Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Hour in Five Stages



Stage 1: DENIAL. I think to myself I SHOULD BE FEELING SOMETHING but I am completely numb. The Beatles are in the CD player and I sing along at the top of my lungs, “Paperback writer (writer, writer)” and even throw in the guitar lick...buhbuduheeee buhduh bombomduh... 
Comic relief: Around the point of the mountain I pass this car that is going WAY TOO SLOW in the center lane. Attempting to pass, I speak into an imaginary microphone, entertaining no one but myself: “Hello, officer? I’d like to report a CORPSE driving in the center lane on I-15...”  Then (I SWEAR I am not making this up!) I pass the alleged corpse-car only to discover that the driver does in fact appear to be dead (or at least asleep): Head tilted back, eyes closed, mouth wide open. AAHHHH! I try to keep a wide berth between me and the corpse-car, and continue to keep one eye on him in the rearview mirror, expecting him at any moment to crash right into the median. “Bang, bang, Johnny’s silver hammer comes down on his head...Bang, bang, Johnny’s silver hammer made sure he was dead....” (Miraculously, the corpse continues on autopilot, making all the curves and remaining in the center lane. Hmmm.) 
Stage 2: ANGER. I exit the freeway in plenty of time, giving me a straight shot to Huntsman Cancer Institute, and twelve minutes to park and go inside. Then everything starts going out of control, multiplying so rapidly I let it get the best of me. The directions on the iPhone map are wrong, and I spend twenty frustrating minutes cruising around a spaghetti-ish network of long driveways and one-way circles that makes Los Angeles at rush hour look like child’s play. “Help! I need somebody. He-ehelp me, help me-ee!”  I could feel my blood pressure rising with every wrong turn, until I was no longer singing along, but shouting, spitting out the lyrics like nails out of a gun. How did the music that was helping me feel fun-loving and free-wheeling just moments ago suddenly have me tied up in vicious knots? I turned off the stereo by slamming it down with my fist. Yes I did. Take that, Ringo! 
Stage 3: BARGAINING. I don’t know why arriving a few minutes late has sent me into such a tailspin, but I can feel myself starting to panic, wondering if they’ll even be able to see me if I’m 20 minutes late, if I made this drive for nothing, and will have to do it all again, and if it will take me another two months to get an appointment. I have crazy conversations in my head, making my plea. Finally, in desperation, I pull up to a construction worker and ask how to get to the hospital entrance. So simple. Why didn’t I do this right at the beginning? 
Help me if you can I’m feeling dow-ow-own. And I do appreciate you comin’ rou-ou-ound. Help me get my feet back on the grou-ou-ound.”  (Yeah, I turned it off, but it’s still playing softly in my head.)
Stage 4: DEPRESSION. I feel completely defeated as I enter the parking lot. The attendant is informative and kind, yet I feel a black hole in my heart as I look for a space to park and make my way through the looming glass doors. I am here but I am still lost. And I know it. I push elevator buttons, put one foot in front of the other, but my world is gray.
Stage 5: ACCEPTANCE. No one says a word or even raises an eyebrow about my late arrival. I am ushered into a back room before I even have a chance to take a seat in the waiting area. My genetic counselor and her grad-student assistant are the perfect combination of competent and compassionate. It is surreal to hear myself reciting details about my family history with utter calm, like reading numbers off a report: My mother found a lump at age 47. She was diagnosed at age 49. She died of breast cancer at age 53. Her sister battled breast cancer three times over several decades and finally passed away at age 83. More questions: Yes. No. I don’t know. 
I realize I have passed through the five stages of grief in the hour it took me to arrive at this place, just footsteps away from the room where my mother took her final breaths. I think I may also have been grieving my own mortality as I approached that place and draw closer to that age, seeking clues to my what own future holds. I received no concrete answers, but every ounce of knowledge I acquire empowers me. I journey home, fast-forwarding through Fool On A Hill and Yesterday, ultimately landing on Across the Universe. Which takes me home.


Note of clarification: I was just in for genetic counseling and DNA testing. I have no signs of breast cancer, other than my marked family history. I do want to remind everyone that October is breast cancer awareness month. 


This post is inspired by  Just Write, an exercise in free writing{Please see the details here.}  Not sure if I'm following all the rules, or if there even ARE any rules to a free-write, but at least it keeps me writing!

17 comments:

Jessica said...

Bless you, Friend!

LisAway said...

My heart is kind of tight right now because I don't really know what this means. It was difficult to follow you through that, so you did a good job of describing it, I think. I hope you are at peace and that you have reason to be content. And that we get more information about this soon. Love to you.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Oh, Charette, I hope everything is okay. You've written so beautifully and I want all the peace to win out. If you ever need another corpse to ride in the car with you, I'm available. I try not to drive while sleeping, though.

Barbaloot said...

I hope you're doing okay! Experiencing all that in such a short time has got to leave you drained and back near stage one.

charrette said...

Quick clarification, since a few of you sound slightly alarmed (sorry!): My OB sent me to Hunstman Cancer Institute for genetic counseling prior to taking the BRCA DNA test for the breast cancer gene. I don't have any signs of cancer other than my family history, where there are some markers for BRCA1. The good news is, if I test positive, they can take some highly invasive but preventive measures which practically guarantee I'll never get breast cancer. I am, so far, completely at peace with this scenario. I love that there's a way to know and a way to prevent. Knowledge is power. And the truth not only makes you free...but quite possibly cancer free. :)

(I was writing about the drive, and trying not to go into too much detail on all the rest, but clearly that was a mistake.) :)

charrette said...

The experience was surreal for me because where I went for counseling was right next to where my mom passed away, and I haven't really been back there since. I am also approaching the age she was when she was diagnosed. But I am completely at peace. For now.

Kristina P. said...

I'm so glad you're boobs are OK, my sweet friend.

DeNae said...

Ditto Kristina. And I loved the arc in this piece, Jana. The Beatles as underscore to the five stages of grief?

Genius.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

A difficult journey, but one worth traveling with you. Thank you for inviting us along. ((hugs))

Melanie Jacobson said...

I"m so glad you're getting out on top of this. I've tried to be really proactive and my doctors have all said that the fact my mom was post-menopausal when she got her breast cancer is good news for me. Good for you for taking this on.

As for the other theme here, I'm really trying hard to understand when I am mad or frustrated what it is that I'm really mad about. It takes so much practice. SO MUCH.

Redi-Kilowatt said...

I thought 20+ years ago when we were all tested, they found no genetic link. If that is wrong...now I have more reasons to be paranoid and pained. Just a word to the mammography world...they hurt! I cry and they smilingly say...just hold it a little longer. With my tissue I still always have to have additional ultrasounds and biopsies and those don't hurt...so why don't they just jump to the good stuff, why do they insist on the painful one first so that we want to avoid it like the plague and only go when we have a legitimate concern?...just venting.

Becca said...

That is well-written, as you know. ANd touching, as you also know. And I'm glad I didn't find it until after you explained the "only genetic counseling" part.

Being near the place my mom died (or lived, or visited with me) makes me tender, too. Which is kind of cool, since I'm not really a "places" person - not much for cemetaries (I can't spell that one) in particular.

Heather EO said...

Oh lady. I so get this. And I love how you recognize what you're experiencing as it happens and then you tell it. Your perspective always moves me.

SO CRAZY that there was a sleeping driver on the road! Ack!

gianna said...

What a fabulous post. As I was laughing, I was feeling your stages with you!

Kazzy said...

I felt the stages as I read this. Yikes.

So glad you are doing these things you need to do. Being where a parent died must be super hard. Love ya.

brown eyed girl said...

I am sorry you had to go alone! I totally would have gone with you. You are amazing, my sister. Love you!

Allison said...

Okay, you had me worried at about stage 3, but I'm okay now. Phew. And great news. And phew.