Isn’t it interesting when even the tiniest of life events can lead to an examination of our mortality?
For example, the other night, I placed the very hot cover of a CorningWare baking dish in the sink and unconsciously ran cold water over it before it had a chance to cool. Of course, it disintegrated. The explosion was loud and dramatic; hundreds of large and small shards of glass were created instantaneously. One big triangular piece went down the garbage disposal.
I knew better than to have this happen. But it did. Luckily, I was able to avoid cutting myself while cleaning up the mess.
This piece of CorningWare and I go way back. I got married in 1968 and, as I recall, this was among our original collection of kitchenware. We were divorced in 1978 and this dish was included in my share of the division of goods. So, all told, I’ve been carting this thing around for nearly a half-century.
That’s a long relationship and it ended surprisingly abruptly. Boom.
Which got me thinking, again, about how rapidly things in life can change. The most mundane day can turn, in the blink of an eye, into one of disaster, injury, loss, diagnosis or death. Boom.
Let’s make the most of the time we have left. OK?
After that recent appointment with the dermatologist – yes, the one where those two growths were removed for biopsy – my life immediately changed. To wit: I went to Target and purchased some heavy-duty sunscreen (SPF 50), and also dropped by REI to buy a sun hat (again, SPF 50). I started using both immediately.
Honestly, looking back on things now, my behavior during all those late-afternoon walks and runs over the last 35 years is sort of like having engaged in unprotected stranger sex during the 1980s. Risky. During this time, if I used sunscreen at all, I would put a modest amount of a Coppertone SPF 30 liquid on the back of my neck, as well as some on my nose. Which is sort of like sometimes using a condom and believing that is being a responsible, healthy person.
Anyway, I guess the whole sun-exposure thing has been a huge blind spot for me: acting as if I were 18 years old and would live forever. You know: invincible.
When I started using this new, heavy, sunscreen cream, I immediately noticed that it was thick enough to fill up the crater that had been created in my nose by the biopsy (which was healing nicely, actually). But I ALSO noticed that there was another spot on my nose where the cream was collecting and creating a white spot. What the heck is this about? (I asked myself.)
So, when I finally got the call with the pathology report, I mentioned that there was this additional place on my nose that I had a question about … even though I had just had a full-body exam. And I made yet another appointment.
I waited six more days to get in, feeling sillier and sillier during the interim, thinking that my anxiety was just leading me to a place where I would end up feeling quite embarrassed for wasting everyone’s time.
So. That appointment happened yesterday. I did feel silly for having shown up … right up to the point where she agreed that there was something there. It was “pre-cancerous” (actinic keratosis) she said, and should be removed. Right then and there we LN2’d it (froze it with liquid nitrogen), and I walked away wondering how this had been missed during the earlier appointment and just how regular my visits to this office would now be.
Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.
Lately, I find myself staring off into space a little more than usual. Not quite zombie-like, but close.
Given the skin-cancer diagnosis and the need to prepare for surgery in upcoming days (the procedure is scheduled for September 29), I guess it makes sense. You know, thinking about life and death … and taking stock.
Why am I here? What have I done? What is there left to accomplish? What is my mission in life? Do I have a mission in life?
Yes, of course I do. I know it’s there somewhere. It’s just that defining my mission seems to be a little elusive right at the moment. The truth is: ever since entering retirement involuntarily, I haven’t quite gotten it together.
I admit, I have struggled to find meaning and purpose. Mostly, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to regain some emotional equilibrium and have pursued various avenues to better cope with my bodily chronic-pain issues.
In the last month or two, though, I’ve sensed that I may be on the cusp of turning a corner: making myself more fully physically able and functional.
And, then, cancer.
You really never know what is going to happen next, do you? The course of your life, or mine, can change at any moment.
We really should never forget that.
I am writing this on the fifteenth anniversary of 9-11. The newspaper today informs me that, in the period immediately following the attacks, a national poll indicated that an overwhelming majority of the country (79%) felt that the crisis would make us stronger and more unified.
Of course, that’s not really my topic today. A lot of my attention right now is on health and my own personal strength in the midst of difficult times.
So, the news is: I got the results of my biopsies back two days ago. I had waited a full seven days to find out that the growth on my leg, tentatively identified as melanoma, is, in fact, benign.
Holy shit, what a relief.
The thing is, the biopsy for the bump on my nose was positive for basal cell carcinoma and I am being referred to a surgeon for the “Mohs procedure.” I am told that this kind of surgery is the absolute best way to go, especially for a cancer that is in such a sensitive and obvious place. It is an iterative surgical process that lasts as long as it needs to to ensure full removal of the cancer. I started looking online for descriptions, and am a tad freaked out by what’s in store for me.
Still, I’m still here.
One of the lines attributed to Angela (Claire Danes as a teenager), in “My So-Called Life” (1994-95), is:
“This life has been a test. If this had been an actual life, you would have received instructions on where to go and what to do.”
I’ve heard this quotation in other contexts as well. At any rate, it’s a line that keeps coming up for me right now.
As I navigate this limbo state, between knowing and not-knowing, I sorta wish someone really would just tell me where to go and what to do.