries with scrawled secrets, especially poignant because in reality the secrets are not secret at all.

And I beg Faith to keep these incipient people safe, to bring them home, in all their lovely unloveliness. They are becoming. Think of the hideous cocoon that encases the chrysalis. Remember what comes next. These forty kids, they are all potential.

Perhaps, Faith, as you drive, you flash back to your own unlovely years. Did they scar you? They enabled the best years of your life, whenever those were, however many there were. I guess by your appearance that for you those best years have come and gone. Still: they survive in your head, don't they?

Your cargo is precious. Today I will go to work and fear getting a phone call. I will consider just how often we call strangers by the name Faith. I will encourage you to go ahead and take a second sip of that Diet Coke. 

And when the tweens are stomping on that last nerve of yours, find the empathy I know you possess, because you lived there once, on that bus, in that school, in that no-man's land where you are no longer cute but not yet interesting.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter

 I've spent the better part of my forties attempting a wholesale rejection of the person I once was. The people pleaser. The faithful one, who always remembered everyone's birthdays and all the other milestones besides. The careful, conscientious worker, the attentive, solicitous friend.

It is not lost on me that most people shed familiar roles and try on new ones when they are in their teens, not their forties, but I was late to my emotional adolescence, and that is that.

Of course I came into these past few years angry and hurting (the death of a parent will do that to a person), and high emotion like that does not reconcile itself to good sense. I knew perfectly well that you can't escape yourself, and yet I think that's exactly what I was hoping to do.

So here I am, on the other side of all the turmoil, and I am more or less the same as I was then. I have learned to put myself first when I need to, and even if that's all I've learned, it was something worth figuring out.

Writing in this space was part and parcel of shedding old skin and may even have facilitated the process. Rather obliviously I wrote my truth without care or concern for its effect on other people whose stories I might coopt in the telling of my own. I imagined you, my reader, as a stranger and thereby safe. 

Yesterday I found out that my writing has shocked certain members of my extended family. 'Shock' covers a lot of territory, doesn't it? But you have to admit that all the territory it covers is ugly: squat buildings set against a dry, dusty landscape. 

In hearing this news I felt, in order: guilt, shame, and surprise. Of these the surprise was the most illuminating. Had I been living under a rock, not understanding that what I wrote publicly would have repercussions? Did I think my writing exempt from those repercussions? Did I believe that pretty words couldn't wound?

No. In the thick of my belated adolescence I suppose I didn't much care. I was, for the first time in my life, being selfish. 

Now, though, now. I am fully capable of considering my writing and its impact, even if it is on only a small circle of people.

I may decide to continue doing everything as I have been. I may choose to thin my body of work, shuttering writing that might cause pain now or later. I don't know.

But whatever I end up doing, I sense an awakening in myself that coincides happily with the awakening of the earth after a particularly cold, challenging winter.

I am cleaning house, opening windows, airing out rooms. It is the kind of work that feels like work's opposite. I grow a little older. I grow a little wiser. I grow.