The call came while I was negotiating the parking lot with a balky six-year-old and an arm full of packages, and I knew instantly it was The Call. I let my kid wander around unsupervised while I dropped everything--literally--and opened my cellphone.
"I have some good news for you," said the doctor, and that's really about all I remember his saying, other than the words "benign cyst" and "no malignancy" and "not until next year."
So I am left with a very bruised breast, unspeakable relief, and a new understanding of fear--and the human connections that can heal fear. Because the fear was the worst. I was pretty sure--reasonably sure--that even if the lump did turn out to be cancer, that it wasn't going to be a very big cancer (my own doctor hadn't felt it, two weeks ago) and I know that very early cancers are pretty curable these days. I knew this even though the word "cancer" tends to put me in full panic mode, since I watched my father die an agonizing death from it 26 years ago, which was way, way too soon. Breast cancer would not be anybody's choice, certainly, but I live in a country with some amazing medical technology, just down the road from some of the nation's premier health care institutions, and I have faced some pretty bad things before now. Cancer--at least, very early very curable breast cancer--there was at least a tiny chance I could handle. At least, with a lot of help.
What I couldn't handle was the fear. The fear was what laid me low--specifically, fear of dying before my children were grown. Everybody fears death, but I feel fairly confident in speaking for a large majority of the planet's mothers when I say that there is a fear worse than the ordinary human fear of death, and that's the fear mothers have, the fear of leaving their children too soon. On that first day I said to the cosmos: "I'll deal with cancer, but you'll have to handle the fear." And you know what? From the anonymous cancer hotline counselor who listened to me sob for awhile, to the people who e-mailed me with words of encouragement, to the good friends who distracted me--the universe seemed to come together as if it had been planning for just this emergency, and with only me in mind. I was taken care of, and I felt it. After, I dunno, four hours of being completely and totally freaked out, I slowly began to feel calm again, and at night I went to sleep feeling as if I was wrapped in a silk cocoon of other peoples' love. I joked to one friend that I could practically see the good vibes, and it wasn't entirely a joke. Not to sound all New Age-y and all, but there is some kind of cosmic energy out there that I don't understand and I'll say no more about it except: I'm glad it's there. And I'm glad all you other humans are out there too.