I found a lump in my breast. My doctor kindly listened as I explained that I found it on the last day of my vacation, that I was scared, that I often overreact about my health when I am stressed. Then she examined me and, thank goodness, felt the lump but didn't feel concerned. To be sure that I am healthy, she sent me to get a mammogram.
The doctor called and spoke softly and steadily into the phone, telling me my mammogram results came back "perfect." There was a pause in her sentence, and my stomach dropped. I felt the same fear that welled up as I cried in her exam room a week ago.
"I'm a single mom," I confided with tears running down my cheeks. "I am terrified something will happen to me."
I love this doctor. I clearly trust her, not just with the health of my body, but also with all that's racing through my head. She doesn't make me feel silly or crazy or out of line. So when she said she wants me to get a diagnostic ultrasound to be "overly cautious" and put our minds at ease, I knew she was addressing my physical and emotional well-being. I appreciated that.
I breathed a sigh of relief, but I've not yet exhaled completely. But the reason I've chosen, after a long week of contemplating all of this, to put myself out there so nakedly, is because it is scary and real and today, OK.
I know that if my health was or is in that kind of jeopardy, the kind I don't even want to say aloud, that I would call on the fortitude and faith that has gotten me through other crises (the real kind, I swear) that have been scattered over the last couple of decades. I know I have a deep and enduring strength. And I know that I would be lifted up by the many people who support and love and tend to Lil E and me.
But the idea - the very idea - is almost paralyzing. Not so paralyzing that I am not doing everything I can to take good care, to be sure all is well in there, but enough that I don't even want to graze that breast when I get dressed in the morning. And here it is: I am so scared that something will happen to me and my son will be raised by his other parent.
Of course, to think that is to jump twelve steps ahead of where I am walking now. And the path I am on is pretty lush and green today. Even as I pull those "what if" questions out of my head and repeat over and over, "I am healthy and today, this is all OK." and stay open and positive, I wonder how many single mothers like me are worried, too. I wonder how many of us are more concerned about how an illness or injury might impact who cares for our kids than how it might impact our own bodies or health or lives.
When I was happily married, I did have some of those same worries. They were tempered, though, by the thought that my then-husband would carry on and carry our family with him. There was grace and calm in that. Today, I am scared and not soothed by that thought. As a single parent, there is just so much more at stake.
So what is a mama to do? Have another mammogram, I guess. Do some yoga. Talk to my mother. Call my girlfriends. Play with the kid. Pray. Take it one day, one step at a time. Laugh. Tell all of the interwebs what's going on underneath her bra. Try, try, try to trust.
I realize this is all raw and not very pretty. But it's what's happening and I think it is time to talk about this kind of stress rather than avoid touching it at all.
What do you think? How can a single parent ease those very real concerns without catastrophizing? How can we quiet the worries about dying so we can live well with our children now?
One...well, two, technically...more things: I wrote on another site about scheduling my mammogram. If you are in Chicago or San Francisco (or any other city, really), I highly recommend you check in with your breast health or imaging center to see how long the wait is to get screened. The waiting time for an appointment is startling. Here's why.