My birthday was last week, and a couple of people wished me “the happiest birthday ever.” Oddly enough, that is exactly what it was.
I had some biopsies done six days before my birthday and I was waiting for the results. Many of my friends and family members have had cancer, and I thought it might be my turn.
If you have waited for test results for a biopsy, you can testify that the waiting period is not fun. You imagine all kinds of things. You go from planning your funeral and writing letters to the kids telling them you love them, to thinking maybe you're fine and wondering, since all your friends and family are sweating out the wait for test results with you, “Will I feel embarrassed after all this fuss if I don't have cancer?”
Then you go back to thinking it probably is cancer. Or maybe not. But it probably is. But it might not be.
And so on.
As the days crawled by for me, I'd go for minutes without thinking about the tests and wondering what the results were, but then I'd remember with a thud. I took deep breaths and tried to relax. I used what I call “the power of positive denial.” I told myself that as long as I didn't know for sure, I could enjoy my ignorance. One morning I realized that having cancer is a lot like not having cancer – you're still alive, you're still you. That was good to know, even before the test results came back.
I sang, and wrote, did a few crosswords, watched a little TV, and laughed with friends. It all worked for a while, then I'd remember that I was waiting.
Finally, on my birthday, the call came.
“Are you sitting down?” the woman on the phone asked. It did not seem like an auspicious beginning to the conversation.
“Wait,” I said, and sat down, ready, I thought, for whatever it was.
She told me I didn't have cancer.
I have to tell you that when I heard the words, “You don't have cancer,” embarrassment was the last thing on my mind. I was more like, “Yay, wahoo, whoopee!”
My body relaxed like a rubber band that had been twisted tight, and for the rest of that day and part of the next I walked around feeling loopy. I had a silly grin on my face, even though I did hear the rest of the test results: the cells that were biopsied are indeed whipping up bad craziness. They are almost cancer, but haven't quite gone over to the dark side. They must be removed.
So my summer plans have been simplified: surgery, followed by recuperation from surgery. I'd rather fly to Maui,* but oh well.
The big hitch in the plan is that I don't have medical insurance. I lost that when my husband became ill and couldn't work full time anymore. I had a plan to stay healthy until I was old enough for Medicare, but that has not worked out so well. Before I get to see a doctor I'll be speaking to a financial counselor. Once I've been financially counseled, and fill out several reams of paperwork, I shall be treated. So they tell me.
Right now I'm happy to be alive, and kids, I do love you, even if I do have to send you a notice on Facebook to remind you when it's my birthday.
*Actually, I wouldn't rather fly to Maui, or anywhere. For over three decades I've had a severe fear of flying. But I've been thinking since this biopsy thing came up, what the heck. I might like Maui. So look for gratuitous mentions of flying to Maui in future columns. It's going to be my fallback fantasy this summer.