There will always be ups and downs in life. When you remain calm in the center of the storm, you can find peace and equanimity. While everything around you spins out of control, you don’t need to get caught up in it. Remain still. Observant. Curious. Not judgmental. Stay in your mind’s eye as long as you like. When you emerge, you will have some clarity on what to do next.
It’s two days before New Year’s Eve, and I grudgingly arrive at the breast care imaging center for another mammogram. I know the drill. I was here less than a week ago—deep breath. Exhale. Hold 5,4,3,2,1. The machine clicks and clacks, compressing my breast. The monster squeezes it so tight it hurts. One image. Then another. And then another. Finally released from its jaws, I can breathe.
I return to the waiting room. A few minutes later, a nurse tells me that I need an ultrasound. My heart is beating hard, and I’m sure someone can hear. Outside, the cars are frosted like white icing. My knees are shaking. I turn to my notebook and begin writing my goals for 2022, but I don’t get very far. It’s okay, I tell myself. Over the loudspeaker, Bruce Springsteen is singing, “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Christmas was four days ago. I guess the staff hasn’t had a chance to change the playlist.
You better watch out / You better not cryBetter not pout / I’m telling you whySanta Claus is coming to town!
December 30, 2021…
I am sitting at my desk. The doctor calls. The dark thing on the ultrasound was breast cancer. Invasive, but teeny-tiny. Low grade. Stage 1. Slow growing and less aggressive cancer. Is that good news? But there’s also ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in one of the ducts. The same thing my mom had. He explains that all breast cancer starts in the milk ducts. That’s why it’s called in situ. He says more, but my brain isn’t working. I’m trying to remain calm. I hear only fragments.
“The next step is an MRI to show if there’s anything else going on.” (Do I need to see a surgeon?)
“We never would have found this cancer years ago. The technology has improved. ” (This is why you get a mammogram every year.)
“The safest thing to do now is to tailor treatment. Treat cancer, but we don’t want to overtreat it.” (What does that mean?)
“Let’s get you an MRI and then figure out the next steps.” (I should Google this.)
Life seems way too precious right now. Things that seemed urgent a few minutes ago aren’t anymore. I will try to stay awake, strive for equanimity, and take one moment at a time.