I had a health scare last week that slapped me, once again, into awareness that I’m alone. I no longer have a husband; I no longer am married. After 56 years, I no longer have someone at home who’s there for me the minute something goes wrong.
There have been many challenges as I’ve assumed this role of widowhood, but they’ve been doable. Mostly. I’ve not finished yet with collecting tax documents, and that’s stretching my sanity; I much prefer working with words than numbers.
This health scare, though, was not doable, alone. The doctor’s office called that I needed to have a repeat mammogram. In my 77 years, I’ve never had to have a repeat. You can imagine where my mind went—all the way from the repeat test itself to the grave.
I had to have an immediate talk with myself. I could not deal with wild thoughts alone, much less for the whole ten days until the follow-up appointment. Within minutes, I called the scheduler back and asked for an earlier time. And got one. But then I sat here, alone. Normally, I would have cried, and Marv would have held and hugged me until I stopped. There was no one to hold or hug me, and I realized, for the first time since widowhood (perhaps, I’m a late learner), that being alone with a health scare is far worse than doing taxes for the first time, or dealing with the humped salt in the Culligan thing, or gassing up one’s car in our polar vortex weather.
As I sat here, numbed, I had to do something. Anything. Heavy shadows of doom arrived out of nowhere. Just like that I knew with absolute certainty that I could not do the “living with cancer” life again so soon. It was as though I’d done it once, recently, and valiantly, but now I’d “been there, done that,” and I was so done with it, that, no matter what, I needed to reach out for help. I’m a planner, so the most productive thing I could do was envision life with chemo, vomiting, and fatigue and call in support. Just in case.
Of course, I reminded myself of my friend Marianna’s mantra, “It’s not cancer until someone says it is.” I told her first—she warned me not to go negative right away, then waited awhile to tell my daughter, Kathleen, who lives nearby. Should I spoil her life worrying when there may be no cause for worry? No matter, I could not not tell her. After the repeat tests, I decided I must tell my son out-of-state, and I must write a letter; I needed to know others were praying for me. Here goes.
Wednesday, February 7, 2019, 8 am
I have some health news. After complaining about my primary doctor to Kathleen one to many times, I finally decided to see her doctor. I saw her on January 23 for an annual checkup. Unlike my former doctor, this gal believes in continuing diagnostic testing after 75, symptoms or not. So, she ordered a skin check, dexascan (to monitor osteoporosis), and a mammogram (my last one was August of 2016).
I had the mammogram on January 29 and got a call back two days later due to a suspicious spot, new since 2016. Their earliest available appointment for additional testing was in ten days. I took it and then called back when I realized that was too close to my next planned trip. They squeezed me in yesterday, February 6.
At 7:00 am, in our five-degree, icy-road weather, I drove to a cancer center, the same place where we went for Marv’s referral to hospice, for a CHSM (contrast enhanced spectral mammogram). If something showed up on that, I was to have an ultrasound.
I waited about 20 minutes for the results from the first test. The technician came in: “They want you to have an ultrasound.” So, I trundled after her down the hall in my winter boots and patient gown and met another technician. My blood pressure had shot way up by that time. When that test was finished, I was asked to wait again.
After what seemed like a very long wait, the tech came back in with a doctor who looked no older than ten. He confirmed that the original suspicious spot had now been visible on the two tests of the morning and said that having that evidence warranted a biopsy. I hardly had time to process this when the tech said, due to the weather, they’d had a cancellation, and I could probably have it right away, instead of waiting about ten days. Yay!
Kathleen was at a business presentation her husband was giving and texted me at ten that she was on her way. I responded I was waiting for another test. She arrived a few minutes later, and I told her the test was a biopsy. Some tears flowed.
But my ten-year-old doctor and his team did a great job of the needle biopsy, and Kath and I were soon off to lunch. At 2:00, when I was back home, my new doctor’s office called to set up an appointment for Monday, February 11, at 2:45 pm, to get the results. Efficiency plus!
I told all my new medical personnel about Marv and that I’ve really had enough of cancer for the time being. I ask for your prayers as I wait for the biopsy results. I’ve never had a call back from a mammogram before. I’m forever thankful to Kathleen that she kept on me to change doctors!
So, it will be a long weekend, but I’ve put this concern in God’s hands, just as Marv and I did with his illness a little over a year ago.
At 5:06 pm that afternoon, February 7, my phone rang. I saw that the caller was the doctor’s office. Oh no! Surely the slide in the pathology lab had alerted all the techs that this woman had an urgent case of something that had to be treated right away! (Sometimes, being a nurse is not helpful.) With my heart hammering away, I answered,
“This is ………… from Dr. …………’s office. Your test results just came back. They are negative. Everything’s fine. I thought you’d like to know before the weekend. We can cancel your Monday appointment. Just have a follow-up in six months.”
After I hung up, I sat down, leaned forward, and gallons of tears dropped on my lap. Thank you, Jesus!
With the help of others and a lot of prayer, I survived this health scare. But now I think of how insensitive I’ve been to my single friends who have never had, or no longer have, a significant other to be there for them with such a scare. I’m hoping my experience wakes up my empathy, and yours, for all who live alone.