J.H. Me My Daughter
Someone sent copies to me in the mail a while later. If I hadn't known where they came from, I wouldn't have recognized myself. I was a slouchy wreck, forgetting my mother's chronic admonitions, "Stand up straight." My clothes looked like they would fall off me in a good gust, my hat askew, sunglasses I do not remember buying.
At some point that summer my daughter and I were standing in the kitchen. It was a beautiful sunny day, the smell of flowers floated through the window, that was directly behind a shelf holding a music box my mother had given me. It was a clear one that has a place for a photo to be inserted. I had put my son's senior prom photo in it. It had been broken for years. But as we stood, just enjoying the breeze coming through the window, the music box gave out four or five notes. Just enough to imply an oncoming tune. My daughter and I looked first at each other, then the music box. "Isn't that broken?" she said. "Yup." "Well, is Gramma coming back to haunt us?" "I'm not sure, but if we don't figure out what they want soon they may start getting more aggressive." "Yuh, that would be Gramma," my daughter replied, and we laughed.
I hadn't been feeling well. Just trying to push onward, but it was getting to be a trial. My father was writing to me four or five times a week, sending pictures of things he was doing around the yard, so I knew he was trying to maintain, not doing too bad of a job of it either. I decided maybe a vacation would help. I wanted to see Prince Edward Island, my sister's favorite place. Maybe I would find the peace she used to find there.
So I grabbed a friend and left. We drove. A lot. It was a long way. Upon our arrival two days later, after checking into a motel, we began to explore. I found the red sand beaches my sister had loved so, and just walked. I was having a good time just wandering around adjusting, and getting over the fact that when something funny happened, I no longer had important parts of my family available to call and tell the story to. It seems easier, being so far away, to not think of picking up the phone. Or waiting for it to ring either.
Things changed quickly one night in the hotel room. I had been scratching my side all day, and it was far too cold up there in September to be getting bug bites. When I looked that evening, just under my right arm, suspiciously where lymph nodes reside, I found a brown spot. A really dark brown spot that had never been there before, with a good sized lump underneath it. It was time to go home.
I was technically still on vacation when I returned. I called my surgeon who had operated on my leg four years prior. "My sister and my mother just died and now I have a lump and I want it out." He didn't argue. When I went to the office to see him he said, "Hmmm, it's right under your birthmark." "That's the scary part, I have no birthmarks." "Oh."
As I had done with my leg, I had it done under a regional anesthetic. I had that horrible fear if I ever got knocked out I'd never wake up. I showed up in the same day surgery unit, was put on the operating table, and as I sat gazing in awe at the genuine Ben Casey lights positioned right above my head, my surgeon said, "Where is it?" "Where is what?" I said. "The birthmark, its still not there. I'll have to get your x-rays."
After he had removed the lump, he held it in front of my nose and said, "You are very lucky, I'm pretty sure it is a cyst, but we'll send it to the lab to make sure. Four other women in here have had cancer diagnoses already this morning." Whoa.
He called me a few days later to tell me the cyst was indeed a cyst and benign, but had I had a thorough check up lately, and I probably should; considering. I made an appoint with the female-style-stuff office, had all the routine tests done a few months later, and that was that.
Until that office called me. The tone of the nurses voice said it all, one didn't really need the words. "You need to come in and see the doctor." The next day I was ushered into the doctors personal office. You know, the one with the polished teak desk and the pictures of his family, and of himself playing golf. Its like being called to the Principal's office, but you can't remember what you did recently. I waited. And waited. And then, after twenty minutes of still waiting, he slid through the door. He looked a bit pale. A young doctor, only having been practicing four or five years I would later learn. Which is why he had such a hard time. He had never had to deliver any bad news before, I was the luck of the draw. After he sat for a long while, rifling through papers on his desk, he threw up his arms in exasperation and blurted out, "I don't know what to tell you, its all cancer."
I wasn't shocked. I didn't get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was staring at that desk calender he had standing on his desk. It said December 18th. My mother's birthday. I was forty years old, the same age my sister had been when she was diagnosed. I heaved a heavy sigh, looked him in the eyes and simply said, "How long do I have."
He lost it, he got all squirrelly in his chair and started sputtering and I said, "Well, what do I do now?" which gave him the opportunity to make his exiting remark. "I don't know, there is nothing we can do for you." And he marched out in a flurry.
Luckily I called my girlfriend at work (Thank You With Love Too Robin S. & Chuckie P.), she took charge for me after I had told her what happened. "Just relax and wait for me to call you." Later that day she did. "You have to get in to this office in Providence. So & So's friend had stage four and they saved her life. [she lives to this day, as do I; Thank You Women & Infants]
I called the office myself. They gave me an appointment without a referral after hearing the story, and I went in for all the tests they needed to do. My doctor scheduled the day I would have my surgery. It would be a week after New Years. I think they wanted to give me the holidays in case I didn't make it through what would be a long operation.
I made it through Christmas, but started hemorrhaging. They couldn't stop it and scheduled me for emergency surgery and bumped someone else less that was less urgent.
It was the very morning of my surgery. I was on the gurney waiting to be rolled into what possibly could be forever. While an IV having what appeared to be about sixty-seven thousand ports on it, dripped from the bag that was already attached, a nurse approached with a clipboard. "We just need you to sign these last papers before you go in." The last paper I was to sign had the date directly next to the signature line on the right. Which apparently made a difference because it was the first time I noticed the date.
It was December 29th. My sisters birthday. I knew then and there she had come back to haunt me, and had more than likely plastered the fake birthmark on my side. The one that had so mysteriously disappeared after having served it's purpose.
I made it through the nine and a half hour operation. In the elevator, on the way to my room after leaving recovery, the nurses said I sounded like Ed Koch (I confess, I read the N.Y. Post). I had said to them, "How'my doin? Am I doin OK?"
I spent News Years in the hospital, watched First Night fireworks from my bed, and went home in January of 1996.