Biopsy. Biopsy. Biopsy. How can a word take my breath away?
It was a normal day at the zoo and I was pretending to be a momma bird squirting water from a Gatorade water bottle into the mouths of all my thirsty baby birds. (In other words I stupidly only packed one water bottle for six children and was trying to prevent the spread of germs.) When Alex leaned his head back for his squirt, I saw it.
It was a weird growth thing on the roof of his mouth. Immediately I felt my stomach twist up. I asked Joel to look at it and he told me to relax. It was probably a burn from eating hot pizza, and we would just keep our eye on it. I forced myself to breathe. I couldn’t even handle looking at it again because I know myself, I know my brain. I could go from it being a tiny bump to “cancer.”
When I found the lump in my breast I tried to talk myself down. “Melissa, it’s not cancer. Do you know how many times you’ve thought something was cancer? Melissa just because it is possible does not mean it is probable. Melissa you are always worried about the worst happening, it is probably just a cyst.” My brain and I were in a battle during the days between finding the lump and getting my biopsy results. Sometimes my health anxiety is a thief of my joy, but in some ways it also keeps me safe. Because when the doctor told me it was probably a cyst and to just keep my eye on it, I shook my head and asked for an ultrasound. And I am pretty sure that decision saved my life.
So instead of obsessing about Alex’s weird mouth growth by checking it constantly, looking it up on the internet, and panicking . . . I put Joel in charge of it. Cancer taught me that Joel is calm, and level-headed, and just the right amount of worried. Cancer taught be that I can’t be in control of everything, and that sometimes it is okay to say, “I can’t handle this. I can’t do it. I can’t even.” So Joel took over. He took a picture of it and sent it to our brilliant dentist friends. They said it looked benign to them but to take him to the dentist. So Joel made the appointment, and took him. And our wonderful dentist who seems to know me all to well, pulled Joel aside and said, “I know your wife. She is probably freaking out. Tell her it is okay. He needs to see an oral surgeon to have it removed, and they will biopsy it to be sure, but I am not worried.” I made Joel tell me this over and over again, I kept asking him, “So . . . are you sure he wasn’t worried, but why does he have to get it out? Why do they have to biopsy it?”
And my brain and I continued this battle. Because I know that sometimes even when doctors think things are okay . . . they aren’t. I know that even when you are sure you will get the call with the “all clear” instead they say the word “cancer” and you fall to your knees.
But I didn’t completely surrender to the panic. Because I have been working SO hard on my anxiety. I am determined not to let it steal my joy. I know that if I let myself be worry’s slave, I will feel less sunshine on my face. And I don’t want to live life like that.
My dear family friend who passed away last summer from breast cancer spent her life speaking the truth about the power of positive thought and intention. After she died I watched her TED Talk, and she tells the audience not to stay in the negative for too long, to move it aside and say, “despite all of that, I can solve this anyway.” This inspired me to transform all of my “what ifs” to “even ifs“. I am trying to retrain my brain to not be caught in the “what if my cancer comes back?” mindset, but in the “even if my cancer comes back, I know how to be resilient” mindset. (https://cancermademedoit.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/her-funeral-was-magic/)
This takes a lot of work. And patience. And willingness to forgive myself for all of the times that my resilience takes a back seat to my anxiousness.
But “what if my sweet 9-year-old who still holds my hand, and takes naps with our puppy, and designs amazing Lego creations, and makes his cousins belly laugh, and picks up trash when he goes on walks with me, who wants to make blessing bags for the homeless, and who dreams of inventing a portal for time travel . . . what if he has cancer?”
I couldn’t survive that. Could I?
Yes. Yes I could. Do you know how I know? Because of you. Because I see some of you out there in life and you have survived this, and you have survived worse.
I had some amazing oncology nurses at Siteman. And Erin had a sparkle in her eyes, a warmth in her smile, and playfulness in her voice that made needles, and ports, and pills, a bit easier to handle.
She just lost her three-year-old son to cancer.
And I am sure she feels like she will not survive this. But she will. Because of you. Because there are some of you out there who have also lost your babies. The single most devastating thing that could ever happen to a parent. And you are surviving. And you must be her hope.
When I was healing from my surgery, I wrote a blog post about prayer. I said,
When I was a fraction of myself. When the anchor of cancer pulled me so far underwater I was sure I would never reach the surface again. When I felt the ache of hopelessness.
There was always this unbreakable thread that kept me just shy of the bottom.
And each prayer you sent me, each thought, and well wish. Each time you said my name, or squeezed your eyes closed and sent me love, or read my words and ached with me for just a moment. Each time you extended your energy in my direction, or folded your fingers together, or kneeled down at your place of worship. Each time. Every. Single. Time.
It moved me.
Those prayers. That energy. Those connections. They were balloons. And I held on to each one. And they lifted me.
Please send that kind of love to Erin. May there be an million balloons that hold her up, just shy of the bottom.
Alex met with the oral surgeon yesterday. She wasn’t concerned at all. They removed the weird skin flappy-thing and sent it off to be biopsied. So I am breathing again, and feel confident that all will be well.
And even if it’s not. I’ll find a way to be resilient.
And you will, too.