After passing my stress test I was absolutely thrilled. I finally had the answer to the question that had been hanging over my head for my adult life: I did not have coronary artery disease! After that sank in I was looking forward to going back to my doctor for my stress test follow up.
When I got there we went over my stress test results and I not only passed but passed with flying colors. My heart was as healthy as a 45 year old heart should be. They even gave me a copy of the results which I read later (not that I knew more than 10% of what I was reading but I was certain that it was all just riveting for some medical tech.)
So I was healthy. The doctor said so. That lasted for about 45 seconds.
Then the nurse came in with the results of my lab work. I had blood in my fecal occult blood test (blood in my stool) and my PSA (prostate test) level was elevated and my prostate was enlarged. I was going to have to go for more tests.....a colonsocopy and a prostate biopsy. They were testing for cancer. Suddenly my miraculous stress test seemed much less important.
I sat on the paper covered plastic table and wanted to cry. I didn't. I don't think the nurse would have gotten why I was crying. She was pleasant enough but she didn't seem particularly invested in my emotional well being.
I left the doctor's office and drove back to work. I had gone to the appointment alone and now felt very alone. I got back to work and told Brennis the news. We both realized that there was probably nothing to be worried about but because I was having symptoms and because they were testing me for not one but two cancers we were more than a little concerned.
It was December, just before Christmas. I wouldn't be able to get in for the tests until after the New Year so I just decided I wasn't going to let it ruin my holiday. There was nothing I could do about it anyway and worrying wasn't going to make anything any better so I just tried to put it out of my mind.
Brennis and I always had wonderful arrangements with our families around the holidays. Christmas was no exception. We always spent Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with his family. Both days were so much fun at both places and I always loved being able to spend time with everyone. This year my parents were in the process of selling our family home.....the house I grew up in.....so we knew that this would be our last Christmas there. Strangely enough I wasn't feeling at all emotional about it. Now, I get emotional when someone walking down the sidewalk gets the "Don't Walk" sign so I wasn't sure why this monumental life event wasn't registering on my emotional radar.
The more I thought about it I realized that during Brennis' hospitalization I became much less attached to things. The second we stepped into the emergency room that day I stopped caring about my house, my car, my business. All of my attention was on doing anything in my power to get Brennis better. All of my earthly attachments disappeared. Now, six months later, I think I was still feeling some of that energy. I still had my family and I was still able to spend time with them while I knew that many of my friends were not. The place where we celebrated our holidays together was not as important as the fact that we were all still able to celebrate them together. The house was just a house. Sure it was a wonderful home and we all have some wonderful memories of growing up there and many milestones achieved while we were there but it was not the memory....it was merely the stage. I still had my memories and thankfully I still had my family. Soon, hopefully another family will be able to live there and create new memories of their own.
I looked around the house that Christmas Eve trying to conjure up some kind of false nostalgia and was unable. I realized that every moment I tried to feel badly about not being in the house again was taking me away from time with the very real people who I loved so much. I was trying to create an emptiness in the midst of fullness. With my own medical issues hanging over my head I knew how fleeting our time together can be. I felt fine but I knew it could be our last Christmas together as a family. Any one of us might not be here next year. Brennis' heart attack taught me that. I decided to experience what was happening rather than wonder about how I was supposed to feel about something that was going to happen. It felt a lot like living.
Christmas with my family is always magical. Sure there are stresses and sometimes we have conflicts like every family has but there is something so beautiful about the tradition and the love and the thoughtfulness that I am able to experience when we are together at Christmas. As we've all gotten older some traditions have faded away and others have taken their place. We adapt and we adjust but the undercurrent of the love that we all feel for each other brings a sense of continuity that is joyful and profound for me.
I knew that being in a new place next year would just be another one of those adjustments. Being in the old house this year just made it more special to me and it was a reminder to always, always appreciate the amazing, beautiful things that happen in your life. We don't get them as often as we would like and they are fleeting when we do get them. Hold on to them before they vanish. Pay attention to them and allow them to linger if you are able. Close your eyes and let them fill you. These are the moments we live for.
It was the last Christmas in my family home. It might be my last Christmas before I knew I had cancer. It might be my last Christmas with my family. Wondering about what was to come for me was useless. Worrying was even more futile. In two months I would know the answers to my questions and I would deal with those answers and move on. It's what we do. Allowing the past to keep us from moving forward to our future is just as foolish as allowing our futures to keep us from living in the present. I had no idea what I would find out At that moment it wasn't up to me.....so I just lived.
It turned out it was one of the best Christmas Eves of my life. I didn't have to be sad that this was our last Christmas in this house. I didn't have to be anxious that I might be ill. I just had to be there and because I was there I remember it so vividly and I am now able to re-live that Christmas Eve over and over again. That, it turns out, was my favorite gift last year. Whatever might happen next was for another year.....and I wasn't there yet.