Last week I did something that all 40-year-old women get to do…I got my first full mammogram. I say full mammogram because this time they took images of both boobs, unlike the first time when I was 34 and they just needed to check a suspicious lump on one side.
As much bellyaching as I’ve heard from other women about how awful the mammogram procedure is, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it’s more uncomfortable if you have large breasts. My poor technician was working up a sweat peeling my small boobs off my torso to place them far enough onto the machine so they could be properly squished for imaging. I have to say the whole process seems like an archaic way to test for something potentially life threatening.
I wanted to say, “Listen, lady, if I could have made them bigger by pulling on them, I’d have made myself into a C cup years ago. You’re going to have to follow my motto and work with what I’ve got.” Instead of saying this out loud I just thought it in my head but then started giggling uncontrollably at the lunacy of the scenario. I explained to her I tend to laugh in inappropriate situations and this was going to be one of them.
All in all, the process was fairly painless…painless except for the terror thinking about what might happen if they found something. I’m still waiting for my test results, so even as I write this I’m not in the clear.
It’s easy for my mind to run down a long hallway of what if’s. What if they find cancer? Would I move up our wedding to get married before I lose all my hair or wait until after chemo? I wouldn’t want to marry Michael only to die shortly after and leave him needlessly saddled with mountains of medical debt. Better to distance him from my bills. “I hardly knew her,” is what I would have him write on my tombstone.
Seriously though, if I did die, would Michael still be able to see my son Joaquin? The fear kicks into overdrive thinking about what life might be like for my son if I’m not around to help raise him. The siblings and step-dad he’s grown up with might not get to be a big part of his life, since his biological father would surely get full custody. Who will take care of him like I do, advocate for him like I do and love him as much as I do? No one, that’s who! This is not because he isn’t surrounded by good parents who love him, (because he is), but because I was born to be his mama. The universe specifically tasked me with the job and it’s probably the only thing I’m really good at. My mind goes quickly down a dark hole.
One thing is for sure…if my results indicate cancer, (yes, I understand mammograms are routine and this is not likely) that cancer better watch the fuck out because I am not going out like that!
I watched the movie Dead Poet’s Society a lot when I was younger, which is where I learned the meaning of Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! No one really says this anymore, but all self respecting, life-coaching Instagramers ask the question...what would you do if you knew you could not fail? Good question, but I resonate more with the wisdom of the millennials - FOMO, but the sentiment is the same…get busy living because we’re all dying.
And THIS is what I really want to talk about today. What does it mean to live as if you’re dying? If I were given a year, what would I do with it?
Previously, I’ve tried this on as a mental exercise in an attempt to gain the kind of clarity and motivation you only get from the scarcity of time, but I couldn’t really trick myself into believing my days were numbered. My subconscious mind was like, “How dumb do you think I am? I’m not falling for that. You’re just going to have to safely muddle through life like everyone else.”
But somehow looking down at my breast smashed into a pancake as a technician tells me to hold my breath while she scans for lumps of death, makes this mental exercise a little easier to perform. What do I want to do with my time here?
The truth is…I’ve never been happier in my life. All the things I’m doing are important to me. Caring for my children, helping Michael with the restaurant, taking time to eat well and move my body and read and connect with family and friends are top priorities that I enjoy deeply. I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point and am grateful to be surrounded by so much love. Maybe this is enough.
It’s chaotic and challenging and it’s also comfortable. Nothing is pushing me to live life cIoser to the edge. I could easily fly under the radar serving as a mom and partner and not push myself to do more in the time I have here, but when I remember my days are numbered in an unknown denomination, I feel the fire beneath my feet.
It’s time to trade in comfortably happy for thrilled.
Here’s my breast-inspired bucket list. It’s like a starter kit:
-Learn to ride a motorcycle and then buy a cool vintage bike.
-Write and publish a book.
-Become fluent in Spanish.
-Maintain a daily yoga/gym/walking routine.
-Do more things to help more people.
-Travel more of Europe and South America.
-Learn how to take and edit beautiful photographs and then buy a nice camera.
I realize this list is pretty tame so I considered why I have not taken action on this list earlier and my reasons were many and lame. I have a fear of hurting my body, fear of failure, fear of appearing selfish, fear of judgment for taking time to or spending money on myself, fear that I will appear frivolous. I have played small and not thought I was worthy of enjoying life so much.
Oh gee, is that it? Just a lifetime of conditioned fears and limiting beliefs to get over so I can live my best life? Fine! I’ll do it. This blog is about living well, wild and free, right?
Instead of settling for what I can tolerate, I’m going to see what I can get away with.
Only action moves the needle forward. Normally I would say I need a plan, but too much planning requires thinking and that leaves more time for fears to masquerade as the voice of reason. My only plan is to do the things, starting right now. I might fail or hurt myself or spend too much money or face criticism, but I don’t have time to worry about that right now. I’m busy.
I have my whole life to learn and grow and experience new things, but none of us knows how long a whole life is and I don’t want to face the dire consequences of miscalculation.
I hope you make a dream list of your own. What have you always wanted to do but have put off until someday? Go do that now. If you can’t get yourself into the right mindset, I highly recommend a mammogram or HIV testing if you’re not yet 40. Hell, just go re-read Tuesdays with Morrie.
We are all dying here, so let’s live it up while we’ve got the chance!
As always, thanks for sharing This Savage Life with me. If you’re in Austin, be sure to join me at the next meet-up for Savage Women in Community, where we engage in story telling, making authentic connections and freely laughing at inappropriate jokes.