I looked at the calendar, and one of the more innocent limericks I learned from my mother came to mind:
There was a young lady from Barking Creek
Who had her monthlies twice a week
How very provoking said the Bishop of Woking
There’s no time for poking so to speak
Well, I’m not exactly a young lady, neither young, nor much of a lady. I'm fifty one, and a half, and my language does become earthy and extremely unladylike at times. In addition, I don’t get my monthlies twice a week. It isn’t quite that bad. I counted thirteen days between the onset of the last two menstrual cycles, and before that it was seventeen days.
Perimenopause—the transition into menopause.
Or is it? Could it be something else? Could it be something serious?
I called my gynecologist’s office.
“We don’t like seeing a cycle that’s less than twenty one days.”
I wasn't particularly enthralled with it either. I made the appointment for the following week.
No one mentioned the word “cancer,” but I could feel it in the air. Was I scared? Not really, not yet.
The doctor collected tissue for a biopsy. According to him, 97% of cases such as mine are due to hormone imbalances.
I did not start getting antsy until a couple of days later, and despite me efforts to keep my anxiety in check, it escalated as the days went by. A week after the appointment, unable to wait any longer, I phoned the doctor’s office as soon as it opened.
A cheery voice answered the phone. “Yes, your results are in, but I can’t see your file here, it must be in the doctor’s box. I’ll call you back with the results.”
I spent an hour unable to settle down to anything. Why wasn’t she phoning? What was wrong?
When the phone rang, I gulped and took a deep breath before I picked it up.
“I spoke to the doctor and he said he will call you with the results when he comes in.”
The world came to a standstill for a brief moment, and when it started up again, I had trouble figuring out how to hang up the phone. Why can’t she give me the results, why does she want the doctor to? Does this mean that—
For the first time in my life I had trouble verbalizing the c-word, even in my head. Am I afraid? I was afraid, but of what? I knew that I wasn’t afraid of dying. Having gone through three brain surgeries, I had already examined my emotions about death. I was not afraid of death for myself, though this time around, living a much fuller, richer life, I did have much more to lose… maybe I was afraid of death, to some extent. But what was my main fear?
If it wasn’t about death, it had to be about life, about a half life, life with… chemo. I was afraid of the neurological side effects of chemotherapy. I was afraid of repeating the nightmare of those first two years of recovery from my brain injury.
As a brain injury survivor, I am much more sensitive to various neurological side effects than I used to be, than most people are. If I’m anywhere near bug spray my extremities feel numb, harsh lighting causes debilitating headaches, and I cannot tolerate more than a small sip of wine. Knowing a number of breast cancer survivors, I had some idea of how bad chemo-brain can be, so who knows how badly it could affect me. I can’t go through that again, I just can’t, I can’t have cancer. I mustn’t have cancer. I can’t afford to. No, I was not afraid, I was terrified.