Toast to…my lymph node…?
Am I really toasting my lymph node? And just one? Yeah, man, I think I am.
I have this one lymph node under my arm that has become the focus of my being this past month. And it got poked and torn a bit for drawing attention to itself. But it also took this writer on a full-on, anxiety –ridden, choking down panic with pastries journey that brought on waves of tears, screaming and…o man, get this…healing.
Beginning of the month I found out that my yearly mammogram revealed a lot of breast density making the mammogram possibly inconclusive. Okay. News to me. Thank God for a new law stating results have to state this for women so we know this. Sucks to know, though. And a wee bit scary because if my mammogram isn’t taking the pictures I need it to, then…what next? I spoke with my doctor, who I dig because she’s cool and smart and diligent and wears really sweet shoes. We decided I should get an ultrasound to get a clearer picture. So I did that at this beautiful women’s center downtown LA.
While I waited for Lisa, my radiologist technician to review the results with the doctor, she came back in the room and asked if I had just gotten over being really sick, with the flu or something? I said “no.” and she said “Are you sure?” When she left the room, I found a tiny spot on the ceiling tile and tried to focus on it. I imagined it growing larger, a tunnel, or was it more of a rock. A pebble on a beach? Or the center of a donut. Yes, it was the dark center of a donut.
Lisa came back with the doctor who explained they had found a lymph node “of concern”. He asked again about any illness, unexplained infections, etc… And while holding a tiny towel over my breasts, I sat there and calmly said again, “no”. He told me “maybe, probably…most likely…his best bet…it was nothing.” Not reassuring words. Then he said that if it made me nervous I could get a biopsy but he thought it was nothing.
First- you don’t tell a dramatist “maybe it’s nothing” and expect me to not conjure up multiple scenarios of what the Nothing really was. Shit, you tell any WOMAN, “maybe” and expect her not to take quick tally of her life and see herself telling family, her friends, watching her hair fall out, her breasts removed… for me…the wave of fears rushed at me and I could do nothing but sit there, choking on that shit.
Over the next few weeks I’d come up for air. I waited four days to meet with my primary doctor to review my choices which meant me telling her I had already made up my mind–I wanted that biopsy. I needed to know what was growing in me and I wanted it out. I needed to know immediately. I needed it gone. So, she made that call to set up the procedure but due to schedules at the women’s center, I had to wait….TWO WEEKS. Two.
Peter had an already scheduled work trip to Alaska he had to take so he left. I had a pass to the Los Angeles Film Festival, major deadlines to complete a script about a woman having to wait to see if her son serving in the army was dead or alive, and rewrite a script in pre-production about a mother haunted by an evil slaveowner who wants her son. I had stories to tell, work to do, people to see. Life to live. And the waves came. I’d go to a film and come home and cry. I’d meet with my director and producer and drive away crying. I was living a life that could all be swept out from under me because of whatever was growing inside of me.
I was scared and out of control in a way I hadn’t felt since my sister died years ago. I couldn’t save her, so what if I couldn’t save myself? What if I wasn’t strong enough to fight this? I spent hours reading blogs of amazing women who fought breast cancer, who did incredible healing things in their lives, in their communities, who found activism, parenthood, intimacy and healing…healing. They healed. And I was so scared I couldn’t do any of that.
I cried to my shrink, my best friends, my husband, my sister, my herbalist. I started saying out loud that I was scared. Inside, the fear was that I would battle this alone, that I was already battling it all alone. It grew to a mountainous size, consuming me with it’s suffocating grip. This fear of being abandoned, of facing the hard truth that nobody really loved me would not just bubble up to the surface but would erupt from someplace deep and shower me and my day with darkness. I ate to stop from chewing my own damn arm off, I think.
I made heart-breaking plans. I wrote the script in my head of how to tell my daughter, Bird, I was sick. I wrote the emails I’d send to friends asking for prayers for Peter and Bird and my family but begging them to not post on Facebook. I had long and angry conversations with my insurance about covering procedures. I even asked them to make sure they recorded me as I ranted one morning about the many problems with health insurance in this country and that when women like me needed them most, the fear of not being able to pay thousands of dollars for a freakin scan or biopsy or TREATMENT was like accepting a FUCKIN DEATH SENTENCE! I shook and screamed a lot. I ate more. I went to cycle class at the gym. I didn’t sleep. I paced. I lifted weights like a dude. I watched sitcom reruns for hours at a time. And I ate more. And I tried like hell to be present and take on what was coming my way. And I fought feeling like I was victim to that fear.
I already knew about it, that fear, it’s been around for years. Decades. It’s a bigass monster that shapeshifts at will, that lives under my bed, in the basement through the hot furnace grid of my childhood home, that lurks outside my door, in my showers, in the backseat of my car, down the street, and watches me while I sleep. I also knew that only I feed it. I keep it alive with my beliefs, my emotions. Life was sometimes pretty awful when I was kid and I see now that my belief was that those I love wouldn’t love me back and they’d hurt me. I believed that being disregarded, left to be alone, kicked aside, ignored, unheard, betrayed….hurts more than being laughted at, or…hit. Cuz when you’re fighting at least you’re being seen. When you’re hit, at least there’s contact. I believed that I deserved all that.
BUT…to not let you stay too long in the nightmares of my mind…this is what I DISCOVERED….
The BEAUTY OF FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong-doing done to you. It doesn’t pacify or deny the pain. It doesn’t mean that you..I am wrong for being hurt. Hurt is my emotion. Pain is mine. And underneath that pain is fear and I am doing the work to take on that monster, to squash its power, to shut its fuckin mouth…I’m doing that. AND…I have decided that the space that pain held in my heart is mine to fill with love and peace…through forgiveness. And truth.
So…I finally said out loud the responsibility I have for relationships that didn’t work. I reached out and got real with them. I apologized for pain that I have caused others. I made true apologies based on my need to let them know I was sorry and not a need to know if they were sorry for hurting me. I defined capabilities and finally saw that what I wish for myself, to be heard, understood and forgiven, are the very same things that they might want and need, too.. I said “I miss you”. I said “I love you”. I reached out and HELD ON LIKE MAD to the fierce women in my life! I told them I was scared and I needed them and they showed up. I didn’t just say “I’m blessed” because I KNOW that…with family and friends, yes, I’m blessed. But I wrapped myself in that blessing. And…I was loved. Me. Go figure.
Peter came home and as I thought I was forgiving him for leaving for the two weeks, I discovered he never left me and that I was on a journey of healing at warped speed. I had an emotional eruption, a final push to get me through this cloud of darkness and fear.
I want to see who I am on the other side. I want to be better than who I was when this all began…and by begin that doesn’t mean just this past month but these past three years of menopause and living in pain, that means further back to becoming a wife, to when I decided to pursue a life as a filmmaker, to when I became a writer, to when I lost my sister, to when I became Bird’s mom, to when I was stumbling through life in bars and making up shit to tell folks that I thought made me cool, to when I was a little girl scared because we were alone. I want to know who I’ll be now. I got ready.
Yesterday, I finally found out that the lymph node is benign. A benign recessive lymph node. No cancer. No cancer.
As a writer, this experience has made it mark on me, on my craft, I know it. I feel it. It will continue to do so as I go on. Of course, I have to quit crying, but those tears of gratitude will taper off…or maybe they won’t and I’ll just be a fierce, writing, tear-streaked artist mama from here on out.
So yeah, man…today’s toast…? It’s a Toast! to my lymph node.