FULL disclaimer– I am totally fine and 100% healthy (to my knowledge)!!! But if you want to hear the story of how a somewhat silly health scare taught me a lesson about fear and overthinking, please continue… :)
It was early January and the start of the new year–the year I’d move out, get married, and start a life with my best friend–held nothing but promise. I was so excited for the coming months, and the countdown to our wedding day was really starting to drag on. For the longest time, I’d felt like I was in a state of limbo. An “in between” season of life where I wasn’t who I used to be but not quite who I was about to become, and I couldn’t really move forward until I learned what this time had to teach me. Cue the melody of Britney Spear’s “Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” as you picture me standing on a cliff overlooking Antelope Canyon (and if you’ve never experienced that hypnotizing music video, please make that happen as soon as you’re done reading this blog post). I knew where I’d been and where I was going, but I couldn’t quite go there YET.
So I tried to make the best of wishing I could press fast forward and tried to continue life as normal. After all, these would be my last six months at home. My last six months single. The last six months where I could just hop in my family’s red Mazda and drive south for a few days just because I felt like it. I’d spent 5 years building my business on my own as a one-woman team with virtually no bills to pay and no one to take care of. Life as I knew it was about to change… and as I realized this, I found myself wanting to hold on to this sweet moment of independence as long as I could.
On Tuesday, January 5th I woke up before dawn not to head to work, but to drive to Silver Spring, Maryland for Justin & Mary’s The Event, a photography conference meant to “jump start” your business for 2016. I wasn’t sure how many of these conferences I’d be attending after I had a husband to experience life with every day, so I didn’t hesitate to sign up when the tickets were released in November. I wanted to make the most of my free time in the first half of the year. As each speaker got up and presented their own stories of success (and failure), there was a recurring theme that stuck out to me… choosing courage in the midst of fear.
In the middle of Mary’s closing remarks, I leaned forward to stretch a little bit. I’d been sitting in the same chair for nearly 12 hours and my back was starting to get stiff. As I was bending forward, I reached around to rub my lower back and that’s when I felt it. A lump.
For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’ll fill you in on a little part of my story. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 13. She had several lumps in her liver that, after months of testing, proved to be malignant. My 11-year-old vocabulary was suddenly full of new words like “biopsy,” “chemotherapy,” “radiation,” and a word we had all hoped for but would never be used… “benign.” Experiencing the darkness and cruelty of such a disease at an age so young had some serious effects on me that I’m not sure I’ll fully ever understand, but one of those effects was a crippling fear of being diagnosed with and battling cancer myself.
For years in high school, I refused to eat junk food. I poured over nutrition books like my life depended on it. I could tell you exactly how many ingredients in that pack of Cheez-It’s or your Dove deodorant was known to cause cancer. It was a mildly unhealthy obsession. People thought I was CRAZY when I’d pull out the dark green Odwalla bars for my mid-morning snack during history class. I got made fun of for it, but I didn’t care. Nobody knew the reason behind my health food craze, but I did. I was not going to let my body succumb to the same fate my mother’s did.
I continued to eat pretty healthy throughout my freshman year of college (during the tail end of which I was actually vegan for about 4 months). Then I entered the working world, started going out more on the weekends, took some pretty awesome vacations, and finally, had my first burger in probably a few years in the summer of 2012. With every red-meat meal, my paranoia slowly began to subside… and I let go of the fear that had plagued me for so long.
You can imagine how quickly and furiously that fear came rushing back in the front row of that room with 150 other photographers sitting behind me.
I felt for the lump again. It was definitely there. And my throat was officially dry. I started to sweat. Trying to calm myself down, I focused on taking notes and telling myself that there was nothing to be afraid of. You see, I had found another “lump” under my arm about three months prior to this instance that turned out to be an inflammation that quickly went away after I applied a few hot compresses. But this lump was bigger… it was under my skin, not on it… and it didn’t feel very good.
I tried to visit like normal with new and old friends throughout the rest of the evening, but the fear washed over me every few seconds like waves in a storm. “You could have cancer.” The thought haunted me my entire drive home. I called Justin to let him know I was on my way over and that I wanted him to feel for something I thought I’d felt in my lower back. He was calming and reassuring as always, and once I got to his house, he quickly determined that the lump was just my back muscle. “Oh,” I thought, incredibly relieved but not quite convinced.
That night in the shower I felt for the lump again and determined that it was not, in fact, my back muscle. I swear I felt something there at the small of my back, like an egg hiding under the skin. The good thing was, thanks to my little underarm lump scare back in October, I knew that any growth that moved under your finger was likely not cancerous. After I felt it a few times and convinced myself it was in fact moving, I resigned to bed, promising myself I would make an emergency appointment at the doctor’s office in the morning.
I was nervous as I sat in the waiting room spinning the green laminated card in my hand that read “Dr. Hopkins.” The memories of sitting in that same waiting room years ago, looking at my mom with concern as she breathed beneath the surgical mask and comforted me with the words “It’s just a precaution,” all came flooding back. I hated being here. I hopped up a little too quickly as my name was called and I was ushered in to a room to wait for Dr. Hopkins.
He was friendly and kind, and for that I was so thankful. After all, this could be the first day of the last days of my life. I appreciated his warm, firm handshake and his bright, inquisitive expression as I explained to him that the lump had maybe been there for a few years, but it had started so small, like a pea, and I’m not even sure if it existed at all back then, or if that was even the same lump, so I can’t promise it’s been there a few years, maybe this is a new thing, but it feels really big and it’s kind of freaking me out and not really causing physical pain, really more mental pain than physical, or maybe I’m causing the physical pain mentally, I don’t know, but I just want to be sure it’s nothing serious. You know?
He felt around my back for the longest 20 seconds of my life before finding the lump. I winced as he pressed around it, on top of it, moving it beneath his fingers. As he pulled away I held my breath for the worst.
“It looks like you have a lipoma. A lipoma is a mass of fatty tissue that accumulates with time and generally stays small, but can cause discomfort over time if it does grow larger. I had one removed myself several years ago from the side of my head for purely cosmetic reasons. Here’s my scar.”
I responded with, “So… it’s totally harmless?”
“Yes. Completely harmless.”
Ladies and gentlemen… the lump I thought would end my life… what I thought would be the cause of my final days on this earth… turned out to be a mass of fatty tissue. It was literally a clump of fat.
To say this was maybe one of God’s ways of teaching me to trust Him and not let fear rule my life would be a probably be a pretty good guess as to why this happened. In a season of so many life transitions, fear runs rampant. What if we choose the wrong apartment? What if our first home is infested with bugs? What if the floors creak and we can’t get any sleep because of the neighbors above or below us? What if we don’t make enough money? What if I can’t afford a car? What if I need to get a job? What if Justin loses his? What if we can’t buy a house in 5 years? What if we get pregnant and we don’t feel ready? What if marriage isn’t what we’ve dreamed it would be?
What if, what if, what if.
We could kill ourselves much quicker than any sickness ever could with the lies we tell ourselves.
The lie that says we’ll never be enough or have enough. The lie that says we’re unworthy and unloved. The lie that says we’re alone in this life and there’s no one who could ever understand. So, so many blatantly untruthful lies.
I’ve decided now – with this lump in my back – that I’m not going to tell myself those lies anymore. That life is too short to let ME hold myself back out of nothing but fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. She who steps out in the MIDST of that fear and faces it head on with a smile on her face and wonder in her heart.
The future is not my enemy. Not making the most of my present is.