February 11, 2010
Discover the value of friendship and relationships when accidents and illness happen.
Ecuador and Peru Travel Report # 12 and Visual Viewpoint: Hang On, It Can Be a Bumpy Ride
Plus Evidence That Life Happens When You’re Making Other Plans
This picture was taken on our fiftieth wedding anniversary at the sand dunes outside Paracus, Peru. That area has lovely hotels, a peninsula, a bay, a pre-Inca Culture and a National Reserve. In a later blog I’ll tell about the marine reserve, where we went in to morning. Then after lunch took in our first dune buggy ride. Lots of sand in the area because it has one of the lowest levels of rain in the world.
I think we both look and feel rather young, don’t you think? Well, maybe not as young as we’d like to look and feel, but not too bad for our age. Until this week I’ve expected life to continue as it has, with the normal assortment of ups and downs, for a good number of years.
But if you’ve ever had a dune buggy ride (this was our first) you’ll know that when you’re going to the top of a hill that you don’t know whether what you’ll face on the other side is a relatively gentle ride down or a super-steep slope. I could swear that some of the drops were almost vertical, which makes for an exciting, drop-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach, but fun, experience.
I remembered this when I decided to share my ride downhill this week. You see, on Thursday afternoon, my assistant, Renee, was showing me how to sign up for Twitter — which we hope will help more people know about the Better Tomorrows Program and the Ask Yourself Questions Club. The day was moving up a steady climb and everything was working well. (I always thought Twitter was a bit silly, but here I am trying to play the game with everyone else. We’ll just have to see how things do work out.)
THEN, I got a call from the breast center where I had had a mammogram on Monday telling me that the doctor wanted me to come in again for another, more definitive exam. They said there was an “anomaly.” D-o-w-n I went. The falling in the pit of my stomach was exactly like the feeling of going down some of those sand dunes, with none of the happy excitement that were part of it. This was just dread. The earliest I could get in for another exam wasn’t for three weeks.
What interested me as I tried to absorb the news was that I know a lot about survival of cancer. Some twenty-five years ago I co-founded The Wellness Community—Foothills, part of a large international support program for cancer patients and their families. Later I co-founded a website called CancerOnline (which is no longer active) and wrote extensively about the role of hope and the need for participation in one’s own treatment.
Now here I was, faced with my own potential diagnosis, and the intellectual understanding of treating cancer flew out the window with an emotional reaction that is almost universal. The ride down the slope was not gentle. Of course, I knew I would eventually bottom out and settle into the more steady process of dealing with whatever I had to deal with. At the moment, it seemed overwhelming in part because I had thought that if it ever happened to me that I would respond more calmly because of my knowledge. So some of my reaction was shock that I reacted as I did.
When I told my husband, I cried. When I called my primary physician, I found myself crying to the receptionist, which added to my sense of falling off a cliff, or sliding down a very steep hill. And remember, I hadn’t actually had a diagnosis, only a request to look into an “anomaly,” whatever that was.
Fortunately, when the doctor called me back a short while later, I discovered that the x-rays did not show a sclerosis, lump or cyst, which would have been “suspicious” and require a more timely re-testing. It was just that one of my breasts was thicker than another. At this news the downhill ride slowed considerably and even came to a halt when she said that 40% of the women she sends for a mammogram are called back and of those 90% are just fine.
I knew there are always false-positives, but somehow that hadn’t made me feel better until I was reassured by my doctor and could remind myself that even if they do find cancer, it will have been caught early. Since I have great confidence in early detection, I won’t feel I’m plunging over a cliff as much as simply going through the inconvenience and discomfort of treatment.
I can add another illustration of the plunges life offers at inconvenient times with another recent story: A friend called three days ago with strain and tears in her voice saying, “I need help. Can you help me?”
Turns out she tripped and fell as she was unpacking in her new house. The next day she had to have an operation for a shattered ankle and won’t be able to put any pressure on it for three months. So I’ll be bringing her here until she can get around her house more easily.
I will end this part of today’s post by saying that, when you go over the hill, it helps to have someone there to make life easier until you slow down and can start up again. I know this well because a year ago I had a major back operation and my husband was there for me day after day. So when I told him about the possibility I could have cancer, I said I was sorry that he would have to help me again. He just reached for my hand and said, “That’s okay. We’re a team.”
Having a support team makes the slides downhill much easier. And I can guarantee you that giving others a hand when they take their plunge down a slope they hadn’t intended to take can steady them until their ride ends and they can begin to go up the next hill. It feels wonderful to be on both the giving and receiving side.
NOTE: The diagnosis was negative and I was cancer free. But the experience taught me a great deal about the value of having a support team!