It was a warm afternoon in early September when I arrived at the grocery store. Instead of sitting at home, waiting for a call from my primary doctor to tell me the results of a biopsy, I went to the Berkeley Bowl, one of the best health food stores in the Bay Area.
A few weeks prior, one of my lymph nodes had become sore and enlarged. I went right into my primary doctor who in turn sent me to have an ultrasound. The doctor who examined the ultrasound said she couldn’t say what was causing the enlargement. “It could be breast cancer, lymphoma or an infection,” she said.
Two bad choices and one benign. The benign option was the more common but I decided my result wasn’t going to be benign.
She sent me in for a biopsy and after this, I was told it would be three to five days before results would be known. My primary doctor would telephone me with the news.
One day passed, then two, then three and no call. Then the weekend came and went. Finally, my doctor messaged me that she would know the results by the end of the day.
That’s when I drove to Berkeley Bowl. I needed something. Maybe chocolate-covered almonds. I arrived, grabbed a plastic basket and started toward the almond section when my eye caught on a bucket of bright orange Asiatic Lilies, my mom’s favorite flowers. They always seemed to fill a vase in our house. She painted them constantly. Sometimes in watercolor. Other times with acrylic paints. Only she didn’t call them Asiatic Lilies. She called them Tiger Lilies.
I chose two bunches and placed them in my basket. It didn’t take long to see this wasn’t going to work. Their long stems almost immediately toppled them out. Instead of finding a cart, I clasped them to my side with one arm and kept shopping. I careened around getting arugula and cucumbers and my coveted chocolate-covered almonds, trying not to lose too many blooms in the process.
Then I hurried to the checkout and left.
A few stems broke off in transit but mostly the lilies made it home. It was a relief to arrange them in a tall clear vase that offered plenty of room to stretch out. I needed to gather myself so I stepped into the bathroom to look at my face and witness this moment. Would it be breast cancer, lymphoma or a simple bacterial infection?
Then I noticed something on my t-shirt. It was right over the place where I had had the biopsy. I looked closer and saw a smear of bright orange pollen exactly over the spot where my swollen and aching lymph node lay and where the biopsy needle had entered.
That’s when I felt my mother’s presence. She had walked this road years ago when I was a teenager. She had lived with breast cancer and its treatments. I saw the dusting over my hurt area, over the dark node that held the mystery, that held what I didn’t yet know, and I felt her protection. Of that place and of me.
Tears slid down my face.
When I finally got the call and learned that it was not breast cancer, but non-Hodgkins lymphoma and that I had caught it early and had a strong prognosis, I felt her protection more. I walk this path with her beside me now. Closer than before.