The last time I looked at the clock it had been 7:06am. I was still sweaty from a misty morning run, third day in a row after getting back from a week outdoors in Maine, happy and committed to getting back to running after largely giving up on it for months.
I stripped off my sweaty grey shorts and green and black jog bra and threw them in a wooden crate on the side of my dresser. My bed was unmade, laptop on my night table evidence of a late-night L-Word marathon wherein I finally finished the sixth and last season. My mouth tasted stale from half a glass of yesterday’s coffee, which I hadn’t even bothered to heat up when the alarm on my cell phone jolted me awake an hour earlier.
I turned on the light and fan in the bathroom and decided to floss before brushing–another good habit that has become far too sporadic this past year. Top right, top left, bottom right… something around the second molar from the back there felt weird. I pulled an awkward move to see if there was a visible problem with the filling.
And then I saw it, a small but undeniable spot on the raw, fleshy inside of my cheek, round, flush with the skin. No sensation or pain. But just not right. I immediately finished brushing and got in the shower, utilitarian in the washing–body, face, hair. Toweled dry, put on deodorant and moisturizer, ran some oil through my hair, and downed the last of my coffee.
I put on a pair of pink jeans, ones Mani gave me a long time ago that no longer fit her quite right, and a flower-print tank top. I reached for my pearl engagement ring and the other silver band I wear on the next finger daily, studded with tiny diamonds from a pin my grandmother gave to my mother and she disassembled for me, my sisters, my dad and herself. On my right middle finger, a tourmaline stone set in sterling by an Israeli artist, faceted and light-catching, that I gave to myself as a gift around the time I walked away from a toxic relationship and began returning to the light side.
I took an apple, a peach, and a strawberry yogurt from the fridge, a lemon Luna bar from the pantry, and threw them in a canvas bag for breakfast at work, knowing I’d be going out for lunch to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. I turned out the light over the kitchen sink and chugged the last of the water I’d poured after my run, went down the stairs to the entryway of my apartment, grabbed my keys from a hook, locked the front door, and got in my car.
Breathe, breathe, stay present, stay calm. Cancer. Mind racing–picturing getting married. Thinking about Eva Cassidy, the singer with an angelic voice who died “too young,” people get diagnosed with cancer everyday. What else could it be? Fear. Fear.
My girls. Bright light, too brief. My parents and sisters. The faces of close friends bringing me to the verge of tears, which I refused to release, instead stopping at Starbucks for an iced venti latte on my way to walk-ins at my family doctor’s office, which began at 8:00am.
At a red light, I slid the mirror open and looked at my face. This is what I look like when I’m scared, I thought. By 7:55, the line for walk-ins was twelve deep and I was glad to have arrived early. The nurse called my name and led me to the digital scale: 104.6 pounds, three or four or five pounds fewer than I weighed this past winter when I was barely exercising, and about as thin as I can or want to be while still feeling sexy and strong.
She led me to room number five and asked what brought me in today. I told her. She deemed it unnecessary to take my blood pressure, which I know is usually in the 100/70 range. She told me the nurse practitioner on call would be in to see me shortly. I waited.
The N.P. came in. She put on a pair of gloves and took a look. “It is suspicious,” she said–but could also be nothing, a mole. I would need a biopsy, which she couldn’t perform there due to how vascular the mouth is. I started crying. She said she’d get me a referral to an oral surgeon. She was very calm and kind and told me to take my time leaving the office. I went through a few more tissues, left the office without making eye contact with anyone, got into my car, and burst back into tears.
This all happened earlier today. I tried to work at work, but was too distracted and upset, all while navigating phone calls about insurance and referrals. I reached out to a few of my closest people and received loving responses.
This afternoon, my regular primary care physician was able to squeeze me in for a quick look himself. He shined a little flashlight into my mouth and poked around with a tongue depressor before stepping back. “This is not the look of worry,” he said, suggesting that a biopsy didn’t seem necessary and that I check in with him in six weeks.
And so. Relief after a taste of that fear, one so many people I know and love have experienced firsthand or with loved ones of their own. The fleeting question of whether I overreacted. It can be hard not to get frantic, fatalistic, to go from zero to sixty in two point two seconds. To wait and see.
All I know is what I kept thinking all day more than anything: This is what I meant, this is what I mean, when I say, don’t miss this. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss a thing.