A Closer Look

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Come closer, a little closer please, I need you near. My mood is reflective, the bathroom mirror draws me in, as I observe my nakedness through the toothpaste streaked surface.  I carefully scan my gently used skin for irregularities, reflecting on the less than peachy color, a dullness if you will, but mostly what I see is unmasked fear. As I lean over the sink, closer to my reflection, I stare at my estranged features, sometimes familiarity can be so blinding.

I take a hard look, what am I avoiding, what would I prefer not to see? Dean Koontz says, “there’s just something unsettling about studying your reflection. It’s not a matter of being dissatisfied with your face or of being embarrassed by your vanity. Maybe it’s that when you gaze into your own eyes, you don’t see what you wish to see—or a glimpse of something that you wish weren’t there.” Understatement of the year.

I failed my mammogram.

How does one manage to do that you might ask? It has more to do with genetics than talent but in some strange way I do consider it a gift. The truth is it’s most likely benign, I’ve been told fibrous tissues are the classic culprits, but this is when my imagination goes into overdrive, and I find myself contemplating all kinds of implausible scenarios, right up to the message I want engraved on my tombstone. It’s morbid, I’m aware, but I can’t stop my thoughts from traveling to those dark places. I stare into the endless void of my now enlarged irises, I feel numb, that might have something to do with wine, because honestly I would prefer not to feel anything at all.

The word reflection comes from the Latin reflectere, made up of the prefix re-, “back,” and flectere, “to bend.” So it’s bending something back, like your reflection in the mirror, which is simply light waves bouncing your image back at you. This also applies when pausing for reflection, looking deeper, allowing your thoughts to bend inward.

I wonder how many women have been in this very same position, studying their healthy image reflected in the mirror, juxtaposed with the knowledge that some suspicious tissue is lurking just beneath the surface? Shannon Alder notes, “beauty is not who you are on the outside, it is the wisdom and time you gave away to save another struggling soul like you.” This type of fear is held collectively by all women, it’s our ground zero, a place memorialized by grief and suffering. Come closer.

“Water is the most versatile of all elements. It isn’t afraid to burn in fire or fade into the sky, it doesn’t hesitate to shatter against sharp rocks in rainfall or drown into the dark shroud of the earth. It exists beyond all beginnings and ends. On the surface nothing will shift, but deep in underground silence, water will hide and with soft fingers coax a new channel for itself, until stone gives in and slowly settles around the secret space. Death is water’s close companion, and neither of them can be separated from us, for we are made of the versatility of water and the closeness of death. Water doesn’t belong to us, but we belong to water: when it has passed through our fingers and pores and bodies, nothing separates us from earth.” Emmi Itäranta

We’ve been up at the lake for the holiday weekend, the murky water has been a source of endless entertainment, along with my three granddaughters, a couple of adult children, husband, beloved neighbors and a naive sort of ignorance. Autumn is in full swing, I spend my days admiring the surprising varieties of birds preparing to winter in a cushion of plush reeds gathered under the surface of this spring fed water. These beds of reeds cause all sorts of problems for boaters, clogging up the propellers, creating impenetrable boundaries, and spreading like cancer around the lake. 

I’m also enamored with the appealing blanket of amber, rust, and honey colored leaves now carpeting our barren courtyard and the memory of my granddaughters gathering the colorful leaves and gleefully throwing them into the air. Nono thought he was raking and disposing of the debris with his silly granddaughters but he was actually creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime. I watch from a distance, sipping my coffee, warmed by the sound of their giggles. 

There is a strong message about attachment embedded in Fall’s landscape, I cling to the familiar seasonal patterns, and derive comfort from this deep knowing that even though our lives seem scattered like the fallen leaves, the days will shorten, the temperature will drop, and during the winter solstice we’ll emerge from this womb of darkness, imbued with new life, and a huge visa bill. 

What I failed to notice was a missed call on Friday morning, or the one on Saturday afternoon coming from the Breast Care Center in Los Gatos, or the third attempt on Monday while driving through a no service zone on our way home. They said I would receive a call only if something concerning showed up in the images. I remember thinking after the scan, while dressing in the dim stall, what a sad place this is? It’s either no news or bad news. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Well that and I had promised to treat myself to an egg, cheese, and sausage biscuit breakfast sandwich from McDonalds, a righteous reward for allowing someone to smash my breast into the size of a Swedish a pancake, while I held my breath, and remained perfectly still. It’s absolute torture which only serves to stir ones appetite. 

Personally my preference would be to avoid the entire situation, bury my head in the sand, pretend it never happened. Henry David Thoreau must have known my dilemma when he said a lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. I’ve decided my nature is most definitely shallow! Wasn’t it just last night that I marveled at the reflection of the full moon on the rippling surface of the water and thought I had not a care in the world? 

“The moon’s reflection bored into the flat water like a hole into the sea, like the ice well where Tert Card’s father’s hairy devil washed his pots and pans.” Annie Proulx

Sitting shot gun I casually scan my social media accounts, settling into my ergonomically designed seat, as the light slowly fades to dusk. This is when I notice the alert for a missed call from an unrecognized number? This is understandable, my last mammogram was more than six years ago, and I never entered the number into my phone, but they left a message, which I regrettably opened. 

Glancing at my reflection in the window it reminds me of Mary Oliver who said someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. Darkness is required for a glass surface to be reflective, to bend inward, because sometimes you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.

Larry says, “call them back now.”

“Now? Honey it’s Veteran’s Day?”

“They called you.”

“True.”

“Call.”

“I would prefer not to.”

I get the look.

I scowl at the reflection mocking me in the window.

“Call.”

“I am, calm your tits.”

He waits quietly while I talk with the scheduler.

“What did they say?”

“My left boob failed miserably and they want a closer look.”

“It’s probably just a precaution.”

“Or insurance fraud.”

“When do you get the results?”

“Right there on the spot.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“No, I can manage.”

“I’m going.”

“You have to work.”

“I’ll make arrangements.”

“What if it’s bad news?”

“Then I’ll be there.”

“Can you go without me?”

I acquiesce, because the truth is I don’t want to go alone, we drove the rest of the way home in silence, which can be rather loud even with the lack of noise. I kept feeling myself up, as if I could locate the problem with my finger tips, and ask it to leave, but I’m met with fleshy skin, no noticeable lumps.

John O’Donohue says reflection comes between us and every other person and object in the world. An object or a person can be reflected in so many different ways. Yet the heart of an object or the essence of the heart can never be reflected. All faith and creativity is the hunger to cross over this frontier, it is the desire for pure and total encounter and belonging. Love is an affair between a reflection and its object. I had to read that four times before it started to sink in but damn the man has a way with words. 

Come closer, a little closer please, I need you near.

 

I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll watch a movie, there will be heavily buttered popcorn, and wine.

Update: I’ve been given the all clear for an entire year. Apparently since I have been delinquent in my mammograms the images on file were vastly different from the current state of my breasts. This is common as we age, this is why I decided to risk exposure, and drag this issue into the light. This is an important screening for women, something we rarely talk about, and clearly one I would prefer to avoid. So get on the phone, schedule a mammogram, share your experience in the comments, it just might encourage others to do the same! Thanks for all the love and good juju – I’m so feeling it. 

 

Anecdotes:

  • “Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” William Wordsworth
  • “The funny thing is that I never see the world any differently through new glasses. I only ever see things differently when I look in the mirror.” Jeff Zentner
  • “What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.” John W. Gardner

 

20 Comments

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    1. Thank you Collene! I appreciate your prayers, I was given the all clear a few hours ago, and I’m so relieved. I thought it was alarming how quickly my thoughts went from optimistic to gravestone in a matter of hours. I grateful for this outcome, but well aware this is not the case for everyone, and as we know when one of us suffers, we all suffer together. My love to you.

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    1. I’m feeling your love Kara, what a scare, but I’m grateful the outcome was positive. As you know I normally keep personal issues (like my boobs) out of the blog, but this is an issue we’d all prefer to ignore, and I was hoping my experience would encourage others to schedule a scan. Women have a tendency to put their health last because of all the other demands, but ladies if we go down, the ship goes down. Here’s to healthy lady parts! My love to you Kara.

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      1. I also like to keep my boobs out of things, but I went through a scare a few years ago and wrote about it too–so IMPORTANT that we take care of ourselves and remind others to do the same. So happy the news was good!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh Cheryl, I do that too, take things so far in my head, and to such sad places. I think that’s normal. ❤️ I’m gonna pray for you 🙏 and I’m so happy you had a good weekend with the grandkids and that your husband is coming with you to the next scan. 💕💕

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    1. Thank you for the love and prayers Cynthia! I am ever so grateful. The outcome was a positive one, I was lucky, and let’s hope this encourages our lady friends to schedule a scan. It was nice having my husband come with me, he waited in the lobby while the technician spent a half hour rescanning my breast, and than consulting with the doctor. I know he had a million things to do and I appreciate how he prioritizes me. We went for celebratory coffee (which apparently exasperates the cysts), and egg bites, before parting ways. My love to you Cynthia.

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  2. Whew! So glad to hear “all clear” and it’s even sweeter to feel your husband’s strong emotional support. How I miss that precious gift. And I still have it inwardly. I’m glad you have it in flesh.

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    1. Thank you Elaine, I was leaning on him rather heavily these past few days, and enormously grateful for his strength! My beloved sister lost her husband earlier this year and as I walk this lonely road with her I am all to aware of his painful absence. Makes me so much more appreciative of the time we have. Your concern warms my heart Elaine, thank you. My love to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Cheryl,
    I’m very glad you got the all clear and please don’t wait six years next time!
    I had a similar experience where I got called back for an ultrasound after a mammogram, and found out all of my friends had the same thing happen to them. It seems we were all going to the same doctor and he prefer to say the mammogram results were “inconclusive” and required another test. This is a huge anxiety producing experience for most woman! If you think about it from the doctor’s perspective, they only get in trouble if they miss a cancer diagnosis so they have every incentive to be over cautious. I have since switched to a different facility for my mammograms and have not had anymore “closer looks” required.
    My “mirror staring” experience came from the dermatologist- my doctor found a tiny melanoma on my arm. They caught it early and no further treatment was necessary, but once you hear the “M” word it changes the way you look in the mirror. Be sure to check your skin and your boobs!
    PS Have you had a colonoscopy? Can’t wait to read your blog on that! Hee hee

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    1. Hi Gail! Yes, a most anxiety provoking experience indeed, I will be more conscientious in the future. Nancy and I decided to book our appointments together next year and than celebrate by going to breakfast! I think you should join us!
      My Mom had melanoma on her arm, a rather large spot, that left a significant scar. After the removal she didn’t have a reoccurrence on her skin but I often wondered if it was related to her eventual lung cancer? I think a Dermo check should be my next appointment.
      I did have a colonoscopy about nine years ago, next year I suppose I’ll have to do another one? Yuck! It’s a full time job staying on top of my health!
      I suppose as we age we have to be more conscientious. And the good news is there are excellent treatments if needed, but you have to know if you have something for that to happen! So let’s encourage each other, get the testing done, and there’s always the McDonalds breakfast biscuit as a just reward!

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    1. Thanks Britt, that’s why I put my big girl panties on, and wrote about it. We need to encourage each other, support one another, go to our appointments together, celebrate our health. its so important. I received several private messages from women who decided to schedule a scan because of this post! That was the goal!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Cheryl,
    I confess I read this post with some alarm. I am quite relieved that you got the all clear. Whew. I am grateful that you are open enough with your life that you can share your experience and maybe save someone else. Please do the derm appt.
    Family history of a nasty skin cancer and I suspect someone who spends so much time at the lake likely has seen a lot of sun. Get checked every year. This is an easy, cheap, no brainer. Plus no prep to drink!
    With regards to your writing, I loved your thoughts on how darkness is required for glass to be reflective …..”sometimes you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” Really well written.
    Love how Larry cuts to the chase and gets things done, and chuckled despite my concerns after reading …. “ calm your tits.”

    And lastly, the song that sticks in my head after reading this is “Come a little bit closer”, by Jay and the Americans, but it doesn’t fit, so no link.
    Thanks again for posting, Hope your readers take heed.
    Save second base!

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    1. Hi Mike, sorry to have given you such a fright, but the timeframe for decision making was rather tight. I found out Monday night that I failed the exam, wrote the post before work on Tuesday morning, and under severe duress I hit the publish button before returning to the Breast Care Center early Wednesday morning. Let me just say my daughters were not pleased I didn’t give them a heads up. Who knew they actually read my blog?

      I am more than pleased to have the whole harrowing experience behind me and an entire year before I have to return! Now on to the skin care clinic for evidence of sun damage on this pigment challenged skin I was born with. It’s a never ending battle keeping up on all this testing.

      I’m glad you appreciated the bits of humor I injected in the post, trying to find a balance between concerning , informative, and inspirational. And without humor I’m not sure how we are to manage life, especially after you hit middle age, and things start to wear out! I received several private messages from women who were sort of guilted into scheduling a scan after reading this post! Mission accomplished!

      So it appears second base has been saved! Hysterical Mike – I should have used that for the title! Take care, hugs to you and Gail.

      Liked by 1 person

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