image The Big Four-Ohhhhh

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It’s official. The last time I filled out my personal information on a clipboard at the doctor’s office, I wrote 40 in the “current age” box.

How do I feel about that, you ask (and how kind of you to inquire, by the way)? Overall, really good. We did it up right, first of all. Unlike my thirtieth birthday, which I rang in by myself in a small apartment in Pittsburgh with a plate of takeout stuffed cabbage rolls and baklava from a place called Wheel Deliver, I spent this day with my family, some dear friends, and a beautiful Florida backdrop. And time. I took two weeks of vacation from work in order to pause and celebrate the turning of the clock. It was marvelous.

Since then, I’ve made good on my promise to myself to stay healthy. In the first instance, this involved a complete medical once-over. Thanks to my corporate side, I’m employed with a company that offers some of its colleagues a comprehensive five-hour annual physical extravaganza–hearing test, eye test, detailed blood panel, nutritional assessment, physical exam, and tango lessons (OK kidding about that last one, but just barely). Plus, they signed my up for my very first mammogram. Before the fact, I had planned to blog about the mammogram experience, but at the end of the day, it would have been a very short post, because A Mammogram Is No Big Deal. Just don’t do it before your period when your boobs are sore. But do it–there’s simply no reason not to. It’s easy and immensely important.

But anyway, in addition to the mammo, I also signed myself up for a dermatological once-over. Another easy and excellent use of fifteen minutes. Heather scanned me from tip to toes while wearing her little miner’s helmet, pronounced my skin healthy, and shaved off a little benign bump on my shoulder to make it flat. With that, I flitted out of the office and said I’d chat to them next year.

Problem was, I chatted to them the next week. Heather called me on my cell to tell me that the bit they’d shaved off my arm was indeed benign, but a skoch inflamed at the bottom, so best to have it excised. After repeating the word “benign” for her reconfirmation about 427 times, I signed up for an excision. A week or two later, I was literally in and out of the ambulatory surgery place in 45 minutes with ten little staples in my arm (that area moves around a lot–staples help).

Staples out, then another call. This one still used the word benign, but also talked of things called spindle cells, which here and now were nothing, and might turn into nothing ever, or may become something else over the course of time. Most of these odd ducks had been removed already, but there was a teensy bit left to get, so they requested that I get a re-excision.

Even the most rational among us get to a point at which our imaginations trump our logic, and at that point mine put on some roller skates and began zipping around the neighborhood. It was not fun. I was scared, and I was imagining bad things.

The week leading up to the call that confirmed that everything had been finally excised and my margins were clear was not easy. Even with the word “benign” being bandied about, there is a lack of full control that occurs in these situations that is truly tough to navigate. My deepest props and respect go to those who wait for different news, with different words and different imaginings. A good friend of mine, who has done a great deal for our family, just lost her husband to pancreatic cancer. This time last year, there was no inkling in anyone’s mind of any ill health, and now he’s gone. How does one cope with the powerlessness, the uncertainty–the fear?

Maybe we don’t. “Let go, let God” was a phrase that crossed my mind several times during my week of angst over my skin scare. I wanted to rationalize the situation, to answer the questions in my mind by using calculation and reason, but I couldn’t. Maybe this is the place for another level of support, when the cognitive facilities we have honed and grown over our lives still don’t touch the deep-hewn fear that the reminder of our mortality instills in us. Perhaps it is in these cases that we look to counsel in that which is immortal.

If you believe there is a greater entity, which I do, maybe as we age we learn how better to foster that relationship. As we pass through the firm glossiness of youth and settle into the warm season of adulthood, we see what is behind us and what is ahead, and we begin to understand that there is more. I don’t know all the answers. But I do know that, as I sat in the driver’s seat after hearing that I was confirmed healthy, the first words out of my mouth were “Thank God.”

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