The lump in my abdomen only made its presence known to me two nights ago and it was an accident. In hindsight, I wish I’d never have found it. I wish I’d just simply carried on–but I wish that because I wish I were…more assured.
Summer 2015 began like so many others but with so many plot twists that it already holds distinction. Shannon graduated from 8th grade and I completed 24 years of teaching. In a time of severe drought here in So. Cal, graduation night 2015 at the high school was flecked by relatively good rainfall. We all sat in our robes, got wet and enjoyed the cool cloud cover as waves of drops would ebb and flow during the perfunctory ceremony. All is one, as they say.
I’m spending yet another summer as a journalist, in love with the craft, wanting to do more in it and limited only by the fact that the vicious circle of teaching and writing and teaching and writing– because journalism, as hard as I work, as many publications as I write for, doesn’t pay the bills. It augments them, yes–but it doesn’t pay them.
So it was that I prepared for bed on a Tuesday night having finished editing at least one story and moving into another. I reached down to simply scratch my belly–not an image I care to leave you with–and there it was. The lump was as clear as day. A bulge, a lump–a swelling–in my lower right abdomen, slightly above and to the right of my appendectomy scar, now 32 years old.
I didn’t panic–but I did instantly sweat. I worried about it—I told my wife who, with a number of her own health problems, was relatively nonplussed. I slept in fits that night–dreaming of cancer and devastation. Dreaming of a shrinking world over which I have no control, no passion, no faith and no light. I’m alone. Utterly alone.
It didn’t help that our family physician whom we had known many years–abandoned our home town and left us high and dry. Maybe it’s just where we live–or maybe it’s Obama-care–or maybe it’s both–but I cannot find a family physician to save my life. Literally. I made an appointment with one through a recommendation from our family allergist–and the first appointment he had was in late August–when I’ll already be back at school. And there’s a bulge in my abdomen.
I was at his office because my wife sees one of his partners. I asked–I explained the situation-I even added the emotional plea. “Look, I just turned 50–and now there’s this lump and it disappears when I lie down, but when I stand up–it’s there and it’s a bit uncomfortable and I don’t know what to do.”
And I was met with perfunctory bureaucratic and tepid response. “I don’t have anything. I’m sorry. You might want to go to the E.R.”
I didn’t. I took a chance.
Sue had gallbladder surgery in Ventura, about 15 miles from here, two years ago. The surgeon, Bryant by name, was fantastic. A very good guy with a very good disposition, no ego and serious and real bedside manner. The evening before the appointment, I spoke to my dad, too–he’d had a hernia and I had all the symptoms–all the signs.
A hernia–it’s not the end of the world–it’s a surgery. No big deal. And I worked myself up to that. Sheesh. Turn 50, school’s out for the summer–your monstrously in debt with no real vacation to take–and then this. Oh well. It’s fine.
The surgeon had an appointment and brought me right in. Like I said–a good guy who knows his stuff. He was kind and he was thorough–and he wasn’t convinced. “It doesn’t feel like a hernia feels. Same symptoms–it disappears when you lie down, it’s not very painful–yet–but it doesn’t feel right.”
We’re back to square one. I’m out with it–I explain how nervous I am—I’m going to be dead in a month, aren’t I? It’s a tumor isn’t it?
No, he said–well, I don’t think so anyway. And if it is, it’s probably a fatty tumor–benign. Don’t worry. Let’s do a CT Scan…
That was yesterday morning at 10. So I had the thing and I panicked both before it and after it–full blown. Didn’t even tell my wife. Though I suspect she knew. I sat in the imaging lobby awaiting my fate and sweated–and talked to myself and paced the floor and forgot about everything except the lump–the bulge—in my lower right abdomen slightly above and to the right of my appendectomy scar.
CT scans are short–nothing to them. You lie down, close your eyes and in about five minutes–it’s over. The tech was nice but not giving up a thing. So I waited.
And waited–through the late morning into the afternoon. “If the phone doesn’t ring, that’s good. All’s well. It can’t be serious because they’d tell me if it was.”
I bargained with myself. In fact, I think I went through the stages of grief, you know? Denial, anger, bargaining—all of that. Because that’s how I’m wired, apparently. Because it’s either a crisis–or it’s nothing. I have no in-between. I have no neutral.
Today–the phone didn’t ring. I had some things to do–correspondence to attend to for stories, editing for some pieces–editors to talk to. But it wasn’t enough. I had two more panic attacks today. I walked one of them off with the dog up and down the hills and that worked for a time.
The second one hit just as I left to go drink a pint with the boys–and that too worked. Until the phone rang while I sat at the table.
“S’cuse me guys, I’m going to take this….” I answered…
“Mr. Storer, this is Dr. Bryant’s office calling with the results of your CT yesterday?”
My heart raced–and I couldn’t stop it. Not even the alcohol could stop it–I walked to the front door. “Yes–what is it? What’s there?”
“There’s nothing there. The results were negative.”
“Wait. What? I’m standing here right now–there’s a bulge in my abdomen.”
“That may be–but the CT scan didn’t see anything and all is fine. You have no hernia, no nothing….”
I was kind, even polite–and very thankful. “I was nervous–I’m grateful to you for your help. Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. Glad to do it.” She hung up.
And I was standing in Wade’s Wines in the tasting room with my friends and I was O.K. I drained a celebratory pint and to add to the festive nature of my joie de vivre, I stopped and had a cheeseburger on the way home.
Tomorrow’s another day–and I’m in it. I have many passions to pursue–many things to accomplish and I’m ready to do that. The machine says I’m O.K. I still have a bulge in my abdomen and it is, at times, uncomfortable.
I have faith that God above knows what He’s doing and I have a lot I believe He wants me to do–so I’m going to do it now, though yes–I still wish I was….more assured. And I think that’s just how it is going to be.