As Cynthia brought us a very fitting beginning, she now concludes our series with a perfect end. This Pinnacle Moment is such a poignant reminder of the steps we take in moving forward. We don’t always have to see the end of the path to be at peace with the road we’re on. But I’ll let her tell you here, in her own words.
The last thing I remember as I went into surgery was the fear of waking up alone and discovering the staples. Because if you tell a hypochondriac that she’ll come out of surgery with either a stapled abdomen and a fresh cancer diagnosis, or unscarred and at the tail end of a false alarm, she knows full well what outcome to expect.
I’d been vaguely afraid of this moment for a long time—most of my life, actually—but if you’d asked me at my routine gynecologist’s visit on Halloween 10 weeks earlier if I could imagine myself heading into surgery with an oncologist on standby, I definitely would have seen it coming.
Hypochondria has always been part of my life. My earliest medical memory takes place in an examination room at my pediatrician’s office during a standard annual visit. My sister was sucking on a lollipop while my feet hung heavily from the exam table as I waited for our doctor to return with what I was sure would be grim news. I was shocked to be sent on my way with nothing more than a band aid over a routine injection site, along with a sticker of the just-for-fun variety.
It would have been great if the good office visit had made an impression, but my fears—rooted in an anxious psyche and early exposure to my grandmother’s inspirational literature—were firmly fixed. A steady diet of periodicals brimming with triumphant accounts from burn victims and limbless mothers does something to a kid. Invariably, these stories began in the midst of the most bland of circumstances, when the victim least expected it. It seemed only logical, then, that the only hope one had to avoid becoming the tragic hero of literature of this kind was to be on constant lookout for hazards. If you expect disaster, it can’t blindside you. Vigilance, then, became my mantra.
When it came time in my life to begin annual gynecological exams, I became even more vigilant. After all, these visits held no pretense: they were looking for cancer, period. The increased specter of bad news caused me to be extra cautious with my scheduling. I was always careful to schedule my visits during ordinary seasons, when resulting tests and procedures couldn’t mar my favorite time of the year: the 10 week period bookended by Halloween and New Year’s Day.
But that year? I screwed up. See, at the visit just before Things Went Bad, my nurse practitioner noted my to-the-day punctuality in visits, and suggested that such vigilance was probably unnecessary. Considering my good overall history, she felt that I could feel good about stretching things out a bit by waiting 15, or even 18 months between appointments.
Which brought me to October. So chagrined was I at the thought of Holiday medical drama, I considered skipping the appointment altogether. But, remembering my good overall history, I decided to make a Good Faith effort and showed up for my appointment with an air of confidence that should have been a big red flag, but masqueraded as Acting Normal. Without even realizing it, I had, by degrees, let my guard down. Chatting merrily about my daughter’s Toy Story costume as I lay on the cold steel table, bad news was the least thing I expected, so the call I received some 10 days later blindsided me with a report I should have seen coming.
My exam result was no simple pap blip on a pap test but a full-blown-call-in-the-oncologist report that called for multiple biopsies, scans, and tests. Which were difficult to schedule what with the holidays upon us and all the peace, goodwill, and festivities taking place in all the doctor’s offices.
So it became, then, a Difficult Time. For all the reasons you can imagine, but also because the faith I claim as an anchor in my life, and that I was supposed to be celebrating during the Christmas season, was being challenged. I was supposed to believe—and really wanted to believe—that God wouldn’t give me more that I could handle, and that no matter what happened in my life, He would use it for His glory. I wanted to believe that trusting God with my life meant just that—trusting that He would take care of me. But the truth was that no one gets that guarantee.
It seemed clear to me that I was about to become the subject of an inspirational write up, and I felt so ill-equipped. Other than being blindsided when I least expected it, I didn’t feel I met any of the criteria, and didn’t look like it, either, as I sobbed my way into the operating room a few days after the New Year for a surgery with an outcome no one could guess, even with all that testing. If all went well, I would return to my normal life with an excellent prognosis. If it went bad, I’d wake up stapled, with an uncertain future.
I awoke to a chorus of voices wishing me a Happy New Year. Even though it was the one of the happiest moments of my life, I came to realize, later, that my future is still uncertain, and that is actually OK. Neither vigilance nor lack of same can serve as a crystal ball. I can try my hardest to control my fate, but reality tells a different story. See, the appointment that I put off to October—the one I almost skipped– caught a pre-cancerous lesion at exactly the right moment. Developed just enough to be caught, but not to the point of being a threat. And 10 years later, even though my hypochondria is not gone, it is tempered by the knowledge that I may be playing a role in an Inspirational story, but I am not the Author. And waking up to that has got to be enough.
With that, we conclude our series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! I really loved hearing everyone’s stories and really appreciate everyone who joined in with a tale, read the stories of others, and/or joined the conversation with comments. Thank you all and happy holidays!