I’ve never been one for horror movies. Although the premise of IT intrigues me, there is absolutely no way I’ll ever watch it. I don’t need to watch scary movies—my mind comes up with plenty of scary scenarios on its own.
This month, I learned with no uncertainty what my deepest, darkest fear is.
In August or early September, I read an article on Medium that resonated with me in all the wrong ways. It was about a 35-year-old man who went to the doctor for some bleeding in his stool and found out it was Stage IV colon cancer. Not to get too graphic here, but I recognized myself in his symptoms.
The article nagged at me for weeks, finding a home in the back of my mind, and I finally realized I would not find peace without at least talking to my doctor. My appointment was on October 4, a Wednesday. She thanked me profusely for coming in, and concern was apparent on her face. After her exam, she referred me for a colonoscopy, mentioning that she would try to expedite it by bypassing the initial consultation. She told me that there could be other causes for bleeding, but if it was cancer it would likely be advanced.
I came home that day and collapsed in Chad’s arms. My worst nightmare was coming true. Dangerous, dark thoughts of sickness and death filled my mind. Terrible thoughts. Heartbreaking thoughts. I cried often, any time I was reminded of my own mortality.
When the referral went through, I scheduled the colonoscopy. I could not take the first available appointment (on the 24th) due to work obligations, so I scheduled it for Monday, October 30. It was, at that time, three and a half weeks away.
The wait was agonizing.
The kids and I have been reading an excellent book at bedtime called The Wild Robot. I highly recommend the story; it is fun and enlightening, but it also addresses very deep topics such as global warming and mortality. Although it was an excellent story, it was painful to read during my time of uncertainty. There were pages I could barely read through the tears. The kids thought I was crazy.
The kids also picked up on my stress. Jackson, especially, was very worried. Although we did not tell the kids what was going on (we thought it would be better to wait until we had answers), he heard snippets of conversations and became concerned. He is getting older—old enough to understand more abstract concepts like life and death.
Finally, last Friday, I decided to call the gastroenterologist’s office to see if they still had that opening on the 24th. The scheduling coordinator said their first available appointment was at 7:30 a.m. on October 17. She was skeptical why anyone would want that appointment—”you’ll have to be there at 6:30 a.m.” “you will have to drink the second bottle of prep at 2:30 in the morning”—but I didn’t care. At that point, anything to get some answers was fine with me.
I had the colonoscopy this past Tuesday, October 17. The prep was as bad as everyone warned me about, and I didn’t get much sleep Monday night. In fact, when they woke me up from the anesthesia, my first words were something like “Did I sleep through my alarm?!” (Silly, I know.)
The doctor came in to discuss the results with me shortly after I woke up. The bleeding was being caused by internal hemorrhoids, and she removed one single 3mm polyp. She would send the polyp for biopsy and call with results in a few days (she called yesterday; the polyp was the pre-cancerous type so she will do a repeat colonoscopy in five years). But, the most important news was that there was NO CANCER!!!
This experience illuminated my greatest fear—leaving my children. During our bedtime routine, when snuggling with a kid under each arm, the darkest thoughts would come to me. I want to be there for my kids. I want to snuggle with them as long as they’ll let me, and I want to be there when they won’t let me anymore. I want to help them through crises. I want to watch them mature. I want to be the best mom I can be as long as I can—and at least long enough for them to grow up and have an adult’s perspective on things outside our control.
The hardest lesson I learned from this is that we can’t control our own mortality. We cannot bargain our way out of death, and when it comes we will have no choice but to follow. Life is beautiful and amazing and full of wonder, but we cannot choose when it ends. It hurts to think that I could leave my children without any warning, that they could be forced to grow up without their mother.
Thankfully, for now, we do not have to face that dark truth. For now, we can live our happy life together and appreciate each other’s company. We can snuggle, and cry, and read stories, and do all the other great things families do.
We can breathe a sigh of relief.