A few weeks ago, I went for my annual mammogram, and I didn't hear anything. Usually no news is good news, so I didn't think about it. But then, on Tuesday afternoon, I got a call that I needed to go back to the Breast Care Center asap for another screening--this time an ultrasound. I was told I'd know the results of the test before I left.
Evidently, a large per cent of call-backs are not bad news. I didn't know that. I did know that there is a part of one of my breasts that feels odd, that I've asked my doctor in Youngstown about it many times, and she has reassured me (every year) that it is fine.. Or, as she put it--it feels like oatmeal there. Nothing to worry about. But--if you ever find a raisin in the oatmeal, call me. The call-back this year, not surprisingly, was about the oatmeal.
Whenever I hear bad news, or potentially bad news, about my health, I hear in my head that accusing prayer: You have left undone those things you ought to have done. And you have done those things you ought not to have done; and there is no health in you. (I always change the "we" to "you" with this prayer.)
The next morning at 8 AM, I got a closer look at the oatmeal. It looks like waves, vaguely like the picture above, some waves are closer and some further apart. Some waves are circling and some flattening. But on and on, waves and more waves
Lying there, watching and feeling the ultrasound wand going over and over the same part of my breast, I felt at first sick with panic. But then, as the test continued, I relaxed. It felt odd, as if I were very alone and far away. The watery image made me think of Maine. I imagined myself rowing slowly out across the bay.
Then it was over. And just like that, the nurse came back and said everything was normal. I could go home. I had been so sure the news was going to be bad. I felt dizzy and slightly stunned. All day I kept thinking of my friends who have had cancer, some no longer with us. And I felt grateful that my doctor in Youngstown didn't put me through this. She insisted that my hands can tell me what's going on--just was well as another test.
And I thought of this poem by Mark Strand, one of my favorite poets, who died not too long ago of cancer.
I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.