Monday, February 27, 2006

Introspection

There are good days and there are bad days. I think this is true for everyone. Sometimes the good days only last for an hour or two. For some people, the bad days rarely come. But it remains a fact that everyone has both good days and bad days.

For the past couple years, I have had recurring dreams about being back in high school (yet still being my same current age) and being all stressed out because I realize, partway through the semester, that I have not been attending all my classes. Sometimes the reason for not attending is that I lost my syllabus and did not remember that I was taking a math class, and a chemistry class, and an English class, in addition to my other classes. Sometimes the reason for this is that once I have a syllabus, I cannot find the classrooms until well into the class periods. I am always left with the sinking sensation, in these dreams, that I am, without a doubt, going to fail those classes because I have not attended them for half a semester.

More recently, I have been having dreams about losing my purse. I will be wandering around somewhere, usually trying to find something or somebody, and I will set my purse down without realizing it, and then will spend the rest of the dream wandering around trying to figure out where on earth I put it, as it's an important thing to have, since it contains my wallet and my keys. I am never very stressed out in these lost-purse dreams, I am never worried about it getting stolen, I am just trying to find it, for hours and hours.

Last night, I had a combination of these two recurring dreams. I was at the UofU campus (but it looked nothing like the actual campus, of course, and it had various elements of BYU buildings in it) in a building, with a piece of paper that had a classroom number on it that I had to find so I could start going to the class, which I ought to have been attending for weeks. I could not find it. I asked somebody for help, and they did not know where the classroom was. I wandered around some more. I saw lots of students. One girl was carrying a cat around. There were planters, with flowers, in the courtyard area between two connected buildings. Below the courtyard, on the floor beneath, there was a salad bar cafeteria. I wandered all over. At a certain point in my wandering, trying to find the class, I noticed I no longer had my purse. I set out to find it, trying to remember all the paths I had taken in my wandering. I enlisted a teacher's help but they did not know where I had been, so eventually they wandered off to talk to another teacher. I did not find my purse, nor did I find the classroom. I was unable to get to where I wanted to be, in part because something important to me had been lost.

When I was little, I used to daydream about what it would be like if I lost my sight, my hearing, or my sense of touch. I wondered what it would be like to have diabetes, or cancer. I tried to picture my head bald. I decided I would rather have cancer than lose my ability to see, or hear, the world around me. I did not know anybody who had cancer. My knowledge of it was limited to the romanticized heroized characters in books that had faced the disease with dignity, and had overcome it in the end. I had no fear of it.

When I was seventeen years old, my mom decided I ought to go to the dermatologist, because I had several moles, and skin cancer runs in my family, and my dad had recently had several of his moles removed. We went. Most of me was fine. There was a questionable-looking mole behind my ear. The dermatologist sliced it off for a biopsy. The results came back. It was a basal-cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that does not spread to other parts of the body, that does not expand in width, but that grows down, down, through layers of skin and flesh, and is always malignant. They scheduled a time for me to come in for an in-office surgery to remove it. They gave me a shot of local anesthetic and had me lie down on my side. They taped blue papers to my skin around the surgery area. The papers reminded me of the bibs at the dentists' office. They began cutting, and snipping, and sewing. The noises of the instruments against each other and against my skin reverberated through my skull into my ear canal, and everything was amplified, and I was horrified that I could hear them cutting through my flesh. My mother watched the whole thing with great interest. She loves bones and teeth, and blood does not bother her. They finished sewing me up. I came back in several times so they could give me cortisone shots to make the scar smaller. They advised me to come in every six moths for a couple years to check for other instances of carcinomas. After that, they told me, I could limit my visits to once a year. The dermatologist told me he was surprised to see skin cancer in somebody as young as me. He wondered how I had managed to get enough sun exposure to cause cancer in such an odd area.

I did not tell him, but I did not blame my skin cancer on the sunshine. True, I may have forgotten to put sunscreen on behind my ears for most of my life. But the real reason the mole had turned cancerous, in my mind, was because I had picked at it. It had gotten dry one day (my skin is usually quite dry, and so this rough feel it had did not seem unusual to me). I picked at it, not knowing it was a mole, just trying to get rid of the dry skin. It bled. I stopped. It scabbed. The whole thing felt like a scab. I picked at it more. It bled a little more. It re-scabbed. I looked at it. I realized there was a mole there. I did not pick at it any more. The mole became scaley and misshapen. When I found out they had become cancerous, I determined in my head that after I had picked at it the first time, the cells had been trying to grow to heal the wound. I had interrupted their growth by picking at them again. They did not know, as a result of the interruption, when to stop growing, and thus they had turned into cancer. In my head, it was my own bad habits that caused my body to afflict me with disease, but it was not a huge deal, as the cancer was removed, and did not recur, and all that I was left with was a hardly noticeable scar, and an annual phone call from the dermatologist reminding me to make another appointment. I had mostly forgotten any trauma as a result of the whole incident.

I went in to the Women's Health Clinic last week fearful of the expected discomfort of a pap smear, embarrassed about the prospect of being totally and completely naked in front of another person, even if it was a woman, expecting to learn about skin stretching and birth control. I was not prepared for the breast examination. I was even less prepared to learn that I had a lump, that the nurse's fingers were skilled and she was almost certainly certain that it was just a weird random lump of the sort that many women get for no reason, but that I ought to schedule an ultrasound just to make sure that it is not cancer. I scheduled the ultrasound, a procedure I was not expecting to go through until the happy occasion of finding out a future baby's gender. I go into the hospital tomorrow, in the late morning, taking a few hours off of work. I am not allowed to wear deodorant. They will either tell me the results right there, or wait two days and then call me. The word cancer echoes around in my head, along with threats of thyroid problems and irregular pap results, but above it all, the word cancer bounces back and forth, larger and larger. I am not as naive as I was when I was a child. The couple that I used to do occasional weeding for lost a daughter a few years ago to breast cancer. Then the mother was informed that she, too, had breast cancer, and had to have them removed. Their other daughter has now been told by doctors that she has a 100% chance of developing the disease. I do not blame myself for the lump this time. There is nothing I can blame it on, and therefore I am unable to dismiss it as something that has a cause, and a solution, and is not, realistically, much of anything to worry about. I am terrified that the miniscule chance that it is not a random, unimportant lump, will become a reality, that I will have to schedule another biopsy appointment, that the part of my body which I am the most self-conscious about will become scarred and blemished by something that I have absolutely no control over. I reassure myself. There is nothing to worry about. The nurse was almost certainly certain that it is nothing to worry about. The ultrasound is just precautionary, better safe than sorry, they will undoubtedly tell me that I am fine, and I can go about my normal life once again.

I appreciate all of your well-wishes. I am doing fine. There are good days and there are bad days, just like normal. My life contines. I go to work, I go to class, I go to church. I am tempted, I give in, I fall, I struggle to stand again, to face my challenges, to climb above them, to live my life with dignity. The terror of the unknown will be removed tomorrow with facts, and I will be left again with a stressful job, with homework that I have procrastinated, and with looming wedding plans that have to be accomplished soon in order for everything to fall properly into place. I am planning in my head a variety of possible vacations with Mike this summer, our first family vacations. I buy myself cute hats, and black and green pirate shoes. I am pleased with the progress I have made towards my life-goals. I am not afraid of the possibility of death, I know I will not die until I have lived a full and accomplished life; there are many things I have left to do before death will reach me. I am simply left with calm dreams in which I take my time trying to find something that is missing, something that I have lost, something that I will find, eventually, once I wake up.

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