Mammograms and Rabbit Holes


I went down a rabbit hole yesterday.

I suspect my husband does it all the time, because he’s always coming up with obscure tidbits you discover only if you click, click, click, going deeper into topics that don’t have anything to do with what’s on your "To Do."

A writer friend of mine named Mike asked me about blogging, and I sent him a link to the blog my family kept while we lived in Costa Rica.

We posted about everything. Gary shot crazy photos, like one of a cellphone tower growing like a palm tree through the foyer of an apartment building. I wrote about losing our car keys in Nicaragua and the serviceman who wanted to use his hammer to unlock the door. And our daughter kept a video diary about surfing lessons and the iguana that got stuck in our toilet. For us, blogging was a fun way to capture our experience.

When I sent that link, I couldn’t help revisiting all those memories, and I clicked on one image after another, rabbit-hole style. That’s when I saw the photo of a sunrise hike I took one morning with my friend Beth.

Beth had discovered the world’s largest labyrinth which is tucked into the jungle outside Tamarindo, a beach town in Costa Rica. The two of us met there frequently to walk its winding aisle ways silently contemplating life’s big questions. Just beyond that labyrinth, towering mountains offered spectacular hikes and breathtaking views, and one morning, we hired a guide to take us to the peak.

Howler monkeys looked at us from treetops as the we started our climb, our guide carrying a machete in case of an unlikely but not unprecedented encounter with a jaguar, ant eater, or venomous snake.

Then something weird happened.

My pulse raced, pounding in a way that felt like a heart attack. The sweat that suddenly coated my body felt gooey and thick. I wanted to rest but, I was embarrassed to admit it. Beth is an athlete and could have sprinted up that mountain without breaking a sweat. And our guide? He was a grandfather who rode his bike to meet us from a village over an hour away. “It’ll pass,” I told myself, and I pushed on.

What’s going on with me?

I thought, wiping fluid off my face. In high school I played sports and still make at least a half-hearted attempt to keep in shape.

Eventually, I had to cop to my discomfort. I figured the only thing more embarrassing than stopping to rest would be if I keeled over and the poor grandfather-guide had to haul my sorry ass down the mountain on his back.They went on without me while I enjoyed a mid-mountain view.

Something is wrong, my body told me. But my head wasn’t listening yet.

In Costa Rica, I was tired, but I chalked it up to the tropics. Heat there can be oppressive, and some aspects of life are demanding – like walking long ways on dirt roads and giving up creature comforts Americans take for granted.

In Granada, Nicaragua where we took a side trip, the market bulged with everything under the sun: live chickens, straw hats, cocoa beans, raw meat, eye glasses, and mammograms. My family had a $10K deductible on our health insurance policy. In the U.S., a mammogram would have required a $250 office visit to a doctor just to get a referral. And the mammogram? That price tag wasn’t available. I’d know how much it cost when I got the bill.

So I put it off.

I looked at those machines tucked into every corner like ice-cream shops, and I knew they’d be affordable. I should really get one, I thought. Instead I vowed to make an appointment when we were back in the States.

I didn’t know then that a lump had sprung to life. And I wouldn’t know it until my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and sternum.

Sometimes I wonder if that hike was my warning shot, like when a dog nips at a kid who pulls his tail one time too many. Would my outcome have been different? Would I do things differently if I could go back?

When my friend asked about blogging, I dived down a rabbit hole. And that’s what I saw, a photo documentary of the day-to-day wonder my family miraculously experienced when, against all odds, we managed to swap out the bonds of our lives for a wonderful adventure.

But I also saw a a crystalized memory of a day that haunts me still, one that prompts lingering questions about cancer, a warning shot I missed, and a different story of what might have been.

This piece was originally published on BreastCancer-News.com

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