It’s Really Nothing.

It’s probably nothing.medicine

A year ago I could say that. A year ago if I’d discovered a small lump in my armpit I would have thought it’s probably nothing and forgotten about it. I’ve had lumps before. They went away. I’m pretty sure they were nothing. The body is a quirky machine. Sometimes little things go wrong, get discombobulated, then fix themselves. Besides I never get sick. Or at least that’s what I used to be able to say. Now I find a small lump in my armpit and it doesn’t matter how small it is. My mind immediately starts flashing red neon signs that say LUMP! ARMPIT! LYMPH NODES! CANCER!!! My wife was there to reassure me it was a skin tag, a little bit of flesh that got lost on its way to replace an old layer of epidermis. Or maybe it’s just a small collection of cells that said, “Let’s get wacky!” This is benign. It’s like the cells having a little too much to drink at aparty and ending up on the roof screaming “I can see the Islets of Langerhans from here!” Cancer, on the other hand, is when cells have a psychotic break and decide they’re going to climb into the aorta with enough weaponry to arm the entire pancreatic military and take out everyone they can, but that’s another story. The skin tag is annoying even though it’s small, so small, in fact, that I only notice it in the shower when I’m washing my armpits. It’s so small you wouldn’t notice it if I waved to you while wearing a tank top, and not just because I’ll never wear a tank top. microscope On the one hand I’m relieved. On the other hand I’m annoyed that something this minor would choose now to pop up. I would be a lot less happy if it were something major, but really I just want to call a truce with my physiology. I want a break. It hasn’t yet been a full year since I was first diagnosed with cancer. It hasn’t even been a year since the leg pain that was the first sign started. And it hasn’t even been three months since my last major surgery, which I sincerely hope really will be my last major surgery. It’s just too soon. I know cells have to burn off some steam once in a while, but, as their supervisor, I’m not inclined to grant even a short vacation right now. If some of them want to get drunk and go crazy right now they need to go find another body to live in. I’ll never be aslaid back as I once was, but in a year or so I’ll be a little more relaxed. Things are just still a little tender at the moment, and my body, of all things, should understand that. You’ve got a pot of spaghetti boiling over on the stove so it looks like an octopus trying to escape. The sauce is smoking, and you’re pretty sure it’s burned to the bottom of the pan, and it’s thrown little red flecks all over your white shirt so you now look like you’ve stabbed someone in the jugular, and you’re kicking yourself for not putting on an apron because tomato sauce is magnetically attracted to white fabric. The mail you casually threw on the hall table just slid off and catalogs skidded everywhere, the refrigerator is running, and the dog, who’s been barking nonstop for the past hour, is now peeing on your shoes. And he’s giving you that look that says, “I TOLD you I needed to go out!” It's like this, but worse. In a sudden frenzy you get the spaghetti and the sauce off the heat, put the dog outside, wipe up the floor, catch the runaway refrigerator, and pick up the mail. Your heart is racing, you’re breathing heavily, and your pulse is pounding in your ears. Then the phone rings. Still frazzled you answer with “WHAT DO YOU  WANT? WHO IS THIS? ANSWER ME BEFORE I RIP YOUR KIDNEYS OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSTRILS!” And your mother-in-law who called just to ask how you were doing is barely able to break through her catatonic shock and say, “Nothing!” It was a similar feeling that had me yelling at my armpits in the shower. I can’t see into the future, but I know that, in spite of my generally positive prognosis, there’s a chance my cancer will come back. The doctors may have used the word “cured”, but it’s never something that really goes away. My body could turn on me at any time. I just hope that if it does it’ll be in five years or ten. With enough breathing room I hope I’ll be able to respond calmly and rationally instead of having a total, even if temporary, meltdown that left me lying naked on the bathroom floor wondering if it’s time to cash in my retirement account and start the farewell tour. It was just a little too much too soon. Yes, there is a part of me that wishes that instead of a skin tag it was really cancer, not cured but steaming right ahead, and that I just yelled it into submission. A feeling of lost control is part of the life-threatening illness package. I want to feel like I’m back in charge and that this time around I didn’t need no stinkin’ chemo. This time, I want to believe, I showed that cancer who’s really boss around here, but realistically I know it was really nothing. surgery

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