Septuagenarian Hobbit Has Ultrasound

My hobbit attitude is getting out of hand. I could say it’s the weather that’s making me a stay-at-home. And my age. My muscles are prone to spasm and never more than when there is a windchill of -30 C (-20F). So much of January, I’ve been hunkered down indoors, reading my Christmas books and watching my Christmas DVDs. I’ve even eschewed tai chi classes in favour of moving the furniture and practicing in the living room. But yesterday I had to go out.

I had an appointment for an ultrasound of my right breast. I first mentioned my oncologist’s concern about my right breast in The Cure for Fear   Evidently, right breast felt that left breast had got altogether too much attention in the past and had started acting out.

When I wrote The Cure for Fear, I was convinced that I would know the scope of the disaster the next day. As it turned out, I didn’t. First the results got delayed. Word-processing of results is no longer done in-house. It’s moved off shore or something. Possibly there is a “typing” factory in South Asia. So my first appointment got cancelled. Then I made the trip to Streetsville, an hour away, to be told that the doctor had had an emergency and wasn’t there. But, not to worry, said his assistant. The results were okay. When I finally got to see the doctor, two weeks later, he was distracted. I tried to ask a question and he said, “Can’t you see I’m reading?”


I waited silently.

There was, apparently, a little party going on in my right breast: a swollen lymph node, a cyst and a small lump, all nicely lined up at 10 o’clock. After careful examination, Dr. ____ gave me the choice of having a biopsy right away or a further ultrasound in 3 months. Breaking my silence, I said, “Depends on what you mean by right away. I’ll be away the rest of December.” And so, it came to pass that I ended up with this appointment at the end of January. (How is that 3 months, anyway?)

First thing I did when I got home from the oncologist was fish out the reports from 15 years ago when left breast was getting all the attention. There I read that a small benign lump had been detected in my right breast at 11 o’clock. I hied myself off to my G.P., report in hand. I was careful not to speak while he was reading. Could be, he said. Might be the same lump lurking there all these years. Couldn’t be sure. Sure enough to get my hyper-vigilant, worrier off the case. I flew off to Brussels where I very nearly forgot it.

Yesterday, I arrived at the hospital early. Just as well since I had to drive nearly to the top of the parking garage. Like many others, I feel that I am a co-owner of this garage its tariff is so steep. Since I was so early, I decided to wipe the side windows, which I could barely see through for the dirty salt residue that had been whipped up off the highway. I wet paper towel with windshield washer fluid and wiped them down. Don’t try it. I seem to have forgotten everything I ever knew about driving in a Canadian winter. When I came out to drive home 2 hours and $12 later, the windows were covered with dirty swirls through which I could not see at all.

I’m used to the check-in procedure here now, having checked in at least once a year since the year of the left breast. I even manage to find the ultrasound waiting room, and get myself into one of those nice gowns that tie in the back. It’s inconvenient to have to carry my clothes and my long winter coat, which sit next to me while I wait. And wait. And wait.

No problem. Someone is texting me pictures and CP 24 is on the television set. It’s true that I am a little unsettled by the fact that everyone who comes in after me is immediately whisked out of there for their test. The announcer on the news channel tells me that Dufferin County has declared a state of emergency and closed all its roads. Whoa! That’s north of here but still, has the weather changed that much since I came in? Then “Code Blue in Cardiology. Code Blue in Cardiology”. Then there’s the mayor on the screen, looking like a candidate for a Code Blue himself and being served with papers alleging that he engineered a jail house beat-down. Not that Mayor Ford gets much airtime because Justin Bieber is back in town surrendering to police on a charge of assault. I tear myself away from all this hair-raising excitement. No one else waiting. Four people, presumably ultrasound technicians, are chatting away in front of computers. And I’ve been left here in limbo? It’s like a really bad dream I once had.

Finally, we get down to the task at hand, with apologies because they are so busy. ???? The good news is that the gel is warm these days. It takes a long while. It is clear that the cyst is alive and well, if cysts can be said to be well, but deep breathing helps with pain. This is taking much longer than usual. At last, the technician says, “Why are you here?” For one moment, I think “Wasting taxpayer’s money.. do you think we are going to pay for this?” But I explain about right breast’s recent party mode. “Well, I see the cyst but I can’t find anything else,” she says and tosses me a towel.  She’s just broken the sacred code of technician silence. “Oh, thank you, thank you. You’re so kind to tell me,” I cry, only just restraining myself from throwing my arms around her.

So that’s the end for now. Mr Death isn’t knocking on the door for this green-eyed girl just yet.

The Cure for Fear

Okay, I should be asleep. I need to be. I want to get up early. Things to do. May actually be getting something, (When am I not?) But I have this great opportunity, which I am going to lose tomorrow. I am uncertain and afraid. Tomorrow I will call my oncologist. If my appointment is moved forward to next week instead of the week after, I know the lump that we’ve detected needs further study.

Blake and I were sitting in Starbucks in the lobby of Toronto General, gazing back at the Art Deco facade of Princess Margaret Hospital from which we had just jaywalked.

“Even if I do get an immediate call-back it could still be A or B. That would have to be determined,” I say.

“Or it could be C,” Blake quips.

“Oh, it could very well be C,” and I have to laugh.

Yes, well,  we have just spent two hours waiting to hear Blake’s test results with regard to C. They weren’t bad, but then they weren’t good either. It’s the usual seesaw game of prostrate cancer. Knock down the PSA score and the testosterone with hormones. Ease off. Watch the PSA rise again. Today, it was decided that it was time to go back to the heavy ammunition. Not easy news for the manly Blake, but excellent news in that the drugs have improved since last time and he is line to get this extremely expensive medication for free.

Not many men in the clinic bring along their ex-wives probably, but Blake’s young second wife was carried off by cancer two years ago. So he and I are embarked on this mutual study of mortality.

Much else has been happening this week. My brother Rob underwent knee replacement in Brussels. My daughter and her husband declared bankruptcy and their home is about to be foreclosed on. True this “disaster” has opened up their lives and led them to a prospective mountain home. My grandson, Leo, who has to get his driver’s license or lose his job, has his own test redo to deal with. I had enough fear to go round.

So I kept up my mantra, “I love you and I trust you.” Initially, I just mouthed the words, but gradually I realized what they meant. Driving down to the hospital today, I found it had morphed into, “I love you. I know you are pure love. I trust love.”

Blake and I, out of nothing but pure love, created a home, two children and careers that supported us. An excellent foundation for this present project.

At home, afterward, I read Rumi’s poetry (Rumi: The Book of Love, trans. Coleman Barks). One section is called “Tavern Madness” and the poems in it are about the ‘drunkenness’ of the overwhelming contact with the divine. Dinners in our home were full of such non-alcoholic ‘drunken’ conversations, full of revelation and confidence in our vision of life.

Rumi says: I didn’t come here of my own accord
                  And I can’t leave that way.
                  Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

I love the way, poetry lets you work things out for yourself. And I love the idea of surrender to the steady shoulder that is capable of supporting my staggering self.

In another poem, Rumi says, I am the clear consciousness core of your being,                                              The same in ecstasy
                                             As in self-hating fatigue.

And so, I came around to an open heart and fear dissolved.