It began this way...

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“Hi, this is Janice from the Diagnostic Imaging Center. I’m calling to schedule a cat scan as a follow-up from your appointment yesterday.”

“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously. “A what? A cat scan?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Have you not spoken with your doctor or your doctor’s nurse yet?”

I had not. And as my heart started to pound more steadily, a myriad of bad luck scenarios began playing in my head. The woman on the phone could not tell me why a cat scan was ordered, only that it had been.

“I’m just the scheduler,” she said.

It’s wild what the mind does when it wants more information and doesn’t immediately get it. It fills in the spaces to try and make sense of an incomplete story. It runs in all directions like an animal who’s been caged for days and has just been set free. As I told the now confused and somewhat embarrassed woman that I wouldn’t be scheduling an appointment until I knew what was going on, she transferred me to the next person who took my name and phone number and said she’d have the doctor or a nurse call me later.

Later. How reassuring. ‘Later’ did nothing to ease my now heightened state of ‘something is wrong, but I don’t know what.’ ‘Later’ left me wondering for the next few hours, until I received the next phone call, what the news might be.

The previous day, I had had my yearly mammogram along with an ultrasound of my left breast which had shown some abnormalities last year around this same time. I also had a chest x-ray done because the New Zealand government requires it when applying for permanent residency to rule out tuberculosis. So, one of the things that was squawking with abandon inside my head was this - was the cat scan ordered as a follow up from the mammogram and ultrasound or from the chest x-ray?

The answer came a few hours later when the doctor’s nurse called and that conversation began like this…

“Hi, this is Sherri a nurse from Dr. Buntuyan’s office. I’m calling about the cat scan that’s been ordered by the doctor to follow up from the chest x-ray you had yesterday. I’m going to put this as gently as I can.”

WTF?!?!?

“Your chest x-ray showed an abnormality behind your sternum. It’s known as a density.”

When a medical professional begins with “Let me put this to you gently,” gentle and calm is not at ALL how one feels. A sudden rush of adrenaline, a wave of what-ifs, a panicked sense of life will never be the same surged into my body and I was swept off the edge of normalcy for the next twenty-four hours. I scheduled the cat scan. I waited for the doctor to call me. I wondered about my health, my life and my death.

“To live is so startling…it leaves little time for anything else.”

I’ve thought about my death before, but never quite in the way my mind was now thinking about it. In the immediate aftermath of receiving this information, I spoke with my husband. I called a friend. I cancelled previously scheduled things. For the remainder of the day and until the next call came from a doctor several hours later, I felt a bit zombie-like. I did my best to stay focused, to breathe deeply, to not think of the worst possible outcome. I failed at all three of these things. It suddenly felt like there was little time for anything else but to worry and that’s absolutely NOT the way I want to live.

To live is indeed startling. To receive news of this potential magnitude did more than startle me. It scared the hell out of me. It was perhaps the first time I’ve taken a real hard look at my own mortality. I wish I could say I was at peace with it. I wish I were all Buddha-like and could say I’m not attached to my life, but the truth is…I love my life and I’m not quite ready to leave this human body and being-ness yet. There’s still so much I want to see and experience. There are a lot more stories I want to write and plenty of dances to be had. There is a lot of love left in me to give away before I go.

The next conversation began like this…

“This is Dr. Sans and I’m calling to apologize, first of all, for our scheduling department calling you prior to you receiving a call from us letting you know why the cat scan was ordered. Secondly, I want to answer any questions you may have and reassure you that this density we’re seeing on your x-ray is most likely not anything serious. Having said that, it’s also not nothing. There’s something there and it may very well be just a shadow, but we don’t know for sure. A cat scan would provide more detailed information.”

Did I want more detailed information or did I want to be kept in the dark? Did I want to know what that something was that appeared on my x-ray or did I want to believe my own body and intuition that the shadow was really nothing? Isn’t living with the unknown, the mystery of life, the way in which we live the majority of our lives? And yet…

We dream, set goals, make our plans and do our best to believe control lays solidly in our own hands and there’s always plenty of time, but the truth is…our time here on earth is finite and we really don’t have control over when exactly that time is up. What we do have control over is HOW we live our lives, which of course can and does impact how long we live. Regardless of what unforeseen challenge comes roaring in, how do we, how do I, continue living life so that it startles me more awake to everything?

I keep learning. More about myself. More about others. More about the world.

I continue to live learning how to be with an open heart and an empty mind. I continue to live learning how to accept ‘what is’ rather than ‘what might be’. I continue to live learning how to be with what scares me and being willing to be startled by it, not shattered.

The next conversation came the following day from two more doctors who were reviewing my x-ray, my case. It began this way…

“Because you have no symptoms- no cough, no chest pains, no history of heart or lung disease, we feel the cat scan isn’t necessary at this time and recommend another chest x-ray three months from now to follow up.”

I’ve been significantly startled. The living and learning continues on. The next conversation begins.