All clear

Does anyone actually enjoy visiting their gynecologist?

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At my annual exam, August 2017

I didn’t think so. I dread this annual visit more than I detest dental checkups. The waiting room is always painfully still. Peeing in a cup isn’t my strong suit. The exam rooms feel pretty frigid. And then there’s the actual exam… At least my gynecologist is an old college friend whom I totally trust.

This August, when my annual exam popped up on my calendar reminders, I decided to approach it differently. I knew what to expect–I’d wait a while, feel uncomfortable because of the blasts of air conditioning, and move from anticipation to anxiety until my gynecologist walked in the exam room. I decided to do my best to take care of myself and ease my discomfort–and prevent whining.

I brought along coffee (AKA life juice), a daily reader/devotional book, and my old standby: my 12 year-old standard blue Snuggie. That’s right. I’d wear my Snuggie during the exam over the thin gown. Perfect.

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What I read moments before my exam, August 2017

It’s amazing how just a few tweaks can adjust my attitude. I felt nearly peppy when my doctor entered the exam room. We chatted about kids and life during the short exam.

Suddenly my doctor became quiet. Her eyebrows furrowed. Having seen that expression before while I birthed my daughter–during a time of distress–my mood moved from pleasant to ominous.

“Have you felt this before?”

She was conducting my breast exam.

“Um, I think so. But honestly I’m not very good about doing regular exams, so I didn’t know…”

I felt waves of death, chemotherapy, and “you will never see your daughter again” roll over me.

“Well, I’m going to order a diagnostic mammogram. I want to have it looked at.”

After that, I couldn’t muster up conversation. My mind hovered over the expression on my doctor’s face and the notion that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. Fear ate my lunch.

I held it together pretty well until I walked into my home. My husband was caring for my daughter (since I had a scheduled exam); they were enjoying an afternoon on the White River. The entire house was holding its breath. I let go and basically bawled for half an hour. I emailed my mentor and asked for prayer. Then I sat down and did the only logical thing a mom on the brink of cancer would do: I recorded a 30-minute long video of myself singing all my daughter’s favorite songs (just in case, you know).

I waited for a few days before calling my doctor to check about scheduling my mammogram and ultrasound. They’d told me to expect to hear from them and to call if I hadn’t. I try to follow orders. When they checked with the hospital about scheduling, the soonest available date was one month away.

That didn’t feel good. Initially I just jotted it down on the calendar and returned to business as usual. But I’ve learned from my mentors how to take care of myself and see that my own needs are met. The next day, I still felt uneasy about waiting a month. So I called and asked for help. My doctor’s billing director pulled some strings.

The mammogram and ultrasound experience was much less stressful than an annual gynecological exam (for all you ladies dreading yours). When the radiologist read the results, she told me I had nothing to worry about and that I should schedule another mammogram in two years when I turned 40.

My stomach knotted. How could my doctor and I have obviously identified an “area of concern” if there were no area of concern? I knew I couldn’t accept that as the final word. I drove immediately to my gynecologist’s office and asked them to help. Once again, they did. Bless those ladies. They scheduled a visit with a breast specialist. The knot loosened.

But the visit with the specialist only made matters worse for two reasons: I felt a creepy vibe, and he didn’t review my imaging results. I felt I’d been tortured pointlessly for another hour of my life. I was frustrated. I also felt exhausted emotionally.

For one month I thought about the follow-up visit with this specialist. Every time it came to mind, I prayed for God’s will, and I simultaneously felt sick.

One month was long enough to convince me to take the bull by the horns again. Once again, my wonderful gynecologist and her staff came through for me. They scheduled me with another specialist.

Last week when I visited the second specialist, I knew I was in better hands (I know, I know… pun intended). This doctor did an ultrasound immediately in his office and shared the images with me right away, explaining that he identified not one but two cysts.

Cysts.

That’s right. Not cancerous lumps.

“You’re fine. You are going to be fine. Come back in three months to see if my recommendations help with reducing your breast density.”

I could have kissed him, but I refrained. I floated out of the office, attempting to contain my joy since I was surrounded by patients whose results didn’t mimic mine. I recorded their faces in my mind so I could pray for them.

I was so thankful for clarity. I felt blessed with a caring, serious gynecologist and breast specialist. I understood that a decade ago, I would have been unable to advocate for myself properly, and I was grateful for the timing of the whole mess. And best of all, I knew God had me–the whole time.

When I closed my car door, I wept. This time, there was no bawling. I recorded no videos. I envisioned nothing.

I drove out of the parking lot, my soul’s gratitude expanding, and smiled.

I lived my life.

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My beautiful life, November 2017

 

Will you be my friend?

In elementary school, I scribbled a few friendship invitations, carefully wrapped them 80’s origami style, and passed them to the girls I deemed interesting and trustworthy.

“Will you be my friend? Please check one: Yes, No, or Maybe.”

a0f0bb28519c347cd8063a6c40937768It was a trend, okay? A terrible one, but one which I still anxiously recall each time I choose to put myself out there to connect with new potential friends.

A male friend of mine once mentioned that when asking an older man to mentor him, he felt awkward energy, as if he were asking his mentor to prom. I laughed when he told me this.

But recently I found myself feeling the exact same way when I decided to step outside my comfort zone to invite my FOFO (formerly online friend only) to lunch. Kristi isn’t the first FOFO for me; as a writer, channel lean formats don’t feel threatening to me. I can truly connect with others without ever meeting them (to an extent). I enjoy reading others’ social media posts, commenting when appropriate, and browsing through their photos. As a career coach, it’s safe to say I’m a social media expert; I teach others how to use social media for networking and branding purposes.

Over the years, I’ve formed many solid work relationships and friendships in a virtual environment. I genuinely consider some of these people great colleagues and friends even though we’ve never met face-to-face. Some of them have offered me insights into running my business, advice regarding my skills and interests, and comfort and comradery during my darkest times.

But I don’t prefer to live and breathe in a virtual world.  There’s too much life to be lived, and living it together while breathing, talking, and of course, consuming great coffee is my preferred MO.

Sometimes life is easier when I stay on my side of the screen.

If I never meet you, and we never play the getting-to-know-you game, I invest much less time into what may or may not work. I don’t have to listen attentively. I don’t have to fix my hair or apply makeup. And let’s face it—I don’t have to be very vulnerable, allowing you to watch my facial expressions and body language while I tell you about my first marriage, explain my participation in organizations dear to me, or fumble through a political discussion.

If we never sit across the table and make eye contact, I don’t have to be the real me. I can be whomever I want to be—the best version of me—and keep the messes under wraps.

Yet when I met Kristi for the first time face-to-face at a chili supper, I knew we clicked. I also knew if I didn’t take action against my feelings and send the 2016 version of the “will you be my friend” note, I’d probably regret it.

So I did. I sent the cold Facebook message.

Fear followed. What if she politely blows off my invitation? What if she never responds? What if she rejects me?

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A reenactment of our first lunch date (The Pinto). Sorry for butchering your hair, Kristi.

She didn’t, and once again, my fears weren’t realized, and God reminded me of His love by meeting one of my deepest needs—genuine friendship.

She’s my current favorite FOFO. Each time we talk, my horizons expand. My brain wrinkles. And my heart fills with gratitude.

 

The table legs

A much younger version of my Chumbles

A much younger version of my Chumbles

I’m lucky enough to have several half-brothers, but I don’t see most of them often or at all. I’m fortunate to have a nephew by marriage who is now a big college kid, but he’s busy traveling the world and engineering monstrous machines and dating cute girls. I’m also blessed with another nephew, my firstborn niece or nephew, Joshua AKA Chumbles. At the mature age of almost 12, I’m sure he might be appalled that I’m sharing his nickname with the world via the internet.

I like to think that Joshua and I have a special bond. I was there when he was born (well, almost… apparently my antics and attempts to ensure my sister received an epidural and other drugs were not well-received by the medical staff, and I was relegated to the waiting room for the final moments of her delivery). For several years, I lived in the same town and was able to be THAT aunt–you know, the aunt who attends soccer practices, not just games. The aunt who takes more pictures than the exhausted mother. That aunt.

One Christmas, when Joshua was almost two years old, my family and I celebrated and sipped on cider together at my mom’s house. Joshua toddled around, entertaining all of us with his rendition of Frosty the Snowman, leading the entire family in a parade, carrying paper towel rolls to mimic the musical instruments of the boys and girls on the cartoon he loved watching so much. During post-dinner conversation in the dining room, our quiet chat erupted into a caterwaul. Joshua’s panicked screams filled the room–well, the house, really–and everyone came running to see what was the matter.

Joshua had cleverly discovered, by careful crawling maneuvers, that he could position himself directly in the center of the base of my mom’s retro dining table–you know, the type with the metal hoop connecting all four legs at the base. The hoop served as the perfectly sized circle to encase a curious two year-old boy. Unfortunately, once Joshua had managed to crawl inside the hoop and stand up, grasping onto two sides of the circle, he discovered that he had no idea how to reverse his actions and get out of the ring of terror surrounding him.

So he cried. Desperately. He was inconsolable. Being THAT aunt, I quickly dropped to the floor and tried to rescue my precious little guy from this predicament. I tried prying his hands gently from the metal hoop to no avail. I talked to him and reassured him that we would get him out of the precarious predicament. Finally, my mom and sister lifted up on the table, raising it off the floor while I simultaneously lifted Joshua up and quickly loosened the death grip his hands had on the table legs. I pulled him to my chest and held him. His sobs instantly subsided.

My sweet baby girl, three weeks old

My sweet baby girl, three weeks old

Last night, as I collapsed into bed under mounds of covers, I found myself doing what any good insomniac does–thinking, mulling over, contemplating, ruminating, and worrying. As I contemplated the fact that my daughter would turn one month old in two days, I felt overcome with sadness and fear. Where had the time gone? Had I spent it wisely? Had I appreciated each and every smile and sound emanating from her adorable body? If one month had elapsed so quickly, would I wake up tomorrow and realize six years had passed? Would she still love me when she became a teenager? What if something happened to her? What if I couldn’t prevent it? What if? WHAT IF?

Suddenly, the memory of Joshua crying and clenching those metal table legs came to mind. In the mysterious way that God does, and in a way I can’t rationally explain, I heard Him whisper to me.

“You have to let go before I can get you out.”

My fears and anxiety have kept me encircled and self-contained for years. And just like Joshua that day, my cries and worries and pleading are all in vain if I don’t release my grip on those table legs so that He can raise me up, pull me out, and hold me.

And when I let Him, the sobbing in my soul instantly subsides.