11. “A new goal” – Checkup No. 4

Have you ever been in a situation where the one thing you had not worried about at all would give you the most grief, dear reader?


Your best bet is to jump with both legs

“I don’t want to leave,” cried my inner child in mid-March 2022.

“You mean, you don’t want to leave her,” my top-hatted guide said gently, referring to my younger sibling’s “little one”, her BFF.

My guide’s perceptive comment made me realize that “doing the splits” between Victoria and Regina – that is, going back and forth between provinces – was going to be more difficult than anticipated.

No wonder my adductor muscles had been hurting when I woke up that morning (“Haha”)!

“Your best bet is to jump with both legs between these two worlds, if not realities,” advised “Barb 2.0”. “That will help you ground properly.”

“I’ll give it a try,” I said, but did not feel confident at all. “I am no ballerina.”

A couple of hours later, I put my carry-on suitcase and backpack into the trunk of my Reiki-master friend’s car.

“Thanks for taking me to the airport – may I buy you a cup of coffee as a thank you?” She agreed, and after a nice, long chat and a big, long hug, I went through security.

“Whose bag is this?” the airport security officer asked.

“It’s mine.” I was rolling my eyes, albeit only on the inside. What was it with me and oversensitive baggage scanners?

For the record, I had put the medical device that had caused so much grief in early December right inside the plastic bag that contained my toiletries.

“Ah,” said the security officer a short while later. “This is what I was looking for.”

He removed a plastic jar from my carry-on suitcase. It had shown up as “orange” on their screen, indicating that it was “organic matter,” I was told.

“I am glad you wrote ‘Metamucil’ on it, Ma’am’.” The officer was smiling.

“What did you think it was?” I asked.

“Well, I figured you wouldn’t put human remains into a multivitamin supplement container, would you?” he replied. The stunned expression on my face made him chuckle.

We landed early in Calgary, so there was enough time for me to have some food, including the two – soft and squishy – Tim Hortons muffins I had bought at the airport in Victoria as a snack.

Suddenly, I bit on something hard and proceeded to remove it carefully.

“Oh @#$%,” I mumbled under my breath. Was that my dental bridge that had just come off – and broken apart (“Arrrghhh”)?

My trusted neighbour, who picked me up from the airport in Regina, promptly looked at me as only she could.

“How do you always manage to get yourself into trouble, Barb?”

“It’s a gift,” I quipped as we drove to the supermarket.

When I entered my apartment a half hour later, luggage and groceries in hand, it was as bright and airy as I had remembered it – and the view from the seventh floor was still amazing!

Sunny skies helped to lift my mood, too. And who cared about the snow and chilly temperatures? I was home (again.)

The Snow Queen and her trusted knight

On the next day, a Saturday, I walked around the lake with Winston, my favourite four-legged friend, and his awesome mom.

On that occasion, she took this lovely picture of me. I look so happy because I had already pencilled them in for another outing.

Spending quality time at my favourite house of worship on Sunday morning was similarly satisfying. After all, it involved making music with wonderful people who cared about me.

In other words, my duties as an organist were never a stretch, but a distinct perk, and involved no jumping between realities whatsoever.

My unexpectedly chatty pastor had picked me up extra early that morning, as there was a lot of music to prepare. To my delight, there was enough time to have a little chat with her and the choirmaster in her newly decorated office as well.

“We should learn some new liturgical music and then teach it to the congregation,” I suggested to them. “And, if at all possible, let’s pick something that’s not too hard for yours truly.”

Then I recounted an embarrassing “perimenopausal story” from the 2010s about me being upset with my choirmaster.

He had chosen a piece of music with an excruciatingly difficult piano accompaniment part, knowing full well that I am a much better organist. Worse, he also wanted me to learn it practically overnight.

“You have a full two weeks, Barb,” he had told me, with a twinkle in his eye.

“I don’t have time to practice this @#$%,” I had yelled and thrown the music in front of him before a choir rehearsal was about to begin. I apologized later, mortified about my less than stellar (peri-menopausal?) conduct.

“I remember none of it, Barb,” this very chilled individual said, smiling.

“I remember every single detail, but have moved on,” I replied, smiling right back at him.

The 30-minute-long choir rehearsal before the service was emotional, to say the least. It had been two years (!) since we had last sung together.

The 50-minute-long service that followed featured a most touching choir rendition of I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.

It also showed me that my energy had stabilized since last November, as I didn’t feel exhausted.

“That’s awesome, Barb – see you next Sunday,” my pastor said.

Heeding my trusted neighbour’s advice, I had decided to stay in town a little longer this time around, in part also to give my substitute a much-deserved break from playing the organ week after week.

I had no clue at the time that the next few days would be full of drama.


Please wait to get dressed

“Hi, I am here for my ultrasound scan and my mammogram,” I said at the reception of the medical imaging centre.

“Please have a seat, Ma’am; someone will be with you shortly.”

The ultrasound scan was an uneventful affair, unlike what happened when I put my coat back on: one of my contact lenses fell out (don’t ask.)

They are “hard”, as in gas permeable lenses that help with my terrible astigmatism. Since my prescription is also super high – I am practically blind without them – they are tinted blue so I can “see” them.

The kind technician promptly helped me find the missing object. “You will hear from your doctor in two to three business days,” she informed me. “And now please go back to the waiting room; someone will be with you shortly.”

A few minutes later, I was asked by another nurse to enter a cubicle and put on a mammogram jacket.

“Please wait to be called; someone will be with you shortly,” I was told once again.

Then I struggled with putting on a somewhat confusing, if not unstylish, garment. It was fashioned after the upper half of a regular hospital gown and tied on the inside and the outside.

As a result, I promptly put it on backwards, something I realized (and fixed) only after the “how to get dressed” instructions were repeated for the benefit of the person in the cubicle next to mine.

“Sometimes you are just a bit stupid,” my inner child quipped. (She was, of course, quoting my nephew which made me laugh.)

“We are ready for you,” a smiley technician said when she opened the door and invited me into the treatment room. “Any changes in your medical history since last time?”

When told her about my cancer ordeal, she thanked me for going into detail.

“I want you to know that this is a new and very powerful machine, Barb.”

Then my right breast was shoved in between two cold plastic plates to squeeze them flat (an amazing feeling, let me tell you.)

“You have a large mole on your right breast; I’ll be sure to flag that.”

So had her colleagues who handled my previous two mammograms, at age 50 and 52; both had been clear, thank God. (I will never forget the day when my pastor-friend in Alberta found out she had breast cancer after a regular checkup …!)

Once again, the procedure had not been painful, thank God. (My pastor-friend and my sister in Germany would always take painkillers before heading to their appointments.)

“Please wait to get dressed,” the – clearly very experienced – technician said when I put the mammogram jacket back on, feeling like an expert now.

After returning to my cubicle, I pondered what a breast cancer diagnosis would mean to me.

Would I be mad at the universe for taking control of my life again? No. Would I agree to more chemotherapy and radiation if necessary? Yes. Would I rely on …?

A knock on my cubicle door made me jump out of my skin.

“Barb, you have some dense tissue in your left breast, so the radiologist wants more pictures.”

Dense tissue? Nobody had ever said anything about that in the past.

My boobs felt flat as a ruler when they were squeezed by the machine a second time, and way harder than before.

Curiously, this reminded me of the annoying “tire pressure low” light that had been going off in my three-year old vehicle at the most inconvenient times for the past year, and for no apparent reason.

When the dealership folks kept implying it was my fault (“Do you drive on gravel roads often?”), I was quite annoyed, to say the least (“No, I don’t.”)

“This boob-squeezing machine is meant to be hypersensitive in an effort to save lives,” I was reminded by my health guide, “Barb 2.0”.

So, what was my real problem? Didn’t I want to know “the truth” as fast as possible?

“Please wait until the radiologist has seen the second set of pictures, Barb.” I went back to the cubicle, sat down, and promptly felt my inner child losing it.

“What if the cancer is back … is back … is back?” Then she began to weep in earnest.

“The radiologist wants an ultrasound – right now,” said the mammogram technician after what felt like an eternity.

My heart sank when I followed her to another treatment room to wait.

That ‘s when my “little one” began to chant “We are going to die!!!” in my head. I promptly wrote a panicked text to my trusted neighbour (“Help, Mom!”).

“Take deep breaths, Barb,” she advised within seconds. “And you are lucky that they are doing this in one fell swoop.”

Then the door finally opened.

“Hello again,” said the same “ultrasound lady” who had scanned my thyroid so expertly less than an hour ago. Then she went to work, this time on my exposed chest.

“This whole thing freaks me out because I have been through a cancer diagnosis before, and not too long ago,” I admitted to her.

“That’s understandable.” She was focusing intently on the monitor for what seemed like hours.

“Please wait to get dressed until the radiologist has taken a closer look, Barb.”

“That settles it.” I was hugging my inner child tightly. I had intended to go to my office at the university right after my appointment because that’s what “Dr. Barb” would have done.

I let go of that (stupid?) idea after what had just transpired. Regardless of what the outcome was going to be, I was mentally exhausted and would go home instead on the bus.

“Everything is fine, Barb – the doctor will write a report and may ask to see you again in six months or a year.” I could have hugged her right then and there.

“We are going to live!!!” My inner child was dancing up a storm in my head.

“You have had quite a day already,” said my “TV couple” friends when I sat down for a home-cooked meal with them at supper time.

“What is on your agenda tomorrow, Barb?”

“A haircut and a pelvic exam, in that order.” I was enjoying homemade apple cake for dessert, much to my inner child’s delight.

The next morning, I showed up with a stylish pixie cut of sorts at the cancer clinic, thanks to my best friend in Regina who had talked me into it (“I know you will like it, Barb.”)

To my great delight and relief, I was given a clear bill of health by my medical oncologist.

My favourite memory from that visit concerns a certain medical device, however.

“From now on, you only need to use the vaginal stretcher once a week, Barb.”

“What a relief,” replied my top-hatted guide and made “all the ladies” in my head laugh out loud with his heartfelt reaction. Who knew it had been such a burden on him …?

There was a catch, however: to facilitate future exams, I would need to continue my “pelvic homework” past the one-year mark; it was coming up in early April 2022.

“Not a problem,” I answered. “When did you want to see me next – in three or in four months from now?”

“When do you need to be back in town to teach at the university?”

“Mid-August.” That would give me two weeks to settle in before the fall semester began.

I then watched my oncologist pick up her phone and schedule an early afternoon appointment for August 17.

“Perfect, thank you so much!”

“Enjoy your time on the West Coast!”

“Your wish is my command.”

I vowed to myself that making the most of hanging out with my family in the coming five months was going to be my top priority. Yippee!

My trusted neighbour was thrilled as well about my health news when she picked me up at the hospital.

“Thanks for dropping me off at my office.”

I had just sat down at my fancy new sit-stand desk and turned on my computer when my phone rang.

“Hi Barb, your GP would like to make an appointment to talk to you.”

“Wednesday at 2 pm is fine.”

I spent the next 45 minutes or so catching up with several colleagues. As it turned out, one of them was pregnant (“How exciting!”).

“It’s so good to finally meet you in person,” the president of my college said when I dropped by his office later that afternoon. It was the first time we had seen each other since his job interview in autumn 2019.

I had liked this business administration professor – who was also an ordained Lutheran minister – immediately. After all, he talked to students and Jesus daily; that was a winning combination, as far as I was concerned.

Would he have accepted the post if he had known that there would be a global pandemic to deal with as well?

Regardless of the answer, his gentle, yet firm presence (he began every meeting with a heartfelt “Dear friends”) had made a huge difference to my ongoing recovery (“You are always in my thoughts and prayers, Barb.”)

That evening, my Greek cancer survivor colleague-friend as well as my academic dean at the time, a fellow history professor, visited me at home. My favourite German microbiologist colleague had already popped over a couple of days ago for a long, in-person chat.

“When I am back in town to stay, girls, I want us to get together regularly, like once a month,” I had said to them; I planned to invite a couple of other female colleagues as well.

“I still remember those awesome ‘spa parties’ you used to host many years ago, Barb,” my academic dean reminisced with a smile on her face.

I had fond memories of these weekend get-togethers with “the girls” as well.

After offering assorted appetizers to my esteemed female guests, I would invite a most knowledgeable lady in her mid-50s to let us try high-quality skincare and makeup items to our heart’s content. She had brought them with her in two small, expertly packed suitcases.

As a result, between six and eight highly educated women at a time relaxed and enjoyed themselves in my apartment for a couple of hours on a random Saturday afternoon.

Sadly, the “spa lady”, who had spoiled yours truly with the most wonderful hostess gifts (I still use a microwavable neck warmer she had given me to this day), suddenly moved to New Zealand, of all places.

Her successor was nice enough. Sadly, she knew nothing about mature skin from first-hand experience yet (“I am going to be 30 soon.”)

You guessed it: there were no more self care “spa parties” held at Barb’s place, much to everyone’s regret, including my own.

“When are you getting on a plane to Victoria?” my Greek colleague-friend asked after we had caught up for a couple of hours and it was time for them to leave. (Both were teaching the next morning.)

“On Monday.” Unlike last time, my schedule was not overflowing with appointments this time. “It’ll be a few nice and relaxing days until I leave town.”

I was wrong.


Should I stay or should I go?

“It’s so good to see you again, Barb, and meet ‘your trusted neighbour’,” said the Saskatchewan Cancer Foundation representative the next day.

We had stayed in touch ever since I had contacted her in June 2021 about a donation. “Mom” and I had walked (through snow and ice) to a nearby restaurant to have lunch with her.

“Tell me all about your stay on the West Coast, Barb.”

I did and was enjoying the relaxed atmosphere when my phone suddenly went off.

“I am sorry, ladies, I will have to take this call.” Then I excused myself to find a quiet corner.

“Hello,” said my radiology oncologist. “How are you, Barb?”

“Fine – but weren’t you going to call me tomorrow afternoon?” I asked, feeling slightly confused.

Had I perhaps entered the details wrong on my phone calendar which I had checked that morning, like I always do?

“That’s right.” He sounded amused. “But this is urgent.”

“Oh, dear Lord,” I thought. Maybe this was a good time to panic, I wondered?

“The scan of your thyroid revealed that you have a nodule that is 2.3 centimetres long,” he said.

“Is that bad?” (This was, of course, code for “Am I going to die soon?”).

“We will know more after a biopsy.” He sounded confident. “It will be a bit uncomfortable but won’t hurt – and you should get it done within the next three weeks.”

“I am heading to Victoria on Monday – could it be done there?”


I knew I now had to ask the question. “Could it be cancer?”

“That’s what we are trying to figure out.”

“I’d like to think about this matter, if I may.” (That was, of course, code for “I am going to talk to my GP about it first.”)

After taking a few deep breaths (“Good girl,” said “Barb 2.0”), I began to calm down.

Perhaps, it wasn’t really that urgent after all. Perhaps, my radiologist was, um, just “overreacting” (like he had, as far as I was concerned, when ordering a colonoscopy and a CT scan back in October.)

I was wrong.

“Barb, when I trained overseas, we would biopsy everything that was larger than 1 centimetre,” my GP said on the phone when I called him.

“You did?” My inner child (or make that my inner adult) promptly started to freak out.

“But size does not mean it’s cancerous,” he clarified. Nevertheless, it was “suspicious,” he admitted.

“Should I cancel my flight then?”

“Do it, Barb!”

The urgency in his voice brought back memories of my emergency ultrasound the day after I had reported symptoms (“Go to the hospital now!”).

“Dr. Barb” then reminded me that I could get “that dental bridge thing sorted out” in town as well.

“That can wait.” I felt comfortable with the thought of channeling my “inner Toothless dragon” for several months. (My “little one” promptly asked whether she could play with this new “character”; I said “no”.)

This “biopsy thing” was different, however.

Should I stay, or should I go?“ I wondered, looking to “Barb 2.0” and my top-hatted guide for guidance.

They laughed when The Clash began to start singing that admittedly loaded question in my head.

“Contact your GP for more information,” they advised. “It will help you make a decision.”

“How long is this procedure, and how long will I have to wait to get an appointment in Regina?” I asked him a few minutes later.

It would be short, like ten to fifteen minutes. As to when I would be able to see a surgeon, he couldn’t be sure.

“Is there a possibility of having it done out-of-province?”

Three weeks was a long time, I argued. And, if the thyroid scan had taken place at the end of my trip rather than at the beginning, the results would have come in after I had left town.

“Let me check into that, Barb,” my GP answered.

An hour later (!), he called back to say that the Vancouver Island Health Authority would contact me to make an appointment.

“Just bring your Saskatchewan health card with you to the hospital, Barb.”

“Thank you for all your help!” (This physician was one-of-a-kind.)

“Hi, this is your favourite radiology nurse,” said a familiar voice the next morning on the phone. I knew why she was calling, of course.

“My GP is already on it,” I explained.

My “inner crew” breathed a collective sigh of relief when, less the 24 hours later (!), an appointment on April 1 had been scheduled for me at the Victoria General Hospital (“You will also get a confirmation letter, Barb.”)

“Excellent,” I thought.

I – or should I say “we”? – could now focus on making the most of the time I had left to recover and heal on the West Coast.

Or so I thought.


It involves a long needle

“I have no idea when I was last here.”

My twin sister had kindly offered to drive me to the hospital on the day of my biopsy. She chuckled when I told her that everything looked unfamiliar.

“Actually, you were here every day for two solid weeks in early fall of 2001,” my younger sibling informed me as she pulled up at the main entrance.

“That was over twenty years ago.”

In other words, I had no recollection of what or who would have made me – who does not like hospital to begin with – show up for 14 days in a row.

I laughed out loud when she began to jog my memory. Of course, she would never ever forget that her older son had entered this world via an emergency C-section and, despite being born full-term, had spent a week in the NICU of this hospital.

And on the same day that mother and child were allowed to go home, our oldest, post-menopausal sister informed us that she had Stage 1  cervical cancer and needed to have an emergency hysterectomy. She would also appreciate help after returning home from the hospital.

“Those were the days,” I said, and got out of the car. I was going to take public transit to get back home.

“We are a bit confused about what we are supposed to do today.” An ultrasound technician had taken half an hour to examine my thyroid thoroughly.

“How come?” Had their doctors not read the report from my medical radiologist in Saskatchewan, or what was going on?

“It says here that you have a large, suspicious nodule on your thyroid, Barb.”

“That’s right.”

“In fact, there are two, one on either side, and neither is large enough to be biopsied.”

“That’s odd,” I thought. “I’d like to talk to the radiologist, please.”

The latter told me in no uncertain terms that I was not going to have a procedure at their hospital today.

“The nodule in question has shrunk to 1.7 centimeters over the course of ten days, Barb.” She explained that it had not been solid but filled with fluid.

“In other words, I am not sticking a long needle into your thyroid today,” the radiologist said – and meant it.

“What a relief.” My heartfelt comment made both the radiologist and the technician smile.

I did not let on that one of my colleague-walking buddies, Freya’s dad, had told me horror stories about his four (!) thyroid biopsies before I had left town.

“Ask your GP for a sedative to take the edge off,” he had suggested when I first told him about it. He sounded unusually serious.

“Good heavens,” I had thought at the time. How long was that needle …?

“One last question.” I looked the hospital radiologist straight in the eye. “Could either nodule be cancerous?”

“Unlikely – but ask your GP in Saskatchewan to monitor it closely.”

“I will, and thank you for making my day.”

Fifteen minutes later, I boarded a bus that would take me straight home. (No joke; it literally drops me off half a block from my building.)

I had just taken a seat at the very back when my phone rang.

I took a very deep breath before I picked up.


A cliff hanger (of sorts)

After typing that last sentence, I pressed “Ctrl-Enter” to force a hard page break and move on to the next chapter.

“Really, a cliff hanger?”

“Dr. Barb” was not impressed with me and the fact that I wanted to give the reader a break at exactly this point.

“I wouldn’t want important stuff that follows to get lost in the shuffle,” I argued.

“Maybe it’s meant to set up an April Fools’ Day joke?” my top-hatted guide wondered.

“Trust me, I was ready to jump off an imaginary cliff when I saw that number flashing on the display after my hospital visit,” I replied.

“And you did eat a lot of junk food when you got home, remember?” my inner child reminded me.

I was going to reply, “to celebrate the fact that I dodged a bullet, as in avoided a biopsy of my thyroid today.”

But that would have been a blatant lie.


Share This Book