When I spend the requisite 8 hours a day at my desk, writing copy about dental practices (mostly ones in Texas or New Jersey), how can I possibly avoid becoming petrified of cancer? It’s not like my mind is occupied. I allow my fingers to type out everything they know about porcelain dental crowns while I turn my head from side to side and wonder, “What’s that odd feeling when I turn to the right?” Or I stare at information on dental implants (information that I’ve stared at before) while listlessly palpating my neck for strange lumps – and then vigorously poking at stranger offenders when they’re apprehended. I list off all the other things every ache and pain could be – allergies, vision problems, carpel tunnel syndrome, TMJ dysfunction, the common cold – all of which make far more sense than cancer. But I mostly just worry that if I settle for one of those diagnoses, I’ll be fooling myself and wasting precious treatment time. “It’s too late, Ms. Kirkpatrick,” I imagine the doctor saying, looking somewhat guilty because she turned me away so many times with prescriptions for Zoloft or nasal spray. The only time I don’t think it’s cancer is when it’s the chest pains; that’s clearly due to a heart infection I once heard about on This American Life. The woman boarded a plane 10 days after seemingly recovering from the flu only to fall asleep and die because the flu infection had taken over her heart without her knowledge, her death only discovered when a flight attendant tried to wake her upon landing. It doesn’t matter that the internet says it’s stress and I’ve been diagnosed with gastroesophogeal reflux.
At some point you learn to stop trusting Google. Every physical symptom can’t be due to anxiety.
I’m not even supposed to be talking about this. Whenever I discover some ache or pain, I’m supposed to ignore it and go play with the dogs or something. That’s what my therapist said. Think about happier things that are not cancer or the inevitability that my husband will die before me, leaving me to make my own sandwiches and deal with that weird empty space people leave behind when they go. I almost started crying into my frozen yogurt last Saturday night just thinking about it. I didn’t say anything. It tends to ruin date night when you tell your spouse that you don’t ever want them to die and then burst into tears. You’d think it would seem romantic, but it doesn’t.
I remember once that I read somewhere or heard on the radio someone said that we shouldn’t all live as if we might die at any moment. Thinking about our inevitable death all the time doesn’t really inspire acts of greatness – it just leaves us rocking back and forth in the fetal position, afraid to leave our house.
I’m one of the few people in the world who probably responded by thinking, “Finally! Someone really GETS me!”