Silence on the blog is almost always a sure sign of a series of multiple aborted blog attempts on my part. I occasionally go through the “nobody is really reading anyway” phase to the “that piece of information is just too intimate to share with the public at large” or “you could be spending your time writing something important… or at least for money” and eventually I end up missing it or determining that I’m going to find a focus for my writing once again (did I ever have such a focus?). I assure myself that it is a good thing that I am not the type of person inclined to hit the “delete all” button easily.
I crossed over one of my personal hurdles this past week.
If you have read me here, or my words at nearly any other place, you are probably well aware by now that my mother had breast cancer. She was a rare one, a 20-year survivor. Good thing for me as I was only 7 when she was diagnosed. I owe my mother tons. She was a fabulous example of how to live, how to make the most of life. She was a person who knew how to make lemonade (when life gives you lemons?). I have missed her every day of the twelve years she has been gone, and I don’t know if I will ever stop talking with her in my head, meeting up with her in my dreams to discuss the whole fairness or unfairness of it all.
At the same time, I’ve possibly expended more energy than is healthy in my own lifetime, in an attempt to distinctly separate myself from her, to convince myself that I am SO not like her even though in so many ways she was a wonderful role model. That would explain why I spent much of my 31st year reminding myself that I was not my mother. Just because she was, quite literally, past the middle point of her life by the age of 31, did not mean I had reached that point myself.
So three years running I have been in complete agreement with my doctor that it was time to start those dreaded “M” exams. Just for a baseline. Just because my mother was so young when she had her own mastectomy, an event she never really talked much about and certainly didn’t share the gory details with family and friends. I have nodded my head positively in a boldly affirmative manner and then specifically not made a single appointment for a mammogram.
You see how just not like her I am, right? Not only do I refuse to be secretive about what amounts to my own worst personal nightmare, I might just end up being one of those women who talks about things like breasts and cancer publicly.
But this year I did it. I came directly home from my yearly exam and made the appointment for my first mammogram. I boldly marched in, ripped off my shirt, and consented to pictures (2 on each side) that would reveal any potential secrets my breasts might be hiding... because I am not a person content to live with secrets.
The event itself was much less an ordeal than I had imagined. Maybe it was all those yoga breathing exercises I employed to keep my sane outer shell from exploding. It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t even particularly all that humiliating. It was quick and simple, and I breathed a sigh of relief even as the technician explained to me that I would be flagged, right off the bat, for extra scrutiny and examination. She as much as told me I would likely be called back for more pictures. They won’t take any chances, she explained. Since your mother had breast cancer, they will call you back for any shadow, any fold of skin or extra dense area that doesn’t seem clear enough on the initial images.
None-the-less, that phone call nearly sent me over the edge. I momentarily forget that I was capable of any such thing as composure, and I had my mini-crisis on my own time, with my nightmares and worst-case-scenarios merrily dancing in my head in ways I could not seem to block out. I was tempted to run the other way, but the truth was I could not get back for more photos quickly enough.
I got the “all clear” letter in the mail. And in the days following, I’ve come to realize that I’m not only relieved for the week or so that I’ve been letting my mind wander to its deepest, darkest places. I’ve released a good 30 years of secret pressures, of searching for ways I could be something not like my mother.
I am like my mother in many ways, many good and wonderful ways. The older I get, the more I see myself in my memories of her. I see her hands when I look at my hands. I see the stretch marks on her belly when I look at my own belly. I recognize her narrow ankles and skinny calves in my own narrow ankles and calves. Sometimes I catch a glance of her in the mirror, just an expression as I’m turning my head to look away, something familiar in the curve my face or the turn of my mouth.
I am not like my mother.
I am like my mother.
And being both is okay.