My phone rings early and I feel a visceral shudder race from heart to stomach. Caller ID shows it’s the surgeon, Dr. Fisher calling. That can only mean one thing.
Remember the drama exercise where the leader calls out “freeze,” and then you switch to a different identity? I freeze long enough to assume the calm, unshakable self who is trotted out in a crisis, sending my ordinary, very shakable, self, off-stage.
It’s a stoicism I can sometimes call forth, because usually I have a heightened fight or flight response. A year ago, Bob and I were on a snowshoe that went badly astray. The organizer got lost but didn’t realize it until he’d led us up a slope that we couldn’t get off without a dangerous descent. When I went into free fall rocketing down the mountain through a blur of snow and trees, I shrieked like a baby. Meanwhile, Bob took charge, looking up GPS routes, stomping out snow steps (not that they worked), and soothing those of us who needed soothing, including recognizing early hypothermia in one hiker and collecting dry garments for her. Imagine if we’d all fallen apart like I did?
But when the crisis doesn’t involve immediate physical threat, I can call on a calmer, saner version of myself to step in, collect intelligence and manage the situation until it’s safe for the usual me to re-enter the picture.
My calmer, better, self will listen to Dr. Fisher. Then I will ask the questions that need to be asked. I will save the tantrum for later.
At that remove, I hear him say: Invasive Ductile Carcinoma.
Is there anything more he can tell me?
“It’s a small tumor,” Dr. Fisher says, “and caught early.” This means it’s unlikely to have spread, he explains, but it must be removed, and soon. He’s saved a time slot for me on Monday, to discuss surgical options.
Bob is making the bed while I pace with the phone. When I hang up, he takes me in his arms. “You’re not alone,” he says. “I’m with you. We’ll get through this.”
I want to cry, but I can’t. Not yet.