Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Love & Loss

I vaguely remember being infatuated.  That glimmer of wonder when he seems to like me in return.  Where - regardless of the action or distraction - where the very thought of him curves my lips into a silly smile.  When - even in the middle of a meeting stressful or boring - there's this fluttery hope and happiness.

My life of late has been the opposite of that.

I started to feel better.  We knew Mom's cyst was normal, though painful.  I had returned to work, busily filling in files and approving plans, when Aunt called about an hour after Mom's mammogram had been scheduled.  And I frowned as soon as I heard her voice.

"The cyst is fine," she said and went into detail while I waited with stomach clenched.  "But there's something abnormal in the other breast."  I remained silent while she said it was small and likely a calcification.  Eyes closed, I waited and willed myself to process this.  To say something hopeful and encouraging and loving and strong.

"Katie?" Mom finally spoke.  "Are you OK?"

"OK," I confirmed.

Aunt talked of biopsy dates and times and I assured them I'd be home for it.  So Chienne and I packed up and headed south a day later.  And at every turn - every other thought - there was cancer.  Tentacles reaching from the malignant core to entangle every breath and memory and hope.

Brother traded with Aunt in the waiting room - I released her hand for his while I waited for Mom to emerge from Radiology.  Brother and I took her for breakfast and chatted.  Then I took her home and snuggled her under multiple blankets on the couch, settling into Dad's recliner and keeping watch while she slept and I took conference calls.

I was driving north - Mom and Chienne in the backseat - the next day when I called Radiology for the third time to inquire about results.  Thinking of how I'd wept at Sunday School when I realized that God doesn't hate me - sometimes bad things just happen, I begged him - the breathless please, please, please, please, please kind - to let it be a calcification.

Voice shaking, I gripped the steering wheel and gave praise and thanks after the doctor confirmed it was benign.  No cancer.  Not this time.  And I listened to Mom make calls and giggle her relief while continuing the commute to my house.

So when yet another friend lost her job yesterday, I sat quietly while the remainder of the team expressed their outrage and shock.  Bad news seems to have lost some power over me, at least for the moment.  But I've grown somewhat skilled at listening to the too-long pauses after I ask how friends are.  The uncertainty.  The unfairness of it all.  The thought that all the work - the learning and practicing and extra hours and minor victories - being in vain.

But when this friend didn't answer her phone, I frowned.  And found myself in my Jeep, searching for her apartment to be sure she'd not hurt herself.

She hadn't - buzzing me in and answering the door with a sweatshirt unzipped over a black bra.

"I can't do it," she told me, gesturing at her front and beginning to sob.  I prioritized hugs over proper attire and we stood there - me in my coat still cold from the bitter winds and her warm from where she'd been curled up under covers and misery.  And I whispered that it would be OK.

I helped her zip her sweatshirt and joined her on the couch, looping my arm though hers and holding her hand while she cried.  And I looked at the spots on her cheeks - visible without make-up - and thought of how very delicate we all are.  How frail we must seem.  How a mere puff of bad luck can topple us.

"I don't know what to do," she finally said and I nodded.

"You grieve," I finally replied.  "And you find your balance again and decide what you want and try to get it.  I know you feel alone.  Rejected.  Afraid.  But you have people who love you and talent and opportunities that haven't been revealed just yet.  And I'm sorry - so very sorry - this happened.  It's not your fault and you don't deserve it and it's terrible and awful and wrong.  But you will battle back.  As soon as you've rested and cried a bit more."

I left after a little while when another friend appeared, driving back to work and settling in to type on that laptop between glances at places I've been and people I've loved.  And tonight, quite frankly, I ache - head, body, heart.  Because we are resilient as we are fragile.  And I continue to have hope, I suppose.

But it all seems terribly difficult of late.  And that silly giddiness seems to have faded into memories as I find myself waiting for the next disaster to strike.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Long time...


I just did some laundry - retrieved my clothes from Europe from the dryer.  Placed a mound of pajamas in the washer.  And realized time has escaped me somehow of late.

I was sick when I got home from Europe.  This should be no great surprise since I cramped and limped and vomited and sniffled my way across the continent.  Mom patted my head, covered me with a soft blanket and went shopping.

"Here's $75 worth of cold products," she told me as she unpacked bags on my counter.  "I'm going home so I don't catch your disease."

I nodded and opened a new box of Kleenex while I waved at her departing car, settling into the comfort of home while I rested and healed.

I coughed when answering the phone two days later, Brother patiently waiting until I finished dealing with mucus.

"Mom found another lump," he said gently when I was quiet so I stayed that way, letting the knowledge absorb as I closed my eyes.

I went home, of course, staying for 11 days.  I was simply present for the first few days - we went out to eat, cleaned up the house, admired the remodeling Mom had done in the basement.

I asked for prayers on Sunday, sitting in the glow of sunlight in our sanctuary and wanting confirmation that the lump was merely a cyst.  I prayed and grasped for peace and comfort and received it.

We went for the appointment on Monday, asked her oncologist why he was so impatient and angry (he did calm himself under my severe frown and threatening words) and proceeded to the aspiration I'd hoped to avoid.

"Don't leave me," Mom asked as I stood at the head of the table, my hand in hers and foreheads together.  So I looked in her tear-filled eyes and promised I wouldn't.  We sighed with relief when it was over and I stood, watching the two punctures on her breast form a perfect heart of blood on the bandage.

So though she urged me to go home when she was back under control, I doubled my 5 day trip with nary a single complaint from work and Chienne and I settled in for a longer stay.

I called for results - cytology was clean so we cried again over the lack of cancer cells.  And the cultures failed to grow anything so she didn't have to continue taking anti-biotics that were making her so sick.  (I'd let her stop several days before - I somehow feel qualified to make medical decisions.  So I do.)

Yet the cyst refilled.  So we're still worrying about the little sucker.

"I didn't realize how hard you worked," Mom said one evening as she settled on the couch at 7PM.  I'd finally released my control on the living room, sitting in Dad's recliner with my iPhone earbuds and laptop as I'd joined meetings and made slides and sent documents and drafted emails.

We went to run errands on Saturday with plans to have me leave on Sunday.  We shopped for groceries.  Picked out flooring for her new basement.  Stopped for breakfast.  Then we went to renew her zoo membership.

"The tiger cubs are out," the attendant told us so we braved the bitter wind and wandered out to look at them, cooing over the cuteness.

"It doesn't seem like they have enough room to run around," I finally noted, feeling sad at having them penned in.  (This is not uncommon when I visit zoos.)

"No," Mom agreed.  "But you play the hand you're dealt."  I nodded my agreement and urged her along so we could see the zebras before declaring defeat to the cold and returning to the Equinox.

She cried before leaving for church as I packed the last of my things.  And we held on for a long time before separating again.

Work has been busy but I'm doing well.  I remain happy with this position.

Friend is going through some work stuff.  So send her happy-research thoughts if you have extras.

I feel a bit like I'm waiting for the next horrible thing to happen, but I'm not overwhelmed by it.  It's a gentle awareness in the background that allows for contentment in the foreground.