Sunday, October 05, 2014

What if ? - a cancer scare story

15 August 2014, Friday, 2:15pm

My phone rings. It displays an unknown number. I let the phone rings and continue working thinking 'If it's important they will leave a message.' The caller does leave a message. I listen to the message as I head to the cafeteria. 'Hi, this message is for Ms.A I'm calling from Dr. Groover's office regarding your mammogram. If you can call us back, the doctor wants you to come back for additional views. The number here is 212....' 
Did I hear well? 'Come back for additional views' ? I halt in my tracks as if waiting for the message to continue, for a clarification of sort. But the only thing I hear is the phone number for contact and a courteous 'Thank you'.  There is no mirror in front of me, but I can tell the blood had pulled away from my face. For a moment.

A wave of rage overwhelms me. WHAT?! That's ALL?! They can't just say 'come back' and not elaborate! I'm furious. For a moment.

Common sense returns. I touch the 'call back' button and take a deep breath. I don't have to wait long for a receptionist to pick up. I try to be calm - the receptionist hasn't done me any wrong. I can't help it but to hear a mix of panic, fear and anger in my voice. I tell them my name and why I call, they tell me we need to schedule another mammogram and ask if the following Friday ok. Yes, it's ok. 

Nothing is ok right now! I ask why I need to go back, is the quality of images poor, or is there anything wrong they've seen. The moment I say this I realize how ridiculously scientific I sound. But the receptionist doesn't mind - she says she would put me through to speak with the radiologist technician. A moment later, the technician tells me something which I don't understand fully because of her thick foreign accent and my temporary insane state. She tells me not to worry and with that the conversation is over. I look at my phone in disbelief. It feels like I just woke up from a nightmare. But the realization that the nightmare is only starting slowly gets to me. 

I am quiet for the rest of the day. The weekend mood is killed. I'm left alone with my own thoughts, digesting the news. I spend the evening surfing the net reading page after page on breast cancer early diagnosis. I read through forums and multitude of personal stories. I don't think of anything but just read, read, read myself to sleep. I wake up the next day and I know there was no nightmare - I do have to go in for a second mammogram. I have educated myself what the possible next steps are - second mammogram, sonogram, needle biopsy, incisional biopsy. I didn't have the strength to read what follows after. I am very calm. So calm that it terrifies me. Saturday goes on as if nothing happened. Sunday too. By Monday morning I can't hold it to myself anymore. I email a radiologist friend of mine - she says this sounds like a routine process, not to worry. Easier said than done, but ok, I try. In an attempt to distract myself from my own problems I reach out to people I barely know - it's easier to tell a stranger your secrets, right? I also confide in a couple of close friends, their support means a lot.

22 August 2014, Friday, 11:30am

A week has passed and I'm again in the waiting room of Dr Groover's office, 15 min early. But I'm not called early, so I wait patiently. A radiologist technician comes to the reception desk and calls two names - mine and Ms.B's. I'm surprised that they call in both of us at once. Ms. B, a well dressed, good looking woman in her late 50s, nervously asks 'Shall we both come in?' . 'Yes' - the technician replies and turns around the corner. We both rush after her, like students late for class. We occupy the two changing rooms in another much smaller waiting room, just as we are instructed. I am called in first. 

The technician looks at the paperwork as I get in front of the apparatus. She rubs her nose with her finger, she seems confused. 'Did they tell you what you are back for?' 'No.' - I reply. 'I'll be right back.' - she says and leaves the room. Some time passes by - may be 5 minutes, may be 10, she returns and looks again at the paperwork - her confidence, or rather lack of, is not helping. She looks one last time at the monitor with my patient's profile and concludes - 'OK, I know what I need to do.' Did she say this to me, or rather to herself? Because if she tried to calm me down, she failed. I'm more nervous now than when I arrived.  She takes a couple of images and says - 'This was it - you can go ahead and sit in the waiting room. I will send the images to the doctor. If everything is ok I will let you know and you can go home. If they need to do a sonogram exam, someone will come for you.'

I go and sit in the tiny waiting room, while Ms.B goes in. Meanwhile another woman has joined us in the waiting room, already in a blue exam gown. I say hi and stare in the floor in front of me, hoping that nobody comes for me, wishing that this all will be over soon. That everything will be o'right!
Because, what if it isn't?
And that's when the seriousness of the other possible outcome hits me.

I'm 42, single professional. I just moved to this city 7 months ago. My best friend lives in town, but that's about it. I don't have a boyfriend. I don't have a network of friends yet. I haven't felt at home yet. All my relatives are thousand of miles away. And how would I even tell them? Mom is a breast cancer survivor. How would she and Dad take it? What about my job - would it pay for the treatment? Who would be by my side? How would I go through that? Would I make it through? I'm starting to panic, my heart thumping.    

'Your perfumes smells really nice!' - the soft voice of the lady sitting next to me jerks me out of my whirlwind of thoughts. 'Thanks.' - I barely utter and attempt a smile. 'Where are you from? I hear an accent.' - she adds.
And that's when I burst into tears - quietly, but so emotionally. The build up of a week long fear for my life finally finds a way out. It's an emotional climax that takes me by surprises, but it urges me to face the facts.

What would I do if I have cancer? 
I'd get the hell out of this city where I feel lonely, I'd quit my job, I'd travel and write, I'd surround myself with the people I love and the ones that care about me. I'd laugh as much as I can, I'd enjoy every day and be true to myself…

I'm lost in my thoughts and I don't notice that another technician has just come to the waiting room. She is young and pretty, and calm. She calls my name. Nothing more. And I know I have to follow her for a sonogram. My knees tremble, I am surprised I am not fainting yet. The sonogram exam goes in total silence. What is this - some pact of saying as little as possible, not engaging in any conversation with the patient?! I lay there for who knows how long, watching the ultrasound monitor, not sure what I'm seeing. I only know that what I see is actually under my skin. Odd!

I don't dare to say anything, nor to ask questions. I'm waiting for the final verdict. At last, she takes a deep breath and blurts 'Well, I don't see anything at all.'  'Really?' - is what I say back to her, but what I actually want to do is jump for joy, hug the technician and do a very happy dance.  'I'll go report to the doctor and show him the images I took. He will come with the final report' - she says and leaves the room.

I dress up and wait again, really impatient by now. The doctor enters the exam room and hands me over the medical report. 'Everything looks fine. See you in a year time for your next basic screening.' - he says and smiles. 'Thanks.' - is all I reply and rush out of this place, which out of sudden lacks the amount of oxygen I need. 

Once on the street, I take a deep breath and I find myself in tears again. Light drizzle raindrops mix with my tears. I'm exhausted and utterly relieved.

What now? - I ask myself…

Get away from the places that make me feel lonely, change my job, travel and write, surround myself with people I love and the ones that care about me. Laugh as much as I can, enjoy every day and be true to myself. 

PS. This story may or may not be inspired by true events. Any resemblance between the characters and anyone you know is to stay unconfirmed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Birthdays on the go

It was the 1st  September 1972.
Dark, gray, cloudy skies. Imminent rain.
My Dad was about to head to work when my Mom announced that perhaps they should be heading to the delivery room instead. The rest of my parents memories are hard to reconcile. 
I was not a planned baby. After my Mom's problematic first pregnancy, they decided on having one child only. However, pregnant already, Mom convinced Dad that a second child might be a good idea - to keep company to the first one (as she likes to joke). My Dad hoped for a boy. Once I was born,  Mom was  very disappointed that I was not a boy. My Dad said it's too late.  Neither of them remembers what time I was born, but that I wasn't a very pretty baby. Honesty appreciated!  And so my life begins…

Most probably the first picture of me - I'm the crying baby, of course! 

Happy cyclist :) … Still am! 

My first picture taken in a photo-studio (I'm on the left) 

Birthdays were not celebrated much in my family. I never asked why. Everyone would wish me a 'Happy birthday!' , my grandparents would give me some extra pocket money, and that was all. When I found out that other kids have parties, I asked for one too, and for my 15th birthday I had my first Birthday Party at home. I invited 4 friends and had set a buffet table on the side. My parents thought it was appropriate to come and sit with us. My guests were shy and didn't eat anything. It was the worst and most boring party ever!!!
I decided not to have birthdays parties anymore, but to travel on my birthdays instead!!!

I'd simply go to the city and stroll the streets, or go to another city for a weekend.  I just liked changing the scenery and being on my own.  While in college, I'd travel to the Black Sea for a day on the beach - overnight train would get me to Varna at 6am, I'd watch the sunrise, spend the day sunbathing and wandering around the city, and in the evening I would take the night train back home.  

I stopped counting my birthdays at about 28. I like to joke that I'm a forever-28 :-) 
I didn't stop counting because the number got too high - life got too busy and there were more pressing things at hand, but to count the years. Nevertheless, I always made it a priority to observe my birthday - to celebrate life and every year of it!  In recent years the focus shifted to celebrating not the birthday itself, but all the wonderful people I meet, all the great experiences I have, and how lucky I have been in general!

Ironically, at about the time I stopped counting the years, digital cameras took over recording them for me, and here is what they have to say…  

2001 / Tucson, AZ - day trip to Old Tucson to hang out with the Bad Boys, and dinner with Laura

 2002 / Everett, WA -  weekend camping in the Cascades, blowing a 'birthday candle'

 2003 / Everett, WA - Hiking Mt. Rainier National Park 

 2004 / Everett, WA - Day trip to Edmonds beach

 2005 / Urbana, IL - A week at Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain - a moment after that shot was taken, a wave splashed my rear :)

 2006 / Madison, WI - My first trip to Stockholm, Swededn - fell in love with Scandinavia!

 2007 / Madison, WI - A weekend trip to Washington State to celebrate with old friends

 2008 / Reading, UK - Sailing weekend in The Netherlands

 2009 / Reading, UK - Long weekend in Ireland (Aran Islands and Dublin)

2010 / Utrecht, NL - By that time I had already learned how to throw amazing parties for friends, so I hosted one,  yet I still squeezed in a quick trip to Amsterdam ;-)

 2011 / Utrecht, NL - An amazing, last minute, 24 hour trip to Paris with a lover  ;-)

 2012 / Melbourne, Australia  - A weekend in Las Vegas for the big 40 !!!

   2013 / Melbourne, Australia  - Dinner with friends in Fitzroy after a day at St.Kilda's beach

2014 / Washington, DC … Heading to New York City in 5 days :) Photo to follow…

And here it is… 1 Sept 2014 - the Empire State Building :)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Morning promises

In my school days, I loved waking up early. Around 6 in the morning I would get to the city's square and just sit there - in the still, sleepy atmosphere, with only the fountain's splashing water sound reminding me that life has not stopped forever. Occasionally, a street sweeper would pass by, or early worker's footsteps would make me turn my head and smile to them, and then an utter calmness would take over again. There was something magical about knowing that most everyone's asleep; it felt peaceful and safe.

Other days I'd head to the main train station and I'd watch the opposite - lots and lots of people getting on and off the trains, rushing, heading to or coming from who knows where, their faces sort of caught in between asleep and awake. Unaware of my gentle intrusion, their confusion makes me smile. Newspaper stands would be already open and their business was at their peak. After making up what the dreams and the daily chores of some of the people might be, I'd giggle at my own silliness and head to school with a smile.

These days are long gone…

Lately I don't get up early often. But when I get a chance to stay with my best (and early-bird) friend, I find myself awake at 6 am and somehow, that longing to go out on the streets and simply watch the world in its most peaceful state, to enjoy the promise of the dawn of a new comes back to me and overwhelms me with hope. I feel like a fisherman, who leaves a warm, comfortable bed, takes a cup of hot coffee, and replaces the safety of home with the hope that on his boat, out in the sea, it will be a good day for fishing, early hour and cold weather irrelevant.

Perhaps we are all fishermen, waking up every morning to the promise of another day.