Monday, December 3, 2012

No matter how you slice it, life beats the crap out of the alternative.

The first thing I did after the doctor called, was cry. No, wait... that was the second thing. The first thing I did after the doctor called, was solemnly swear that I would consume nothing but icing and carbohydrates and liquor until I could barely squeeze through the gates of Hell. Then I cried.

There was nothing funny about last week.

Grace and courage are two words you won't be reading in my obituary. Mine would go more like this: Cantankerous to the end, blah, blah, blah, pain-in-the-ass drama queen. Her final words were, "Fuck you, Revenue Canada."

Of course I wrote, and rewrote this scenario over and over in my head this past week after a routine mammogram detected something "suspicious". "Probably nothing" said my doctor, which were the last words I heard before the world started spinning and I fell off.

I'd always imagined myself more of a heart attack person.

Funny thing, life. The night before I got "the call",  I was tucking in to kir royales and steak frites at the Victory Arms. Over dinner, we chatted about the usual girlfriendy crap – and I mentioned  being at such a happy place in my life, and how I was planning another adventure.

Irony is a cruel bitch.

For a week, I wept and worried mostly about one thing: I did not want my child to be sad. Ever. I did not want my child to suffer in life (any more than the poor bastard already has) because of me – because of my ill-timed departure. At least before I had a chance to despise his future bride, or refuse to babysit his horrible offspring.

I also didn't want anyone to be overjoyed at my demise, which was a very distinct possibility as well.

For a week, the world was reduced to appreciating simple pleasures – like waking up. Poached eggs on toast with salt and cold butter. Hanging laundry on the line. Raking leaves. Texts from my kid. Chatting with neighbours. Hot baths. My new sheets. Sleeping with my dog's nose pressed against my cheek.

Climbing Kilimanjaro and tennis camp in Florida suddenly took a backseat to watching my apple tree blossom in the spring.

For a week, I relished over pleasures I had denied myself – like bread. Julien's Good Hearth, and sourdough from the Ginerbread Haus. I drank coffee with cream, instead of the low fat milk that makes it a bitter, gray concoction instead of something you jump out of bed for. And for a week I languished over cake. Duflett's lemon coconut from Pete's Frootique. New York style cupcakes from Sweet Janes. Carrot with cream cheese icing from the Italian Market. Waiting for a birthday seemed suddenly, ridiculous.

Thursday loomed and I could think of little else. I have watched friends die, and live graciously with cancer, and after glimpsing the overwhelming fear and sadness they must have kept tucked away for private moments – sparing others their pain – I now love and respect their stoic beauty even more.

I wore my fear like a fur coat in August, and it began to fester in my abdomen, as my stress often does. By 3am on the morning of my follow up mammogram/ultrasound I was sweating and doubled over on the kitchen floor. I was scared shitless, in pain, very angry – and determined that nothing was going to cause me to miss my 8:20am appointment.

I'd rather die first.

A roomful of women on a pinot grigio drip, is a room full of laughter and common denominators. A roomful of women in johnny shirts is also a supportive club – a club I had no intention of joining. The scent-free air was heavy with eau de fear, and I removed myself from the claustrophobic, nervous chit chat – to agonize in the hallway until my name was called. I didn't want this cross section of beautiful, brave women to assume my obvious struggle with pain had anything to do with what they were going through.

And I had no intention of going gently into the good night.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I had 5 "slammograms" on my right boob... and I didn't care. Lop 'em both off! Whatever was festering in my belly was going to kill me anyway. I left the Dickson Mammogram Department and went straight to Emergency where I basked in the warmth of Nova Scotia's healthcare system until my stress-induced bowel spasm subsided, and I was able to make my way home; humbled, beaten, and very sad.

Happy endings are a funny thing. Exactly one week from the first call, came the second call. "How are you doing?" my lovely doctor began.

"You tell me." I said.

Ten minutes later I was walking in Point Pleasant Park with my dogs, just like I do every day. The icy cold wind on my face felt fabulous. And I hadn't noticed how truly navy blue the water is at dusk. I will climb Kilimanjaro godammit! I had been given a hall pass – for now – but it was hard to be 100% happy, knowing millions of other women aren't so lucky.

So tell me, why does a woman with a needle sticking out of her breast have to wait in a crowded room until she is transported, by male ambulance attendants, to another building, to have her surgery performed? With the gazillions of dollars raised by the pink ribbon campaign, can we not, locally, do something about the fluorescent corner pen of the hospital where women are stored like cattle to await their fate!? I have no issue with the quality of medical care, but the Leave Your Dignity at the Door Lounge needs a fucking makeover.

This will be the best Christmas, ever. And with any luck, next Christmas will be the best Christmas, ever. And the one after that. And the one after that.

I'm even looking forward to fruitcake.