The view above my bench.
Center Photo of a door in Tuscany by Susie Rieple

It’s December and what a perfect time for this question, posed by our Blog-o-Sphere Think Tank founder, Andes Cruz.  “What was the best gift I’ve ever gotten and why?”

I must admit that had this question been asked a couple of weeks ago, I would have answered differently than I’m about to now.  You know, it would have been something from a Christmas long ago…perhaps that wonderful sled  when I was in grade school or a special piece of jewelry from Dan.  As great as many of my material gifts have been, I received a gift on Friday, December 7, 2012, that supersedes all of them.

The best gift I’ve ever gotten was an answer to a prayer.

Whatever your faith or belief system, I will understand if you choose not to read any further.  I am not going to stand on a soap box and preach.  No.  I am going to share, with those of you who wish to continue reading, an incredibly life changing story that just happened to me.  The reason I feel so compelled to share this is I want others to know that the worst case scenario isn’t always the one that happens.  Have faith in a positive outcome.

For the men, and maybe some of the women who follow my blog, this may not be a topic you care to read more about.  I understand that too.  It is a health issue, mainly for women, but some men are afflicted with it too.

Spoiler alert, I will tell you that all of this has a very happy ending for me.  So again, if you do not want to read any further, just know that I received great news, in answer to my prayers (and those of a few others who knew).  I am in perfect health with new doors opening for me as I write this.

If you want to find out about why I posted the picture of the view above my bench, you will need to continue reading.

This is my story about the best gift I’ve ever received.  

On Tuesday, November 27, 2012, I went in for my annual mammogram.  My mother’s sister, Mildred, died of breast cancer in the early 90’s.  Recently I’ve been told that it is the direct descendant linkage to breast cancer that is a bigger concern than that of a maternal or paternal aunt.  You see, I had always been compared to Mildred as I grew.  There were times when my mom said I walked and talked like her. Because I was so similar to her, I felt like that breast cancer cloud was hanging over my head.  My mom reassured me, doctors too, that my chances were almost nil because my mother never had it and neither did either of my grandmothers.  So every year, I dutifully schedule my appointment for the ‘mash‘ as I view it.  At the end of my appointment, the tech, who has done my films for most years, smiled and said,  “Everything looks beautiful!” as she always did.  Out the door I went, but I had a nagging concern because I thought I saw something.

Two days later, Thursday, November 29, 2012, I got the call.  Yep, that one we never want, the one where we are told “Don’t worry if you get a follow-up call, it just means they need a closer look, as something has changed since your last exam”.  Right.  Breathe.  Research.  What if?  The calm, pleasant voice on the other end of the phone said my films showed an abnormality and more films were needed.  Ok.  My heart is pounding.  My inner voice is screaming “Noooooooooo, this can’t be happening”.  And then, thankfully, my centering inner voice said, let’s just wait and see what the next set of films show.

Well, the earliest a follow-up appointment that could be scheduled was for the following Friday, December 7th at 10:25 AM.  Over a week.  I had to live with this uncertainty for over a week!  Lots of deep breaths.  Many conversations with Dan.  All the thoughts.  I have to live normally for the next 8 days, get through a Holiday Weekend Show, smile, engage, continue my routine.  Dan was with me while I listened to the pleasant voice on the other end of the phone.  He saw my notes.  I hung up and we looked into each others eyes.  A loving smile was exchanged between the two of us.  The unspoken communication followed by the verbal affirmation that we would get through this together.  It could be anything, it could be nothing.  The one possibility, we would tackle it together….we would tackle any possibility together as we always have.

One of my first thoughts was my breasts do not define me.  I can live without one, if needed.  There are things that are tons worse in my mind.  I have an artist friend who has brain cancer.  I have a friend who has lost most of his sight.  I thought to myself, the loss of one of my hands or legs or my eyes or even my physical mobility through a spinal cord injury….that would be worse.  I can live without a breast.  Whatever the outcome, I knew I would be fine.

Initially, I only shared this with one friend, Andrea, who had invited me to begin Deepak Chopra’s 21 day mediation challenge several weeks prior to this.   What a God send that was.   We went to see Dr Wayne Dyer together in October and one of his mantras is “I am perfect health”.  You can rest assured that became my mantra, along with “I am perfect breast health”.

Remarkably, as those 8 days passed, I was able to get through them with a smile on my face and thoughts about future plans Dan & I had.  I would get through all of this.  I have the love and support of a man who is my best friend and soul mate, Dan.  I couldn’t ask for more.

I found myself going through a series emotional phases; denial, calm, anger, fear, numbness, disbelief and more.

The weekend of the Holiday Market, I knew I was tired.  I managed to sleep pretty well in spite of some of those thoughts that went from the worst case scenario to the best possible outcome.  One of the artists at the event, Susie Rieple, had a photograph of a beautiful red door, partially open; it’s pictured at the beginning of this post.  She took it in Tuscany during one of their trips.  That photo spoke to me and I knew that whatever was happening, doors are opening for me.  So I bought that photograph and it hangs over my bench; an inspiration, symbolizing hope of the abundant possibilities that exist as one enters.  I told her how the photo symbolized a door opening for me and she asked what I thought it was.  I told her I didn’t know yet, as I truly didn’t at that time.

The day before the followup appointment, another dear friend from Iowa, Carol, sent me an email.  We were brought together years ago, and I consider her my sister.  I helped her when her dad was dying from cancer and she helped me after my parents died.  We’ve always been there for each other through many things.  Initially, I didn’t want to tell her about what was going on with me because I didn’t want her to worry.  Her sister had died of breast cancer.  Their was a history of cancer in her family.  But I knew she would pray for me and help me no matter what.  So Carol is the only other person, besides my friend Andrea, that I shared this news with, knowing I would have my answer the next day on Friday the 7th.  Dan and I felt it would be best not to tell more people and have them worry.  Now that’s wisdom.

The day arrived.  Dan & I went for our morning swim.  Each day we had worked out in our normal fashion, each day I found myself wondering how restricted my activities might be if I had to go through a recovery period.  Swimming was my healing time, positive thoughts and mantras going through my head as I swam.  Dan accompanied me for this appointment.  The ride to the downtown facility was mixed with some laughter, some silence, a few tears in my eyes as that most evil of all emotions, fear, tried to creep into my thoughts.

The breast care center is located on the third floor of a building I had been in numerous times before.  I reached for the doorknob to the office, it felt like time froze, I took a deep breath and thought, I’ll know….one way or the other, today I get the news.  That morning I had told Dan I’m too busy for this.  We were planning a trip back to Zion National Park.  I told myself, this time, I’m climbing up to Angels Landing.  I had a new gallery for my work.  There’s the prospect of a basset puppy in our future.  Thoughts rolling through my mind as I looked at that door handle, thinking, this is it, let’s find out and deal with it.

I checked in and registered.  The TV was droning on in the background, some woman’s talk show with Kathy Lee Gifford and someone else.  Meaningless babble in my mind.  Life is too important to waste it on such dribble.  I pulled out my phone and listen to The Moses’ Code Mediation as I waited.  I held Dan’s hand and tried to hold back tears.  I keep telling myself, you don’t know, you don’t know…wait to find out and then deal with it.

Lucinda called my name and off we went to what I refer to as the pancake machine.  She had been the tech who had taken my films the week prior.  She knew where my nerves and head were.  She’s a wonderful person.  Lucinda shared that last year was the first time she had been called back for a followup like this.  She knew how hard the last week had been, with all the attempts to not worry because this can happen and be nothing.  The more we talked, the more I relaxed.  She said sometimes as the tissue is compressed, it isn’t compressed in the same way as a prior year and that can cause fibers  to cross, producing phantoms.  That’s what had happened with her and in the end, nothing was wrong for her.  I told her what I thought I had seen.  She said, no, that’s  not it…what I saw was my normal fibers.  Then she showed me the spot.  It was like a speck of dust, so close to my chest wall I thought there’s no way I could have ever found something like that with self exams!

We proceeded.  This time, retaking the normal set of films plus two extras that zero in on the area in question.  I told her Dan had come along as moral support.  She said she would bring him into the room while the radiologist reviewed the new films.  She also assured me that I didn’t need to worry if the radiologist wanted to have more films taken as they were wanting to make this go away and it may mean more x-rays.  I told her that was no problem.

Let me just state that I am married to one of the most heroic, brave men in the world.  I love him with all my heart.  To see his smiling face when she brought him back to wait with me and listen to Lucinda’s explanation to him about what was happening….now that’s priceless!  As we waited, we talked, and it was the most relaxed I had been all week.  We were optimistic.

Lucinda came back.  We need more detail.  That spec was so close to my chest wall I was going to have to stand on my tip toes and the pancake maker was going to have to press even harder.  I can do anything when I have to.  Know it.  Believe it.  Round two for the day.  Success.  Off Lucinda went.  Minutes passed.  Dan & I exchanging glances and smiles.  Laughing a bit.  Relaxing a bit more.  The door opens, it was the radiologist followed by Lucinda.  I think my eyes got as wide as saucers when I looked at him! I could tell he saw my reaction and he knew he needed to clear the air right away.  “The first thing I want to tell you is it is good news!”  he said.  I’m beaming, laughing.  I felt like Scrooge did the morning after he woke up from the night of being visited by the three spirits.  Pure joy.  Immense gratitude.  I never thought I could feel that kind of deep, spiritual gratitude.  It’s amazing.

The radiologist explained everything.  There was no doubt in his mind that my tissues were healthy and clear.  Pure music to my ears and Dan’s.  We beamed at each other.  I hugged Lucinda.  I’ll see her again next year.  I was free to go.

Dan & I hugged and kissed in the hallway outside the breast health offices.  Elation doesn’t even begin to sum it up.  I texted my two friends, Andrea and Carol, that knew what I was facing.  Carol was the first to respond with joy & relief.  I caught up with Andrea when I we returned to the office;  she knew by my smile all was good and we hugged with happiness.

I am here to tell you that material things are very nice, but they pale in comparison to answered prayers.  Believe.

I wanted to share this because I want to give others hope.  When you receive news, it may be the worst, it may not.  Wait to hear, pray for the strength to handle whatever comes.

Now let’s see what my fellow bloggers posted on this topic:

pencilfox: www.pencilfox.com
Andes Cruz: http://www.andescruz.wordpress.com
Robyn Hawk: http://flyviewsandreviews.blogspot.com/

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.