The shrill sound of the phone penetrated my soul. I held my breath, said a quick prayer and counted to five before I picked up. I didn't want to sound overly concerned to Virginia, but the truth be told, I was scared to death about her impending biopsy.
Virginia and I have been like sisters for as long as I can remember. We've loved, supported and nurtured each other through significant and not so significant milestones. Me being the youngest of six children, she became the little sister I never had. She was named after our maternal grandmother, but so were at least ten other baby girls in our family including my mother and my sister, so believe me when I used to tell her that it wasn't such a big deal. Almost everyone else now calls her Jiny, but I just can't make the change. She was and always will be Virginia Ann Duran to me. For many years she was the only child that my Aunt Elena and Uncle Ernest semed to be able to have. They were a perfect little family, complete with a beautiful mom, a good looking dad and a house that sparkled and shined like a brand new penny. Jiny's life was perfect and orderly. She was like the proverbial Stepford Child, beautiful curly hair, beautiful complexion, and believe it or not a beautiful disposition. I wanted to hate her, but she left me no choice but to love her. So I did, and she loved me back!
We both grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She never ever wanted to leave the state and I wanted nothing more than to get out and move on. So now with so many years gone by and both of us now empty nesters, you would have thought that we'd have more than weekends to give each other. We lived our lives looking forward to the next family gathering. I'm sure in less modern times, we kept "Ma Bell" dressed quite nicely with our long-winded, long distant conversations spent trying to catch up on every little detail of our lives. Then viola! With the birth of internet technology we have been able to stay in touch like we live right next door to each other. Virginia and I pretty much know what is going on in each of our lives at any given time. We chat via e-mail two or three times a week. It wasn't until the latter part of May that I realized that much like the old days our busy lives were getting in the way again. Between my writing and her high-powered business trips, our visits were fewer and fewer. So I immediately stopped what I was doing and went up to my computer and started typing.
"Hey Prima: How the heck are you? It's been way too long since our last visit. We are fine, just busy like the rest of the world. Hope you and Jim are well. How is that precious grandson of yours. If I don't hear from you soon, I'll break down and bother you with a call, you may be out on a business trip. Love, me"
I kept checking my e-mail and finally there it was, a greeting from jiny.com.
"Hello Prima/Hermana: (translation, cousin/sister) I'm so sorry that it's been so long, not sure why. Work keeps me pretty busy and I have been traveling way too much. Say a prayer for me, I am having some health issues. Other than that we are doing well and my sweet Preston is a joy. Con mucho carino, (translation, with much love)Jiny"
Ding, ding, ding, all of a sudden alarms are going off in my head. Health issues, what does she mean? Arthritis, the dreaded menopause, sore feet, lots of colds? What? Calm down I told myself, she sounded fine. There was no fear or apprehension at all in her words, anyhow she'd tell me if there was something wrong. You see, I have a very bad habit of panic first and think later. Exactly the opposite of Jiny. No wonder we got along so well! But if I had just told someone that I was having health issues, I'd be frantic! She did not sound frantic, she sounded just like she always did, faithful and courageous. Surely even she'd sound frantic, or if there was anything wrong..... All sorts of horrible things were swirling around in my head as I grabbed the phone and called her cell. It rang and rang, but no answer. She probably had somone in her office...... I left a message and waited and waited........
Pretty soon my day turned into chaos and before I knew it, I had forgotten that I hadn't heard back from her. By the time supper was over I fell into my lazy mode and never gave her another thought. I heard my cell phone beckoning me to run upstairs to answer but figured I'd let whomever it was leave a message. Then for some reason when my kitchen phone rang, it startled me and as I ran to pick it up, I remembered Jiny.
"Hi, it's me, sorry I didn't get back to you earlier." She sounded good, maybe not quite herself; but good.
"That's okay," I said. "Was that you on my cell phone just a few seconds ago?"
"Yeah, I figured you were downstairs and didn't hear it so thought I'd try your land line. You got a minute?"
My panic mode began..... I got chills down my spine, along with that feeling you get deep in the pit of your stomach when you see an accident or someone tells you how they nearly cut their finger off? That was how I felt! I made a motion to my husband to grab the phone while I ran upstairs to my office and picked up the extension. I could hear her breathing as I said, "I've got all the time in the world." She didn't say anything for a second and it caught me off guard, but now when I think back, I'm sure she was wondering if she could say the same.
"Hey girl, I'm so glad you called, we have lots of catching up to do." I told her all about our vacation, the kids, my writing, she told me all about work and traveling, she told me about the family, she told me everything except for what I was fishing for..... I was a nervous wreck and finally came right out and asked.
"So what kind of health issues are you having?"
"Oh you know the usual. From my hormonal headaches to work related stress and complete exhaustion with little time for myself, and....."
I said, "and?"
She hesitated at first and then sort of fell into the next sentence.
"And while I was in Boston on my last business trip I was taking a shower and I thought I felt a lump on my left breast." She said it so fast that it took me a second or two for it to register.
Trying to sound as detached as she did, I asked, "You think you felt one or you really did feel one? Because I know so many women think they feel something and it turns out to be absolutely nothing" I felt like I had to keep on with the explanations of error. Besides things like this don't happen to women like us, I mean we get mammograms, we eat right, we exercise, don't smoke, hardly drink..........COME ON GOD! I kept right on rambling.
As I made my way back downstairs, talking and walking all over the house, I just kept on. "You know I had a friend that thought she felt a lump and it was her breast bone." For some reason it seemed imperative that I try to convince her that it was nothing, maybe it was hitting too close to home and I was trying to convince myself. Finally I stopped to catch my breath and she very brightly continued on with her explanation. As I forced myself to shut up and listen, my free hand went directly to the opposite breast and I started doing a breast exam.
With more conviction but with a calmness about her, she told me, "I've already seen my G.P. and she sent me immediately for a mammogram. When I got there I felt so bad though, I didn't have an appointment so they had to squeeze me in."
"Did they make you wait a long time? I hate just sitting there like a fool, wondering and waiting while the people behind the desk keep talking like you aren't even there. Don't you?" I asked, but my sweet cousin, never says anything bad about anyone.
"They were wonderful!" They were kind and helpful. Even the technician that read my film went through it with me and told me that he wanted to do an ultra-sound for a better more thorough view of the mass. Once they did the ultra-sound, I had a lot of time to meditate and pray.
"My God Virginia! Were you scared?"
I could hear her thinking about it, then she said,
"Of course, I was nervous and I am frightened, but I also know that I am exactly where God wants me to be and I am surrounded by His love.
For a brief moment I could picture her sitting in her lovely paper gown in the rear waiting room of the lab. All you women know which gown I am talking about, it ties in front for quick release and it rips the minute your finger nails get close to it. I closed my eyes as she continued her depressing story and my minds-eye watched her as she listened and paid as much attention as she could to the person possibly delivering her death sentence. I wanted to reach out and touch her, comfort her, support her. Am I strong enough to do that? I could still hear her words faintly as I came back to reality. It had gotten so quiet on my end that she had to ask, "Hello, Are you still there?"
"Virginia, I'm sure he was just being overly cautious. I'm sure it's probably just a benign cyst. Did they compare this film to last years mammogram?
"I forgot to have one last year. I just let it pass. Work was crazy and I never made time for it."
I didn't want to make her feel foolish about something so important, so I just asked again, "could it just be a cyst?"
"No, he said that by what he could see, it was more than a cyst; but he needed to do the ultra-sound to get a better look at it and......"
"So did they do it? What did he see? God, Virginia, I wish I had been there with you, if nothing else but to just hold your hand."
"Oh you're so sweet, believe me, just hearing your voice gives me strength. I have an appointment next week for the final results, so waiting is kind of a bummer. But I know that God is working over- time and I feel at peace with whatever the outcome is. I have good doctors and a loving family, what else can a person ask for?" I couldn't answer her rhetorical question because of the golf ball size lump in my throat. I finally managed to swallow and squeaked out, "how about asking for no cancer for starters!" Jiny either didn't hear me or chose not to go there........ either way the long distance silence even broke my husband's train of thought on his beloved Monday Night Football as he noticed the silence. I felt heart broken and betrayed by God for allowing this monster of a disease into our lives, but I would never let Virginia know that; she never questions God's plans. How I wish I was I could be that faithful! When I was finally able to speak again, I casually said, "Ok so now we are just waiting, and I am sure that it will prove to be nothing. Breast cancer does not run in our family and you are a perfect specimen, right?" How I wanted to believe my own pep talk!
"Yeah that's true , but I have not been feeling very good the past several months, tired and run down; you know. I haven't even been able to get up and go exercise.
"Wow! not able to exercise! Virginia and I are fanatics about our work outs, so we'd have to be dying not to exercise......I caught myself before my thoughts became words then quickly re-phrased to, "You have been working way too hard, with all of your traveling and not to mention the ups and downs of being a wife, mother and grandmother, you've got to slow down!"
As we continued our conversation, I assured her that all of our Arizona family would start storming heaven in our usual fashion. Of course, Me being me, I was angry with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and told Him so.....