September 26, 2003
Missing The Bus


It's not cancer.

The writer in me balks at giving away the ending like this, before the narrative has even begun: what kind of Sophomore Composition Class storytelling is that?? On the other hand, the wife/mother/daughter/sister/journaler/friend in me isn't much interested in putting anyone else through the kind of torture David and I have had to endure, the past couple of months. So I'm saying "The hell with dramatic tension," and I'm spoiling the ending for you, right here and now.

For a little while we actually thought it might be cancer, especially for the first few days after we found the lump. The morning my fingertips connected with that little rolling knot of tissue for the first time, I was positive that it was, in the way that you're positive about tiramisu the first time you taste it, or about Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor the first time you hear it, or about the one true love of your heart the first time you see him standing in the middle of a crowded airport terminal.

Holy shidt, I remember thinking to myself. I may have just touched my own death.

Of course, I didn't say that to David. You don't say things like that to David: one, because it would come out sounding needlessly overblown and made-for-Lifetime-TV-Movie, and we both hate stuff that's needlessly overblown and made-for-Lifetime-TV-Movie ... and two, because it would have scared him to pieces. And the poor guy was already scared enough. One look at his stricken expression -- his hand still clamped to my breast, unwilling to let go, like a falling man clutching a window ledge -- and I knew that I would have to assume the role of The Optimistic One in this situation. "I'm sure it's nothing," is what I said to him that morning, and for a lot of mornings immediately thereafter. I told him that most breast lumps turn out to be non-cancerous. (I'm amazingly knowledgeable about things I know absolutely nothing about. Now ask me a question about football.)  I told him that I felt great: that I plan to live to be 95 years old, if for no other reason than so I can force him to watch pseudo-reality TV with me for another fifty years. I told him that even though I've already had one completely unremarkable mammogram within the past year, I would schedule another appointment as soon as I got home from TicTac. I told him that everything was going to be just fine.

Secretly: I saw myself standing in the middle of the crosswalk, watching The Karma Bus barreling towards me at 100 miles an hour.

Fortunately, the fatalistic thoughts only lasted for a day or two. Then life got really busy all of a sudden, and there followed a couple of weeks when I didn't think about it much at all. There was the trip to TicTac to deal with ... my job at The Dirt Company to deal with ... assorted domestic/personal/family crises to deal with, some more critical than others. Thoughts of lumps and tests and karmic buses had to be shelved temporarily while I navigated my way through my messy, complicated, exhausting life. Once I got home from TicTac and scheduled my appointment -- actually, once I scheduled the first of what would turn out to be a veritable NBC miniseries of appointments -- I began to worry less about having some hideous terminal disease than I did about having some disease, period. I worried that even if it didn't turn out to be terminal, it was still going to be inconvenient, and it was probably going to hurt like hell, and it was going to be this huge interruption in the middle of my messy, complicated, exhausting life. And that really pissed me off, because I happen to like my messy, complicated, exhausting life just the way it is, thankyouverymuch. 

It has only been in the past few days, as we waited for the test results from the fine needle aspiration biopsy, that my thoughts began creeping back to the morbid.

Mostly it seemed to manifest itself in dreams. On the Sunday night before the test results were due, I dreamed that my boss was helping me pick out a dress for my funeral. "Everybody is going to be looking at you," she said cheerfully, as we stood in front of a rack of Gunny Sax dresses."You want to look nice, don't you?" On Monday night, I dreamed that I was washing my hands with one of those fuzzy bars of soap Grandma used to buy for us when I was a kid: the kind of soap that melted away, layer by layer, gradually revealing a tiny prize buried at the center of the bar. Usually the prize was something like a little plastic dog or a miniature gyroscope or a penny whistle that left a burning soap taste on your lips when you blew on it. As my dream self stood at the bathroom sink washing my hands for dinner, the prize at the center of the bar of soap turned out to be a tiny human skull, made out of solid gold. I could still feel the weight of it in my hand when I woke up.

On the night before the results were due, mercifully, I didn't dream at all.

But -- as I said earlier -- it isn't cancer. The results came by phone on Wednesday morning, right in the middle of typing a 43,897,621-page asbestos survey report. It turns out to be some kind of completely non-threatening, non-lethal medical condition I'd never heard of. ("Clearly benign" is the bottom-line diagnosis. Were there ever three more beautiful, more life-affirming words in the history of the English language than "clearly benign" ... ? Besides "I love you," I mean, or "100% fat-free," or "See you Monday" ?)  I've still got one more test to take, week after next -- another routine poking/prodding session, just to tie up a few medical loose ends -- but they assure me that this is just a formality. For all intents and purposes, the drama is over. The bullet has been dodged. The speeding bus has missed me by a fraction of an inch. It's like being handed a permission slip to resume living my messy, complicated, exhausting life: to go back to worrying about the Tots and worrying about my job and worrying about the world and worrying about my website and worrying about who will win "Survivor: Pearl Islands" ... all without carrying around this stoopid little knot of fear and dread and uncertainty, everywhere I go.

And all without feeling the greasy diesel breath of an AC Transit Karmic Articulated following hot on my heels ... just waiting for the chance to run me down.



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then again, you know what they say about the bus, don't you?
if you miss the first one ...
... another one will be along in ten minutes.