i look around our house and we have a lot of boxes. a beautifully carved reclaimed wooden box that holds our cozy blankets. a clear plastic walgreens box that stores my pills. a dinged up cardboard box that contains the latest shipment of a bright and peppery pinot noir. a colorfully painted tin box from taiwan full of loose leaf green tea. my grandpa’s old cigar box that shrouds dusty photographs and sweet mementos from him and my grandma’s time in san francisco.
boxes hold elements of surprise and can be nostalgic of happy times. a birthday or christmas, perhaps.
but, these boxes conceal something. tucking it away to be pulled out at a later date. to be kept safely. or to be forgotten.
one of my coping mechanisms incorporates these boxes–myriad shapes, sizes and colors. when i’m stressed or something is happening over which i have no control, i pull out these boxes, in my mind at least. and place the worry in them. i close the lid tight and put the box back on the shelf. maybe i’ll never open it again. or maybe i’ll open it in 5 minutes.
it’s an exercise in self-constraint.
i’ve needed those boxes a lot lately.
some of you may recall me mentioning my back pain in early summer. it’s continued to worsen with recent numbness radiating to my arms, hands and feet at times. my oncologist saw me immediately with this new development and ordered an MRI.
i didn’t want to alarm anyone, so i only told a few co-workers. then i told a friend. and finally, mike. we pretended like it wasn’t a big deal. maybe a slipped disc or pinched nerve, or the onset of osteoporosis in my spine because of my drug regime.
last monday, i headed in for the MRI, to be a 90-minute scan while laying perfectly still. not the best start to the week. i wanted to take ativan to get through it but had to drive to the office to give a presentation right afterwards…so, falling asleep on the interstate or drooling in front of the board of directors at work seemed ruinous in different ways.
i got changed into the fancy hospital pajamas and the tech, sylvio, got my IV started. as i was laying down on the MRI table, he paused when reviewing my chart and said, “do you have a tissue expander?” me, “yes.” him, “you need to leave this room immediately!” me, “shit!”
because the magnets are so incredibly strong in an MRI, a patient cannot have any metal on or in her body. it could get ripped out at worst, super hot at best, and shift around to rearrange some muscles and tissues in between. because of my surgical complications, i still have a metal piece in my chest. but my doctor and i *forgot* about this when we proceeded with the MRI.
cut to thursday and the mach 10 escalation, with a PET/CT as the next best diagnostic tool to determine if my cancer is hanging out in my spine. being back in that room, on that table in particular…i had to really pull out the boxes and put all my post-traumatic stressors and fears into them, slam them shut, put a lot of bricks on the boxes, and throw a blanket over them to avoid their presence. i was exhausted afterwards. and radioactive too, not to hold small children.
i sat through erin’s san francisco memorial last weekend, wondering to myself, why not me? why her? and thinking that maybe my ticket was being pulled and i’d soon be asking why me? boxes, boxes, boxes.
the PET/CT results came back with no cancer. that’s good news if you’re just tuning in. so, the worst case scenario didn’t happen to me, not now at least. i could opt to do more brain scans, but my oncologist thinks it’s very unlikely that there is cancer in my brain given the lack of spinal engagement.
we’re still missing a diagnosis to the problem though, so i’ll consult a neurologist next week. and in the meantime, i’ll work to strengthen my core (seriously), do acupuncture and PT to help with the symptoms.
deep breath. or kick something. your call.
all of this reminds me of vulnerability. we’re all vulnerable. just because i feel good today doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed for tomorrow.
an excerpt of this poem by david whyte on vulnerability, delivered randomly to me the day of my PET/CT, says it all: “vulnerability…is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing …our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.”
boxes. vulnerability. boxes.
talk soon –