Christmas is over. Another year has come and gone. This season is such a startling reminder of the passage of time. It always has been for me, but this year I seemed to notice it even more. I often caught myself thinking, Last year at this time . . . Next year at this time . . . ?
Our tree this year seemed the most beautiful one yet. We cut it ourselves, as usual, and found one that reached to the ceiling. We finished decorating it after dark; the tiny white lights were dazzling. “The tree seems more sparkly this year,” I commented as I gave it a drink of water before bed. Then, jokingly, “Maybe that’s because I’m more sparkly.” Pause. “I mean, maybe I’m more aware.”
“I think we all are,” Greg replied.
Startled, I asked what he meant. “I think we’ve all realized that we need to cherish the moments,” he said. He mentioned the way that our kids had all embraced the decorating this year ~ more than normal. Come to think of it, I had noticed it, too.
For me, the awareness began last year. After my mammogram, I was called back for a follow-up sonogram as the technician had warned. Greg offered to go with me that night, December 20, but I assured him I’d be fine. “It’s just a sonogram,” I said. “I’ve been through this before.”
But as the technician began the test, I knew instantly that she had seen something. She was very quiet throughout most of the procedure; when she did ask me questions, they seemed to be either leading or deceptively unrelated. There was much clicking and measuring on her part, even up into the lymph nodes under my arm. I couldn’t see the sonogram screen, and I grew more and more unnerved. After what seemed like an eternity, she told me she was going to go ask the radiologist if he wanted to come in and take a look.
She left me lying on the table in the dim cubicle, separated by a dingy curtain from the other exam areas. I could overhear other conversations, and I began to shake. Trembling uncontrollably, I tried to read the magazine I’d brought along. I could barely hold my hands (or my mind) still enough to focus on the words.
My cell phone began to ring. Dare I get up to answer it? No. The ringing stopped. Then a few minutes later, it began again. It must be my family trying to reach me. After the ringing had stopped a second time, I scooted to get my phone from my purse and dialed home. The answering machine picked up. I tried to keep my voice light as I left a message that I wasn’t quite finished, that it would still be a while before they could come and get me.
I don’t know how much time passed ~ 10 minutes? 15? ~ before the technician came back and said that everything was all set and I was free to go. I fumbled a question or two to try to gain control: “Who would be calling me with the results?” How difficult to walk out without any answers, to sit trying to knit while I waited for my ride, to get into the car with my husband and pre-teen daughter and try to calmly voice my concerns over the procedure I had just been through. “I’m sure everything will be fine,” my daughter comforted me. I desperately wanted to believe her words!
Our son returned from college that night ~ our first time to welcome a child back home for Christmas break. It was wonderful ~ and awful. How cold I felt, how detached from my family as I pondered the big “what if . . . ?”
The next day I tried to carry on with Christmas preparations as usual . . . baking . . . wrapping gifts . . . all the while waiting for my doctor to call. She didn’t ~ not that day nor the next ~ and I was plunged into the reality of dealing with illness during the holidays. What do people do when faced with tragedy in the days just before Christmas, especially when a weekend shortens office hours? Do the hospitals carry on as usual? I had never pondered this before, but suddenly I knew ~ death and disease do not take a break just because our calendars register a holiday.
The worst part of waiting was that now I could feel a lump. I hadn’t been able to before ~ not even right after my mammogram. But now there was clearly something there. My fear burrowed deeper and threatened to paralyze me.
Then Sunday came. Friends gathered for house-church, and my teenage daughter and a friend sang “One Small Child” by David Meece. It was a spontaneous move ~ we’d barely even practiced ~ but I love that song, and I reveled in the fact that we were doing it this year, not waiting for next.
We went out for Chinese after church. While we were finishing our lunch together, my husband’s cell phone rang. He answered it, then in surprise handed it to me. It was my doctor.
Heart pounding, I took the call outside. My doctor explained that what they had found was a complex cyst. It looked like there was some blood inside; had I injured myself recently? Not that I could remember, though I racked my brain. My family was watching me through the restaurant window. I didn’t realize the suspense they were in ‘til they came through the door, takeout containers in hand, looking to me for answers.
On the way home, I explained with relief that it was just a complex cyst. My doctor said we’d wait six weeks and do another sonogram to see if anything had changed. I went home and surfed the web for more info, then called my parents and my sister with the results. My sister’s question caught me off guard: “How do you feel?” I . . . wasn’t sure.
The next day was Christmas Eve . . . then Christmas. I moved in a daze, and yet with heightened senses. I felt like I was standing outside myself, watching events take place. Did I feel relieved? Nervous? New traditions seemed to materialize on their own ~ my husband and daughter watching a Christmas movie together before the other kids woke up . . . Christmas crackers (which my Canadian and British friends will understand) on the breakfast plates. I adored the coordinated color scheme of the table that just came together with paper plates and napkins. I began to be thankful for every little thing.