"This getting old stuff stinks," I remember my dad saying half-jokingly a time or two when I was in high school. After a career in the military his knees and back were worn from running in boots, on asphalt. His morning yoga routine had lapsed. Instead, some mornings we'd have competitions about who could crack more knuckles - from our fingers to our toes to my left ankle. We were like a Rice Krispies commercial - snap, crackle, pop. At the time, I just thought it was funny; now I know how palliative those pops can be.
I shouldn't be surprised that I have aches and pains of my own now. I am, after all, getting older.
Case in point: two years ago, after a couple of months of excruciating pain, I had a cervical discectomy - meaning, a neurosurgeon went in through my neck to remove a ruptured vertebrae from the uppermost part of my spine. The disc material had been pinching a nerve, and I still have some pins-and-needles sensations in my right index finger because of it.
At the time, my neurosurgeon told me: "You're not exactly the house made of brick." And Chris joked that there must be some provision in our contract about me falling apart before my expiration date. Little did we know.
Still, in my pre-cancer world, it was easy to chalk up a headache to stress, or have a bruised hip and wonder what table I'd run into the night before. These days, though, it's like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. Cancer has turned me into a hypochondriac, wondering with every ache whether my doctors missed something - or worse, whether the cancer has already come back.
Last week, I had an echocardiogram done on my heart, and the technician was pretty rough as she moved the instrument around my ribs. But later that night when I had rib pain, I panicked. I didn't make the connection until a few days later, after I'd already run my fingers along the spot over and over, feeling for a tumor (and not finding one), but wondering already how many ribs a person can live without. Of course, now my rib feels fine.
Then yesterday, I sat with my elbow propped on our kitchen counter, my jaw resting in my palm. And the pain I felt in my jaw was enough to throw me straight back into a tear-filled frenzy. I immediately called my oncologist's office, even though I had just seen him that morning. He was gone for the day, but his nurse and Chris (and I, if I'm being honest) are all 99% sure the pain I feel is a swollen lymph node from the cold I can't seem to shake, the cold that's been lingering in our house since the end of February, the cold that delivered a double ear infection to Quinn, who's now on his second round of antibiotics to knock this thing out. That cold.
But in my post-cancer world, it's no longer as easy for me to chalk things up to rational explanations. There is a significant part of me that falls into a tailspin with every twitch, tic, bump or cramp. I need to figure out how to shake that part of me loose - or arm myself with more motrin.