“Keep your arm nice and straight like that,” the woman says.
She is wearing a breast cancer awareness scrub.
I am wearing pink too, a pink dress and a pink scarf. It’s snowing outside, a sudden squall of white all over Mishawaka and Elkhart. Deep inside the large cancer center, we are in a closet-sized room with the word phlebotomy on the door.
She fastens the rubber tourniquet to my upper arm and presses lightly on the inside of my elbow. It only takes her a second to see her target and she rips the alcohol packets open and cleans my skin. She picks up the needle.
I always get nervous at about this moment. At least I’m not like my aunt, who faints dead away at the sight of a needle. Still…
But the sharp metal breaks through my skin with barely a twinge. The woman effortlessly inserts a purple tube and blood begins to flow from my vein into the vial.
When the tube is full, she slips it out, removes the needle and the tourniquet and presses gauze against the spot.
“Is a Band-aid fine?”
“Yes,” I say. “You do a good job.”
For years, I’ve considered getting the genetic testing for breast cancer, since this is the cancer that took my mom’s life at 52. It is sometimes hereditary. The genetic testing has been so expensive ($2,000-3,000), I’ve put it off. But then in January one of my co-workers made some phone calls and found out it’s not as expensive anymore, so I signed up.
Actually, the genetic counselor put me somewhat at ease first by pointing out that my risks of having the “bad gene” are low. But… why not?
About 60 seconds after I enter the little phlebotomy room, I leave.
I feel calm.
Should I feel anxious?
No, probably not.
Too much of that lately anyway. I’ve been mulling over a heavy decision. I am toying with a journey that would be long (years) and difficult (stress, sleepless nights, expense).
Two days ago, I was out walking Elkhart, thinking of this dream.
When I start, the sun is shining. By the time I circle the park, it’s gray and windy and even the clouds look as if they can not decide what to do next. I stop and rest my head on the side of the wooden bridge and look down into the black water where a green metal barrel is caught, mouth open into the current.
“Perhaps it does not really matter what I decide?” I think, looking at the boundless river and the sky. Always the same, yet always changing, those two.
I walk off the bridge and a child is being led away from the playground, screaming, by a plump lady. Beside them is a second child, quiet, led by a girl with striking blue eyes and an unusually friendly smile.
“Come!” The woman shouts at the screaming boy. “It’s going to rain.”
I wonder why she can’t get him to stop screaming.
“Is it from you God, the idea of this journey?” I ask as I circle under the second bridge, startling a couple of mallards from the edge of the path.
I had a safe, comfortable 10-year plan!
Easy education plans, improvements on my house, international trips, a big gift budget, fish tacos with my friends. And although I didn’t itemize it, I counted on enough extra money for massages and breakfasts and all the specialty coffee I want. And did I mention fish tacos with my friends?
I walk on, and by the time I cross the second bridge, the water is the color of a tornado sky, almost matching the heads of the mallard ducks, but a sinister green without the shine.
I reach the street and walk up Main. It’s so deserted, I walk on the “Don’t Walk” cycle, barely breaking stride. Below me, the pavement cracks fan out in a dizzying entropy.
I take a couple of turns and sit on a low brick wall and by now the wind is Arctic. I look up and see that I’m across from the office of Marvin Mishkin, M.D. The cardiologist who died a few months ago. He was at work the morning before he died and he helped me with an echo test.
The train whistle sounds behind me and my fingers are cold. I get up and walk on.
A few mornings later I’m out again, still thinking, the questions still swirling. The wind is bitterly cold and I’m still no closer to solving the riddle. I walk over to the corner cafe and the waitress pours me a coffee. I sit at my recluse table facing Main Street.
I notice the tire store across the street is out of business. There’s an unpainted pentagon on the side of the building where they removed the sign.
I’ll die someday like the cardiologist, go out of business like the tire store.
So does it matter what I do in the meantime?
Should I stay with safe and comfortable? Or should I follow a dream, and live in poverty and uncertainty for years?
Does it matter?
Over coffee, I scribble in my journal, drawing arrows and making lists. If this, then this. If that, then that. If I don’t do this, in seven years… If I do this, in seven years.
And the dollar signs. I pull out my calculator and the sums are appalling. There are so many zeros. I scribble some more.
And this is all if I don’t get breast cancer.
Quotes flash through my brain:
You can have faith or you can have control, but you can’t have both.
It doesn’t matter so much what you do with your life. It matters what you do compared to what you could have done.
–Both from All In by Mark Batterson
And the Proverb:
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy path.
“God,” I say when I get home. “I believe you are with me.”
I’m talking out loud, because I’m so scared. I’m standing by the window, looking out at a world now dripping with freezing rain. I fix my eyes on the ugly peak of the blue house across the alley from me. Everything is ugly, desolate.
“I mean,” I add, “I can’t really feel you right now, but I know you are with me, and I know you will show me what to do. It would be really nice to hear your voice though.”
I step away from the window, pace across my kitchen.
“I know you’ll help me if you want me to do this hard thing,” I add. “And if you want me stay with my easy, comfortable life, I know you will show me how to…”
The words fizzle, unexpectedly. It is as if a hand has been placed over my mouth.
I stop pacing.
I had been planning to say, “If you want me to stay with my easy, comfortable life, I know you will give me opportunities to do challenging things anyway.”
But I was cut off mid-sentence.
I walk back to the window, look back at the neighbor’s house. The blue peak is still ugly, the freezing rain is still falling, but I am changed.
“You don’t want me to live that easy, secure life, do you?” I whisper back, tears forming.
The Voice is still and small. But it is still as alive today as in the time of Elijah. I feel so loved, so cared about, so secure, even though I feel the material comforts of my life slipping away.
I still don’t know what I will do, or what will happen. I’ve decided to make no decision until Easter. I don’t know what they will find in the purple tube.
But I am confident now that God does not wish me to base my decision on ease or comfort.
Even if I do have “the gene” it doesn’t mean I’ll definitely get cancer. And if I don’t have “the gene”, it doesn’t mean I’ll never get cancer. But perhaps I should stop assuming I’ll get it.
I could, of course. I could die tomorrow. But I might not. Most people don’t.
In which case I might…
Well, let me be vague for just a bit longer, as I continue to pray and discuss with the wise people in my life. This will also give opportunity to those of you who don’t like craziness to stop reading my blog…before things get crazy.
Let’s just say I might do something a bit unusual.
And if God is with me, no matter where that purple vial or that journey take me, it will be the most secure place in the world.