Not because I occasionally book acting jobs or have an agent that believes in me, though that is how I would have categorized luck before.
My valuation of luck was skewed though, and I was doing nothing to improve it. I scoffed at gratitude journals. Why bother? All I need is to look in my son's sparkling eyes to feel blessed. But I was missing the full expression of gratitude.
I went for the scan, but immediately felt ridiculous when I arrived at the office. All around me were women dealing with real problems, or much older women, or more endowed women; the kind of women I figured usually needed these thorough breast scans. What was I doing here? Was I a silly little girl who was blowing a few weird twinges completely out of proportion?
(There was a problem with my paperwork. I considered leaving. I stayed.)
After a very long wait and further paperwork issues, I was fuming when it was finally time for the scan. I was distracted and annoyed when it started. I couldn't wait for this to be over. To just be labeled an hypochondriac, and go on my merry way.
But that's not what happened.
The tech started the scan. She paused for a moment over each inch of my breast until resting on a particular spot and staying there for a very long time. She took picture after picture of this one small area, and didn't move on for quite a while. She remained very quiet and focused, then rose abruptly and informed me that she needed to consult with a physician and would return shortly.
And so commenced the longest "shortly" of my life.
I laid in the small, dark, cold room blinking wide-eyed at a terribly plain print of a brown bird flying over a brown lake, with some brown trees in the background. I willed myself not to think of anything, then thought of things, horrible things, then chastised myself for thinking of them. I criticized myself for waiting two months before I told my doctor something was wrong. My eyes welled up with fearful tears, which I immediately labeled ridiculous and wiped away. Then I thought about my family, and my body went cold and tingly. What if I had to give them bad news? How would they handle it? How would I? Then I stopped this line of thinking, convinced myself that this was nothing, and chuckled at my stupidity. There was probably just a glitch with the machine.
As I'd feared would happen, the tech returned accompanied by a doctor, but he wasted no time before explaining to me that while there was a mass in my breast, it was not believed to be cancer, was quite common in women my age, and would likely not ever become cancer. None the less, they wanted to send me to a breast specialist, monitor the lump for six months to make sure it didn't change, monitor it for six additional months, and if there was still no change I could more or less forget about it.
I left the office as quickly as possible without fleeing in an exam gown. I explained the issue to my husband, but didn't really dwell or ruminate on the matter. I mentioned it to a few friends, in a "Listen to the crazy thing that happened to me" kind of story, but nothing more than that.
When the notice came to go for my six month scan I didn't rush to make the appointment. I took my time. It wasn't cancer and it wasn't going to be cancer, so why worry?
And I was right. At my six month scan, I was informed that there had been no change in the mass. It was just as they'd thought, and non-threatening. I would come back in six more months for another scan, and then I was done with the monitoring.
Exactly what I'd thought would happen. I dressed and left. I then quickly returned to doing what most people who completely take things for granted do. I continued being pissed about the cab driver who took me on the scenic route to my appointment, wasting precious time, and running up the fare. I moaned when I encountered a long line at my lunch spot. Later that day I bitched to friends about an audition I'd had recently where my agent had been informed I was first in the running for the part, and yet I still hadn't booked the job. I snapped at my toddler for spilling his milk. And I'm sure I probably nagged my husband about crumbs on the coffee table. Not once did I acknowledge my good fortune.
Then, as I was finishing up an episode of my favorite show, my gratitude ship came blowing in...
With about seven minutes to go in the episode, one of my best loved characters received a breast cancer diagnosis. It was a series of scenes, with no dialogue, that shows how few steps it actually takes for your world to completely cave in. And I'd gone through most of those steps but one. I have a mass, but I do not have cancer.
Finally this fact sunk in.
I began to sob, thinking at first I was reacting from how emotional and sad, and effectively the story was being told, as well as my affection for the character. But as I continued to weep, past the point that you should ever cry over a fictional character, I realized that my heart had lifted. I was crying tears of relief and, yes, gratitude.
I just finished Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. In it she refers to the happiness wasted on healthy people, because it is only when one is ailing that she truly realizes the gift of health. I'd accepted my good health as an entitlement, and didn't stop to show gratitude for the bullet I may have missed. Instead I went back to sweating the small stuff. And I'm sure that at various times during all of this I've criticized my body for it's superficial flaws, rather than fully appreciating the heart that beats clean blood, the brain that thinks clear thoughts, and just how freaking amazing it is to be alive.
(Photo by Alex Brown)