Endurance

I wrote this in December, 2014, and forgot to post it.

My grandma passed away this summer. She was ill for a few weeks and we knew it was the end. She had a full life, and many people loved her and were there for her in her later years, and in her dying.

During her dying time I reflected on how much alike we are. She was built sturdily, with tree trunk legs and wide hips and great endurance. All six of her children spoke at her informal funeral at the graveside; telling stories about her life and what she had lived through. I had heard some of the stories as the family gathered at the house, a musical chairs of cousins and uncles, with the aunts ever-present, like a buffet table that never seems to empty of cake. My Aunt Karrie, her only daughter, like the caller at the musical chairs game who tells the number of the winner.

In those days, and at the funeral service, I learned that my grandmother, who laid out advertisements back in the day when the tools were glue and exacto knives and lined paper, earned cash on the side laying out images for gay porno magazines. And that my grandfather, who had a penchant for booze and ladies of the evening, brought hookers home to their house while my grandma and the kids were there. I learned the depth of her endurance. I became instantly grateful for that legacy because I see it in myself.

Today I was face-down in an MRI machine at MD Anderson Cancer Center. It is the third anniversary of the end of my treatment, and I arrived Tuesday for a series of scans to see if I am still in remission or if I have to go back to jail, a.k.a. chemotherapy. I have had all previous MRI’s at home – I believe the tally is four chest, two head and two shoulder, but don’t hold me to that exact count. I am not new to the MRI experience. I was prepared today with my xanax and was a bit blasé about walking in there.

Wouldn’t you know, breast MRI’s at MD Anderson are special. And nobody told me that. Instead of the normal amount of mind-numbing noise there was much more noisy noise. And vibration. And it was about 10 minutes longer. I was laying face-down with my face in the cradle thing, my breasts in their individual trough containers (having been placed there by the hands of the technician), my sternum resting on this hard plastic plate, my arms over my head, one hand holding the plastic “squeeze this if you start to panic” thingy and the other hand holding the coil for the IV contrast. I apparently have a bit of a sinus issue because I had searing pain across my forehead the entire time where the cradle was resting on my eyebrows, and both snot and drool drained from my face at some point.

I have been practicing yoga and meditation for eleven years now, so of course I remained completely calm and unaffected by this assault. OK, not so much. Here is what was playing in a sixty-second loop in my brain: “Is it over yet? Oh my god this is noisy. I think I’m drooling. Why the f*ck is it so hot in here? I cannot breathe. This face cradle is pressing my sinuses and I think I’m going to vomit. My sternum is killing me. How much longer? Don’t you dare move or they have to start over. I can’t breathe. Surely we are almost done. I hate the person who invented this machine.” Over and over again, occasionally punctuated with, “Just breathe!” and “Ommmmmmmmmmmm.” Mostly it was the litany.

I was emotionally, physically and mentally stretched to my capacity. And, thanks to Grandma Sellers, I have one hell of a capacity. When I got up from the table I was crying and drooling and shaking. I walked out to find Tom and we went outside for air, which was cool and reminded me that I am alive.

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