Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving


After almost 5 years living in the United States I finally got wind of the meaning of Thanksgiving. It is not the turkey nor the gravy nor is the meaning to be found in the rest of the buffet feast on the dinner table. Thanksgiving is a pause in the calendar to look back to what we value in life - and for me, it is family.

So this year, like the rest of humanity in the continental United States, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, after two years of so many hits-and-miss, my family had finally got together.

Mi Famille

Truly, blood is thicker than water. I look at the youngest members of our brood (my daughter and Francis' two toddlers) and hope that many years from now, the bond and love that we had hopefully instilled and develop in them will survive and that they will continue to be a welcome part of each other's lives.

Give gratitude for lives that are charmed - that constantly seem to find good fortune even when the odds are against us, gratitude for good health that sometimes we take for granted, gratitude that we agree with other more often than we disagree (we are a boring bunch) and that even when we do disagree we continue to respect and love each other, gratitude that we have parents who helped shape us to be what we are. There is so much really to give thanksgiving for.

And to think, we didn't even take any land fromt he Indians! (hehehe...)

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Testing Fate

Note: This entry first came out in 19 October but I pulled it out until I had the ending on hand. I am reposting it with the assurance that all is well that ends well. Mavic

It is one of those phone calls you just know you will never get.

I got mine Thursday night last week and I had been at the edge of my nerves since then.

Two weeks prior I went to see my doctor for a prescription refill. Usually I would just phone her and she would just send notice to my pharmacy to renew my prescription. Instead, her assistant reminded me that it had been more than a year since my last check-up and that the doctor wanted to see me first.

I am very conscientious about my health so it was surpising that I had not set a calendar alarm for an annual medical check-up. While some children look forward to inherit riches from their forebears, my siblings and I (as are the rest of our cousins) can only inherit one or more of the following: heart disease, high blood pressure, acne, obesity, cancer or arthritis. Not that I wanted to live until I was a hundred years old. I think my objective was to make growing old gracefully and not debilitated by pain or having one or two parts of my body go before the rest was ready.

I went to see my doctor as scheduled did the tests and walked out of the clinic with the prescription refill in hand and assumed that it would be like previous check-ups I have had before - uneventful.

Then the phone call.

It registered as a missed call. I didn’t hear the ring nor feel the phone vibrate. When I took my phone from my bag when I got home I noticed the missed call icon and saw my doctor’s name listed. I did a double take wondering if it was the list of calls I had made that I was looking at but instead my heart sank when I realized it was indeed a missed call.

I went through my routine for the next half hour talking to myself. There were facts that I have learned in life that haunted me as I puttered around my apartment like a zombie - doctors do not call you back to chat and the results of medical exams are usually returned to the doctor’s office in two weeks. Previous check-ups had never resulted in a call back. Something was wrong.
And then the phone rang again.

I held the Nokia in my hand and stared at the caller ID flashing a few seconds before I finally picked up the call.

My doctor's voice was warm, but very straight forward. She told me that the results to my tests were received and that there were abnormal cells.

“What are abnormal cells?” I asked.

“Well, cells that are not normal” was the clinical answer.

“Should I be concerned?”

“They are not pre-cancerous but they are abnormal just the same,” and then she went on to advise me to see her again for another test. She said she wanted to do a biopsy.

We must have discussed a bit more but I felt like I was sitting inside a blender while the rest of the world around me turned into a banana smoothie. Nothing she said after had registered. My thoughts were on the fun weekend I had just had with my sister and how we both had small tattoos done on our back. I thought about my plans for the coming weekend –tennis and the shopping. But the word biopsy kept coming up.

Biopsy was a big word to comprehend. I knew what it was but it was also synonymous with something I dreaded the most - cancer. I thought about people who I knew who have had cancer and have survived but also those I know who I have lost to the disease.

More self-denial. I wanted to party and pretend it wasn't happening.

"...not pre-cancerous..." her voice echoed in the hollow on my head, "but we want to make sure that's why you need to come back for another test." my doctor had said.

I stayed seated on my couch staring into space after the call and tried to process the information. I wanted to phone home but I knew I would instantly cry upon hearing my parents’s voice. I didn’t want to let my sister know either – her birthday was coming up and it wasn’t fair to have her worry.

Francis had to know. Nothing shocks him away so he is always the first to hear about all medical situations, not just mine but my sister as well. Well, the whole family actually. He asked me for the details of the test and so I had to get a copy of the results from my doctor so he could consult with his peers.

My boyfriend was travelling for work and he was on the far end of the world. If I told him I knew he would worry. He would ask questions - the same ones I had no answers to. I knew that telling him now would't accomplish anything. It would be another two weeks before he was back in the continental US and his schedule was hectic. I had to spare him from the stress.

Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind then, I told myself that I would think about it in the morning.

When I saw my friend Wally the next morning at work however, I just had to confide with her. She has an air of camling assurance that all will be alright. I have never seen her panic although I knew she was concerned.

She asked me when my follow-up exam was scheduled and offered to accompany me to the doctor’s office. I was sincerely touched but I told her that I would be better off on my own.

The doctor’s appointment is still a week away but this afternoon I have a follow up meeting with her to appease my troubled mind. I hadn’t been sleeping well and had been worrying. I had questions, I wanted answers. She instead told me to come to her office so she could answer all my questions to calm my nerves.

Six hours and counting….

Part Deux

On 26 October I walked into my doctor's appointment at 2PM and had the biopsy. It took longer than I had expected. Although there had been no pain (I had been given local anaesthesia), the experience was not something I would wish on anyone.

I had shared the initial diagnosis with very few people, only those who were closest to me - Francis, Gigi, and three close friends - including Wally and Renee who work with me.

As expected, when I told my boyfriend about the initial medical result, he became very c0ncerned. I know he wanted to be strong for me but when he was stayed awake until 4AM researching online about that specific kind of cancer, I knew he was in panic mode.

Yesterday afternoon, a week after the biopsy was done, I called my doctor's office and was told that the result of the exam was benign.

I made the call from Wally's desk. I think worse case scenario, I needed her to be next to me to catch me and I knew she would be able to do that because she was an emotionally strong woman. Of course, it felt like a heavy load had been lifted after I had been told of the result.

Medical check-ups are an effective way to keep a check on our health. Women, specially those who are sexually active and are aged 35 and above should see their OB-Gyn every year for the routine Pap smears and breast exams - if you do not know how to do it yourself.

A few days before the result was released, my boyfriend made me promise that I would change my lifestyle to make it more healthy. He wanted me to start eating vegetables (I always push the salad plate untouched) and more fruits. He wanted me to run my 3 miles in the weekends even when he is not in town.

A new lease in life on hand, I am listening and will be obedient.

Hindsight is of course, always 20/20.