It started with a simple physical. The doctor was almost done when, feeling my neck, she exclaimed, “Hello, what’s this?”
This turned out to be a lump , the size of a strawberry, nestled on my thyroid. It didn’t occur to me that it might be something to worry about. That is, until she called for another doctor’s opinion. They had never seen a lump that size before, which started my heart pounding like a Ricky Ricardo bongo solo.
Then she referred me to an oncologist.
Now I was worried
But I discovered that the fear of cancer was not foremost on my mind. Instead, I found myself thinking, “I may be sick and I’m alone.” That part, about being alone, was almost as scary as the “C” word and certainly more real.
Not said with pity or remorse, but stated merely as a fact. No husband. No children. No nearby family. Just a few close friends who love me dearly, but have their own families to fuss over. And I wondered: would I really have to endure this alone?
Scary but not in the Freddy Krueger sense
I pondered what would happen if the lump was malignant yet found myself getting more upset over the absence of a body lying next to me at night. I wanted someone to comfort me while I lay awake fingering this intrusive foreign object on my neck. Cancer was too surreal to consider, yet the absence of a shoulder to cry on, someone to tell me it would be all right; that was painfully real.
I told no one about the lump, not wanting to cause undue worry. And I got myself pretty depressed. I like being single most of the time, yet it ain’t so hot when you need a hug.
I started imagining I’d end up like one of those people you read about in the local paper, the lonely recluse neighbor that no one misses until a stench emitting from her apartment causes the neighbors to call 911…
Tin of comfort
That is what I was thinking about while standing in line at the supermarket one day. I perused the candy display looking for Altoid mints, but then I remembered that this particular store didn’t carry them. Okay.
I returned to my sulking, wondering how my worldly goods would be divided amongst friends who weren’t comforting me because I wouldn’t let them. I paid for my items and went home. Starting unpacking the groceries.
And I found, sitting neatly on top of the Pumpernickel bread, a sealed package of Altoid mints. They weren’t there when I left the store. The store that didn’t sell them.
The relief that I felt when the biopsy came back negative was equal to the comfort I took from the appearance of that tin of mints. But when I shared this story with my friend Pam, she scoffed at the unspoken suggestion.
“What are you thinking?” she snorted. “That you were touched by an Altoid-loving angel?”
Think what you will. I have no idea how that tin materialized in my bag, but it doesn’t matter. They were my hug at a time when I needed one. They reminded me that I’m not alone. None of us is. Not really.