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Sunday, May 15, 2011
This post was originally posted on "Join OuR Loop," March 10, 2010
Without a doubt a trip to the dentist last week now outranks my first wisdom tooth extraction as my “most incredible appointment ever.”
Not that I’m writing an epistle about incredible dental appointments, but there’s something about surviving cancer that incredible things happen in the places where you’d least expect it.
Serendipity, yes. Uncanny coincidence? Perhaps. The act of a mysterious and often unfathomable God? I leave that for you. I have my own thoughts, my own faith, there.
When I first saw Anita, my dental hygienist, she looked like she was an exceptional mood. Since she’d soon have that handy-dandy scraping tool in the vicinity of my gums I was glad for this. Insanely grateful, in fact. I was also glad because it had been a bad year for her….man trouble, then a divorce, followed by money issues. So we talked for a little bit about that and how she actually and truly WASN’T fat. I get that.
She turned around with her back to me, lifted the bottom hem of her top and pinched a tad of flesh over her hips. “See?” she said, “I’m getting fat.”
Girlfriends, Anita is drop dead gorgeous. Tall. Long dark hair and eyes, with lovely brows that move up naturally in a question. She’s intense, driven, funny, and the first girl you’d be in a hair-pullin’ mud fight with. She’s an ass kicker and is gifted with horses. If you ever have a “my little pony” moment and end up buying a horse, call HER first. If harnessed (forgive the pun) she would make an extraordinary advocate for any cause. She’s also, not surprisingly, a perfectionist.
I donned the stylin’ paper bib with the clips, and she peered into the computer to pull up my records. She got to work. When she was still working on my lower teeth she mentioned something about expecting a phone call from a doctor. She scraped on. Then she dropped the word biopsy and headed toward a tooth that usually sends me into the stratosphere.
By then I turned into one large nerve.
“Wha eyopsee,” I mumbled.
There was something about a breast lump, then oh, there were actually two breast lumps, and a lymph node that looked funny to the doctor so they did one there, too. The next thing I know she leans in to work on the inside of my front teeth – you know that space in between the upper incisors – and starts talking about how she negotiated the price for all of this with the practice business manager.
“I got all of it for $550,” she said then. She sat up suddenly and the scraper made a gesture through the air, “for pete’s sake my deductible is $10,000 and you know whose fault that is. Did I make a deal about his $6,000 of plastic surgery when we split? Hell no you know I didn’t.”
She zoomed back in to check another troubling space between my bicuspids. A space she tapped the handy-dandy tool against. “What happened there? I don’t like the sound of that,” she said. “Do you suck on hard candy?”
She was maybe an inch from my head, concentrating on my damn, stupid, stupid, tooth. I felt her phone start to vibrate. Then again.
I gently pushed her hand back. “Your phone,” I said.
“Oh forget it,” she said.
“Let’s answer it.”
I already knew.
We sat together while the call came in. I held her hand. She squeezed mine back, in fact, so I covered hers with my other hand. She talked for a few moments and I knew what she knew. She was calm, and then moved the phone toward me so I could listen. Our heads were touching. At that moment the strength of every survivor I’ve ever spoken with – and the grace of God – informed me. It has been ten plus years since my diagnosis and anything I suffered, and my family suffered with me, condensed into helping Anita. All that energy collapsed into a 90-second pause. I prayed this strength would help form the foundation for her upcoming battle. I felt the strength of all of us, the strength of my sister and yours. Those I’d met, and those I’ve yet to meet.
Eventually I ended up with the phone and took notes for her. I asked her doctor to fax us her pathology report. I listened to the doctor talk about how hard it was to get into MD Anderson and I said, ‘you can refer yourself now.’ To myself I said, “what kind of BS is that?” Anita is 37. She’ll needs every tool in the cancer arsenal plus some, to do battle with this. I showed her how to refer herself to M.D. Anderson, an NCI designated facility, before I left her office that day.
Because she’s pretty, and she likes her looks (why shouldn’t she?) the strength of this woman is underestimated. But her strength comes through loud and clear. She’ll kick that bastard cancer where it hurts.
That’s one gift of survivorship. I’m here to tell you about Anita and urge you to support her fight, as I support yours.