when negative is positive

I'm often in the throes of a cancer scare. Over the past 20 years, I've convinced myself I've had ovarian cancer, skin cancer, cancer of the anus, a brain tumor, cancer of the abdominal wall. (The tag on my anus sprouted during my pregnancy.) Earlier this year I got so anxious about breast cancer that I self-examined obsessively for a stretch. I have no idea what a lump feels like, I thought I felt lumps in my fibrous breasts, the left more than the right. One day I looked down and realized I'd given myself bruises, hypochrondiac hickeys.

Now I've got this pain in my chest, behind the wall in the area of my upper lobe. It comes and goes, it gets worse when I don't get enough sleep. I saw my doctor on Monday. She ordered an EKG. The heart's fine. She examined my breasts. No lumps. Then she ordered a chest X-ray. I went downstairs to another floor for that. The technician was kind of chirpy. But after he developed them, he would not make eye contact. I knew it. I've got lung cancer. That sent me into a meditation on my own mortality. Would I be here next Thanksgiving, or even my next birthday? And what about Isaac? I have to stick around for Isaac. And the things I want to write. And what would I tell my mother? Maybe we wouldn't tell my mother. I kept looping something a friend told me, about a colleague who was diagnosed with lung cancer. "Six weeks later, he was dead." I went back and forth from thinking I was fine to thinking this was it, I was on my way out.

Waiting for things like this is a hell unto itself. I tend to look for meaning and signs at every turn. The doctor called yesterday morning. She told me my thyroid numbers were low. As I listened to her, I thought, She's saving the bad news for last. But no, she hadn't gotten the X-rays, she expected them later that day. When she didn't call and didn't call, I envisioned her gasping at the mass and consulting her colleagues and cursing that once again she'd have to be the bearer of terrible news. I wondered if she decided to wait on the bad news until after the holiday or that she was consulting colleagues, rounding up names of pulmonary types.

I wondered what I should do. I wagered waiting or not waiting, and called the office at 3:40. This was while I sat in Penn Station, eating an exquisite lobster bisque from a soup bar, The Soup Stop I think it was called, the lobster bisque was so good I'd summon some for my last meal. My doctor'd left for the day. They said a medical assistant could call. I walked past Macy's over to Grand Central to catch the next train to Connecticut. (The streets were recession empty. I was there one year ago to the day, and midtown was festive and athrong.) I caught the 4:42 for Westport. My cell rang. It was the doctor's office. The connection kept breaking up, but I heard the word I needed to hear. Negative. My results are negative. Which is great. At the same time, I've got this weird sensation/pain. It will capture my diagnostic imagination until we understand its cause or until such time it goes away. In the meantime, I have a new goal in life: To get old.