Sometimes in life, a few short weeks can be transformative. This year, 2013, started on a rather low note for me. Very early in January a routine annual test threw up a huge problem. “You’ll need to come in for an ultrasound follow-up immediately” the radiologist’s nurse announced on the phone. My knees felt like jelly as she went on to tell me the doctor had noticed a large, dense mass in my mammogram. Suddenly I was no longer the confident 47 year old woman I was yesterday. Now I was just another woman peering into the murky darkness of a frighteningly uncertain future. A phone call that lasts a few minutes can shake your life to its very foundations.
I pulled up a chair as a wave of fear passed over me. No one is ever prepared to hear bad news. But life goes on right? So you get up off your chair and continue to do the things that need doing. Groceries to be bought, cars to be serviced, clothes to be laundered. The weeks passed, as they tend to, in a blur of inconclusive ultrasounds and scans. Finally I was told I had to have a core biopsy to ascertain whether the mass was malignant or benign. Those are two words I hope you never have to hear in your life. They simply take control of your mind and let nothing else intrude. My mind was a blank mess of swirling thoughts, none complete, mostly meaningless.
Through all of it I kept thinking “I need my mum”. Nothing like a bit of bad news to bring out the baby in you. My mum was in Singapore having a well deserved vacation. I could not bring myself to call her and tell her anything because I didn’t know for sure myself. My sister, my brother, my husband and my friends literally held my hands through the interim. The biopsy itself was simple yet complex for the non-medical mind to process. The wait for the results describe three of the darkest days of my life. When the call came through that the mass was benign, I sank to my knees in gratitude.
I know millions around the world go through this ordeal each year. Some like me, are lucky to escape the bullet but many thousands are not. The one thing, I am sure, we all have in common, is the opening up of our inner eye. Suddenly there is a clarity that had been lacking prior to this. The audit of our lives is clear in the blink of an eye. The balance sheet of life doesn’t lie. Life has been so good to me so far, I thought.
So what did I learn from this experience? Life is beautiful. I have learned to enjoy each day as it comes, smell the flowers that perfume the air in spring, find hope in the laughter of children at play, sing the songs that resonate in the heart (albeit very badly). A positive attitude is not something you will learn from a self help book. A positive attitude is guaranteed when you acknowledge that there is beauty all around us, if only we could stop and look, smell, touch.
Some things that we might always have known, by instinct perhaps, take on the clarity of crystal in a shaft of sunlight. Your mother’s love for instance, you always knew you had it but suddenly it has the resonance of a country church bell on a quiet Sunday morning. The true meaning of family and why we love our siblings even when we have tried our best to drive each other batty for years. The value of your friends, that family you choose, becomes sharply defined. Friends are of particular importance when you live far away from home and family. My friends held me upright when I might have sunk into misery. And most of all I learned that my husband of twenty three years deserves credit for sticking by me these last twenty three years.
I made some promises to myself then. I will reach out to old friends whom I’ve lost touch with. If we don’t tell people how we feel, soon it might be too late. And I will write again. For years friends and family have been urging me to write. Like most people, there is at least one book in me. It is time to get cracking on it. Fear of failure cannot stop the stories inside. When I do publish, it might get read or it might not. At least I will have tried. Can any of us expect anything more?
One of the most important life lessons I have learned is to be positive and supportive in all my dealings with children. They are fragile creatures and negative reinforcement (such an attractive transaction to adults) achieves nothing. Children constantly put themselves out there in a strange, hostile environment. If we can’t give them encouragement we should keep out of the way of their ascent.
Of all the things that have become clear to me none is clearer than this: if you have nothing good to say about someone or something, don’t say anything. Restraint is better than seemingly cathartic verbal diarrhea. Each time I bite my tongue on a scathing remark an angel gets its wings. Believe me, many an angel has learned to fly thanks to me. And I feel better for holding my tongue.
So now I wake up each day full of zest and joie de vivre. Each sunrise holds a promise and each sunset wraps up contentment in its darkening visage. Life is an uncertain ride but it is always exhilarating. I hope your life may be as good as mine and I wish my happiness on all of you.