It's a gorgeous, sunshine-y day; I've got the windows rolled down and the radio turned up, and I'm singing along to U2's Beautiful Day at the top of my lungs. I'm heading into Boston for two doctors appointments: a routine check-up with my head and neck surgeon and then on to my oncologist to get the feeding tube out. Finally. I'm thrilled about this milestone and my spirits are soaring.
I even mange to eat a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin on the way in.
Life is good.
For once, the long wait at the head and neck surgeon's office doesn't bother me, because I'm not anxious, not waiting for test results, not thinking about anything except being tube-free in approximately two hours.
Finally, he comes in, asks me the usual questions and then starts poking around in my mouth.
"Has there been a spot that has been bothering you in your throat?" he asks. "More than usual?"
I think for a bit, and reply "well, there is this one spot on the left that has always hurt more than the rest of my mouth. But I wouldn't say it's worse. It's not better, either. I've gotten kind of used to it, I guess."
His eyebrows knit together and he gets out his ultra-bright light, magnifying glasses and the scope. My stomach does a little flip-flop.
"Hmmmm," he says, unhelpfully.
Then he looks at it some more, calls another doctor in to look at it, and by now I'm shaking and sweating; trying to make eye contact with him over my stretched-wide-open mouth is hard.
Finally, he sits down next to me, and exhales a little sigh that I've come to dread.
"I'd like to biopsy that," he says, shaking his head slowly. "It's probably nothing, but I want to be sure. We have to put you under for that, briefly, so you'll need to schedule a ride, but it's a day procedure. You can't get the feeding tube out today, I'm afraid. In case we do find, you know, something, you'll still be needing that tube."
I gape at him in a stunned silence. This was not part of today's plan. Today he was supposed to tell me how awesome my scar looks, give me a fatherly pat on the back and send me on my way to get the tube out. Now we're talking about somethings?
A nurse comes in to give me a pre-procedure check-up and blood work, and they tell me someone will call to schedule the biopsy shortly. I beg him to make it as quick as possible, because the waiting is hard for me.
My voice sounds very far away and business-like to me; there is no note of the hysteria I feel welling up inside.
I make it to my car before I burst into terrified tears.
This is what cancer does to you; it never goes completely away, even if you remain in remission for the rest of your days. There will always be tests, knitted brows, scans and waiting. Always.
I clench my fists and shake my head back and forth and sob and sob. I know I need to accept this, surrender to it, but for now I'm angry. I'm pissed. And I'm really scared. What if they find cancer? What then? I can't do it anymore, I just can't.
After ten minutes or so my sobbing slows to hiccuping sniffles, and I take a deep breath and start my car. On the ride home I stare at my fellow drivers, wonder what they're thinking about. Dinner? A big meeting the next day? Someone honks and gives me the finger because I'm driving too slowly, lost in thought. I gape at him - you think that's important? Being late?
When the kids get off the bus and pile through the door a few hours later, backpacks, papers and shoes flying in all directions and chattering away about their day, I feel that old urge to run and hide. Don't love me, I think. I have a something. I may always have somethings. I'm damaged goods.
"Hey Ellie, do you know what?" (that's Finn's latest thing, calling me Ellie). He runs up and throws his arms around my legs. "You're awesome and I love you!!'
My heart sinks and tears come to my eyes as I say, in what I hope is a convincing cheerful voice, "You know what, Finn? You're awesome and I love you, too!" I manage a smile, listening to Greta going on about her day.
This is my new normal. I can fight it, or I can accept it. Those are my only two choices. I know which way is easier, more peaceful, but man sometimes it's hard to accept something you desperately don't want to be true.
"Oh, Momma!!!" Greta exclaims. "Let's see your tummy! You got the tube out today!!!"
I give her a small smile and explain that I didn't get it out because they are still checking something in my neck and I may still need it if they have to do more procedures.
Her face falls. "Is that bad? That's bad, isn't it? How bad is it?"
"It's not bad or good or anything, yet. They are just going to do some tests and then we'll see what the next steps are. I'm trying to tell my brain not to think about it until I know more, because worrying doesn't get me anywhere." I pray I sound convincing.
"Just like when I worry about Spelling Challenge at school? You always tell me to tell my brain not to worry about how I did until I get the test back. That worry is just a waste of time."
"Yes," I smile. "Just like that."
I slip upstairs to my room and get on my knees. Take it, please, I pray. Can you carry this for me for a while? Because I can't. I whisper this over and over until I feel a little lighter.
I make my way downstairs to fix a snack for the kids. My hands still feel a little shaky, but I feel better. More present. More free. Less angry. Almost accepting. Almost. I'm getting there.