Today I remembered that I’m am still afraid sometimes. It starts somewhere in the minutes I’m asked to disrobe, and I find my way into a one-size-fits-none hospital gown. I consider it fortunate that the radiology unit is running on time today and I don’t have to spend additional time waiting my turn in the queue. I timed my arrival perfectly despite the long haul in 40 minutes of traffic. I’m glad things are on schedule.
My nerves don’t betray me yet as I endure the chit-chatty nurse putting the I.V. into my left arm. I show her which vein works best, because after years of the jab you just know. Then she guides me to the lab that houses the MRI machine, its tubular structure reminding me of a small escape pod tethered to an indoor space ship. But there’s no escape for me as I’m introduced to another radiology technician who helps prepare to me to slide into the tube for my latest internal photo-shoot.
I try to practice my relaxation techniques… breathing deeply, visualization, and prayer.
I’m never just there for a routine screening. Of course, that’s not what I’d tell you if you asked me why I was there. Yeah, I get these all the time. I know the drill.
But, really, this is never a routine.
If you’re in the MRI tube, they are scanning you for something. In my case, they are looking for breast cancer, or any of its evil cousins… even if they just call this a follow-up visit for a sixteen-year survivor.
I lay face down into open headrest, and try to imagine the posture as one where I am about to get a massage. Yet all that fades away as soon as my sternum rests on the chilled solid frame that suspends me over the imaging platform.
I temporarily find it harder to breath and renew my effort to concentrate on being relaxed. This as I’m tucked in on all sides, and handed the “emergency call button”, in case I should have an emergency while I’m in the tube… a polite reference to panic attacks. Thanks for the reminder. Yes, over the years I’ve had a few, always in relation to this one recurring theme. I know that life can change with one lab report, one failed test, or one questionable exam.
It began for me on May 5, 1996 when I found a lump first thing in the morning while showering. I knew the minute my fingers traced it that I, no, we – our whole family -- would be in for a long haul.
Don’t move, the tech tells me, as she exits to start the imaging series… lie still.
I am lying here… still.
The conveyor hauls me into the tube and the slowest fifty minutes of isolation I can bear commences. My heartbeat pulsates my throat… I try push it away as I deliberately pray…
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…
I keep thinking of that quote from American actress Dorothy Bernard: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” The only up side to this diagnostic haul is that I am forced to do nothing else than suspend my will and submit to prayer…
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…
It occurs to me that for the last 5,840 days I’ve been hauling in graces in from heaven, thanks to the fervent prayers of people too numerous to name. The first prayers were from my husband the morning I came back into bed with the news about what I discovered in the shower. He went into protective mode, and the first thing he did as he sensed my fear was prayed aloud into my ear as he held me tight. Grace flooded the room.
Blessed are thou among women…
Weeks flew by as spring yielded to summer and by June biopsies and surgeries were scheduled. The news went out to my family out of state. They took turns staying with us to keep the house from falling to pieces, to keep the kids going strong, and to provide sanity amidst less than normal. Not only that, I think they contacted every prayer chain on the east coast.
And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus…
One by one the prayers went up, from near and far. Rings around the rosary, as I went from surgery to surgery… The graces continued to pour in thanks to the prayers and help from my friends from the local church. So many pleading voices petitioning heaven, pulling down graces on another’s behalf… how can I ever repay them?
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners….
I try to offer up this one claustrophobic morning in the tube for the needy ones, even as I beg for a few small graces to quiet my racing thoughts. Years later, even today, I am still comforted by the presence that comes from others’ prayers. I know loved ones are praying for me this morning, including one who sent a text message complete with a silly hand-drawn picture that got me giggling minutes before I entered the lab.
Now and at the hour of our death…
Every little prayer counts, God can even use my little distracted mutterings lifted heavenward amidst this noisy MRI booth. I hate being reminded that cancer is a loathsome specter lurking in places I cannot see. But even distracted prayer is prayer, and God is everywhere whether I'm luxuriating at the seaside where I breathe freely, or squished in confining spaces like an MRI tube with my crowded, fearful imagination.
Finally, I feel the tightening leave my chest… The slow cadence of the rosary lowers my heart rate a bit. Slowly my fear is replaced by trust. I close my eyes counting the prayers on my fingers. The machine’s magnet whirs louder than a jackhammer. Even through the earplugs, it jars me awake, and alive. In the past, fear has stolen many moments from me, and even whole days, when I have let it.
There is nothing to fear right now. Jesus is with me. I'm not relinquishing this day.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…
Finally it’s over. The staff releases me from the chute and my feet find the floor. Relief doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings as I change back into my street clothes and find a quick bite at the cafeteria. I pass the window of the hospital gift shop on the way out to the car, and spy a little coffee mug I might suggest to my now-grown kiddos for Mother’s Day. I marvel that after my fearful moments in the radiology department, I can find amusement, even joy, in such silly diversions.
As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be…
Graces for the long haul come in many manifestations… prayers … check ups… supportive family and friends… even goofy texts and silly window-shopping…
I may be claustrophobic and a fraidy cat when it comes to MRIs and cancer, but my bigger fear is wasting all this somehow, or missing the blessing of the days I’ve been given.
World without end. Amen.
I’m a little choked up as I realize this as I take to the highway for the long haul home.
Sixteen years. Sweet Sixteen. They have truly been sweet years, especially with Bob and my children -- all three of them well on their way now – another set to graduate from college in a couple weeks.
Lord, let me not waste the graces you’ve in invested in me.
I no sooner give thanks to God for bringing me through this long haul of a day, and through a medical history that, at times, tries my weak soul, when this song comes on the radio on my drive home. (You'd almost think God orchestrated this timing now, wouldn't you?)
I turn it up, and sing at the top of my lungs... remembering that no one is immune from suffering, everyone's got stuff they struggle through. And grace isn't given just for days like these, but for the long haul home to heaven.