When You Find out You're Cancer-Free – Kveller
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When You Find out You’re Cancer-Free

There was a picture of a sky I looked at last year, in the fall, when everything was just starting to turn delicious colors. I lay on the examination table on my back, my arm splayed out behind me like a twisted Barbie doll. I looked at the fake sky on the ceiling, and then closed my eyes and turned my head away as the doctor put a needle into my breast.

The fake sky is always blue.

Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see.

Blue birds, singing their song. Nothing but blue skies, all day long.

Even with my eyes closed during the biopsy, the tears kept coming out. I don’t know where the tears went. Maybe the doctor brushed them away with the side of her glove, or maybe the nurse who was holding my hand with a kind smile did it. Maybe no one did, and they just ran down into rivulets beneath my chin and neck and breasts onto the crinkly paper until they disappeared. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming out, any more than I could stop myself from thinking ‘What if?’

What if these are the last fall trees I ever see? I thought, as my husband drove me home that day. They looked so bright, fierce and determined. Orange, green, yellow, red, purple. They were so on fire with themselves—so radiant, so perfect. Of course, the punchline is, they’re dying. Just like us. The question is when.

It was just before Rosh Hashanah. And suddenly, the Book of Life seemed like a cruel joke—that my result would not be written from my deeds on some ethereal palimpsest, but rather, would be written in a small test tube in a lab somewhere in central New Jersey. Would my children know me from photographs, or from reality? Would they know the sound of my voice, or would I have to make a recording of it to make that happen?

My diagnosis, which I received a few days later with new tears of incomprehension and then relief came over the phone while I was on the toilet (of course). It had one good word in it and one bad. The nurse and then the doctor reassured me repeatedly, telling me that the good word meant more than the bad word–that the good word, “benign,” made the bad word, “tumor,” a non-issue.

Last week, I went back for my six month check to make sure everything continued to be A-OK. And wouldn’t you know it, after my mammogram and ultrasound, they put me in that same room where I’d had the biopsy, that same room with the lit up blue sky on the ceiling.

blue sky

And of course I started singing to myself again, sitting there on the crinkly paper in the super-soft pink robe that is meant as some sort of weird consolation prize for the sorry-we-drove-over-your-boob-with-a-truck-with-that-mammogram-thingie.

I was blue, just as blue as I could be
Ev’ry day was a cloudy day for me
Then good luck came a-knocking at my door
Skies were gray but they’re not gray anymore

The nurse knocked at the door. “You’re all clear. See you in a year.”

Again, tears. Of relief and joy and luck and fortune and thankfulness.

And then, just a few days later, I had the blessing of getting pissed off over something minor. Some jerk cut me off in the carpool line, and my coffee tasted a little off. I emerged from Trader Joe’s having forgotten one of the fundamental items I went there for in the first place.

And I smiled at the idea that once more, I had the good fortune to be plagued by small, insignificant torments, rather than game-changing tremendous ones.

Never saw the sun shining so bright
Never saw things going so right
Noticing the days hurrying by
When you’re in love, my how they fly.

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