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Living With “An Abundance of Caution”

What a cancer scare and a school threat taught me about living in the now

I lie there on the table, trying not to feel too exposed as the doctor pushes a needle into my breast. I stare at a framed picture of a doorway covered in flowers, attempting to read the words under the petals with my failing 41-year-old eyes. The procedure is called a core needle biopsy, and will determine the upcoming trajectory of my life. Yet all I can think about is that the hospital really should invest in some more interesting artwork.

I arrived at the hospital amid a quiet chaos. Earlier that day a local man had fatally shot his girlfriend, and he was in the wind, supposedly armed and dangerous. The schools near the hospital were all on lockout, barring anyone from entering. Before Parkland, Florida, that might have seemed excessive, but now everyone is operating under “an abundance of caution.” As I lie there I think of the shooter’s victim. I’d rather take my chances with cancer than a bullet, I think. A morbid idea, but there’s some truth in it. Sometimes it feels like the monsters are coming from all angles.

The radiologist asks how I’m doing. We make small talk. He knows one of the authors I work with. I mumble something about it being a small world. Despite the looming question of cancer, despite the police cars stationed all over town, everyone is quite pleasant. Just another day in the hospital, I suppose, where life and death, benign and malignant, come and go as through a revolving door.

Make friends with change. I heard these words in a documentary about meditation I watched over the weekend. Never in my life have things felt so impermanent, so delicately balanced. I worry every time I scroll through my news feed, a rising panic that’s slowly strangling the parents of America. And that’s just what’s happening outside. Inside me is another world I can’t control, where other violent invaders may be prone, ready to attack.

There’s no safe place.

I take deep breaths while the radiologist and his assistant stare at the screen. It occurs to me that, besides my husband, no one knows I’m here. We’ve carried out these conversations, these medical updates, in hushed tones to protect our children. And yet, this caution has spilled over to everyone in my life. Dinners with loved ones, phone calls with friends — no matter how hard I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to find the right words. “They found something on the mammogram and the ultrasound.” Better to wait. Better to skip to the bad news or the happy ending.

“It looks benign,” the radiologist says. “Try not to worry.”

I get dressed and head home, trying not to focus on what I’ve been through. My phone buzzes and I read a text blast on the screen. My kids’ school is on a two-hour delay in the morning, due to a threat made by a middle-school student. Conjectures fly on Facebook. What was said? What was heard? Are the children safe? Several other schools in the area are also closing due to social media threats. A half hour later, another message arrives. The police have determined that the threat isn’t credible. But out of “an abundance of caution” the school will remain on a delay.

There’s no safe place.

The next day my kids head to school. They’re either oblivious to the danger they face each time they enter those colorful hallways, or they’ve accepted the “new normal” we want so badly to shield them from. Perhaps they’ve “made friends with change” in ways we adults can’t. I try to let go, to accept my lack of control.

The radiologist calls. The masses are benign. The threat isn’t credible.

He warns me to come back in six months to monitor the situation, as a precaution. I’m grateful for the reprieve. Life continues as normal. I go to work, the kids go to school, and no one talks about the recent fog of uncertainty. We all do the best we can to face each day, operating under an abundance of caution. We’re here, together, in this unsafe place. And that’s enough for now.

Check out my upcoming book, American Mom: A Celebration of Motherhood in Pop Culture (Sterling 2018) — a beautifully illustrated, perfect gift for Mother’s Day, baby showers, birthdays, and more!

Originally published at mommyatozblog.com

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