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Gratitude: Got it

A follow-up and “thank you.”

The other day, I wrote about some health concerns I’ve been having as well as my extreme neurosis regarding anything “medical.” Doctor visits. Tests. Like that.

My breast cancer diagnosis, nearly five years ago only exacerbated this fear. While trying to recall if my paranoia was as severe before that life-changing event, I can only say that I really never thought about it as I rarely went to the doctor. Never one to get yearly physicals, I realize I was blessed in that I rarely, if ever, had any “issues.”

Right before my own diagnosis, my parents were stricken with Stage 4 lung cancer. They were dead within nine months. Thinking back, I believe I was in a state of shock. Mentally checked out. And it recently hit me, like a stun gun, that in the years since I’ve been suffering from a type of PTSD. You see, so much happened so quickly, to all of us, that I never really gave myself the time I needed to adequately mourn my mother and father.

“I rarely, if ever, had any issues.” Obviously, that all changed. I changed. And not for the better. I became someone who was on constant alert, wired to take note of every twinge ache and pain – but ironically, someone who was unable to take charge of her own health.

But that said, I realized that I don’t have to be this way. I can start anew. Today. And you — this community — helped me understand this.

Let me back up a bit. When I wrote about the fact that I needed to have a CT-scan on my abdomen and pelvic area, I was in a “fight or flight” state, with “flight” being my preference. I see-sawed: Should I have it done now or should I wait? Why ruin the holiday? And then I figured out that Thanksgiving would be messed-up regardless. There was no way I’d be able to shut down my brain, slap on my oven mitts and give it my all. I’d be a neurotic mess and my husband, who has his own challenges – chronic insomnia for one – would be brought down right along with me.

For once, I did the smart thing and made the call to schedule the appointment. I had the option to have it done right away or wait until after Thanksgiving. I chose the day before the holiday. I will say this about me: Once I decide I’m in, I’m all in.

Wednesday rolled around. I spent the morning in a manic state. Prepping for the holiday meal. Cleaning. Writing. It was essential to keep moving. “Constantly in motion” pretty much defines me to a tee. Like a hummingbird in flight. It is, by turns, exhausting and exhilarating.

An hour before the scan, I chugged my two bottles of vanilla-flavored Barium and my husband and I went off to the hospital.

The test itself was easy-peasy. They stuck an IV in my arm to get the dye flowing through my body and in about fifteen minutes, it was done. Thankfully, my husband had the presence of mind to request a copy of the scan should we need to see another doctor.

The next day, Thanksgiving, I did my best to quell my rising anxiety. I cooked one hell of a great meal. It was just my husband and myself this year as my sister, who normally hosts, had another commitment. Even so, I made the whole shebang: Turkey, old-fashioned bread stuffing, rutabagas (my husband’s responsibility), cranberry sauce, etc. And everything was perfect. I was proud that I didn’t screw up once.

In between cooking, I obsessed, but I did my best to hide my crying and hand-wringing behind closed doors.

Luckily, by the time “lights out” rolled around Thanksgiving night, I was wiped out. The cooking, the wine, the Xanax — everything combined, resulted in my brain shutting down like a noisy exhaust fan. Whoosh! Gone.

The next morning, the scenario was very different, indeed. I woke up with a bit of a headache from being “over-served,” and, while I wanted to get out of bed and start my usual day-after-Thanksgiving routine, which is to put all the fall stuff away in preparation for Christmas, all I could do was huddle under the comforter and stare at the ceiling.

MyChart loomed in my head. Were the results available? What would they say? That further testing was necessary? An MRI, perhaps? Oh, hell no. An endoscopy? Sigmoidoscopy? In other words, a look…up my butt? Finally, after reviewing every possible calamity in my overworked brain, I forced myself out of bed, had my coffee and then jumped on the stationary bike in front of one of our two TVs in the basement.

I channel surfed for a bit and then turned on a food show on Netflix that I’d been binge-watching. I don’t think I saw two minutes of it. As I furiously peddled away, all I could think about was…me. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that. Truly, I am. Although I did think about my husband and our three cats, what would happen to them if something “happened” to me. I peddled and wept. Wept and peddled. Who the hell does this? Me, apparently.

It took about two minutes for her to get back to me. It felt like two hours. I stared at the TV, held my breath and finally, my phone went off.

Then I paused for a few seconds and texted my sister, who was at work. I told her I was having a full-blown panic attack. She immediately called me and tried to talk me off the ledge. I felt terrible when her own voice started to tremble. That’s how worried she was about my state of mind. My sister didn’t think the results would be available so soon since it was a holiday, but I thought differently. I knew they were in “there,” lurking…waiting for me to view them, one hand over my bloodshot eyes. Enough talk. My baby sis (she’s ten years younger) said she’d log into MyChart with my username and password, check things out and call me right back. It took about two minutes for her to get back to me. It felt like two hours. I stared at the TV, held my breath and finally, my phone went off. Before I could get a word out, my sister said, “You’re fine.” I blurted out a tremulous “Really?” And she told me that, aside from a couple of cysts here and there that “didn’t require intervention,” the scan was “unremarkable.”

I never thought I’d be thrilled to be referred to as “unremarkable,” but thrilled and ecstatic I was. I felt reborn.

Something I need to stress here: I may be neurotic, but I’m not a hypochondriac. The discomfort I’ve been feeling is real, but now, I’m more apt to believe that it stems from a pulled muscle due to an over-zealous workout and/or diet, than anything related to my organs. And the more I dwelled on these mysterious aches and pains, the worse I felt.

How can I express the difference? It was like night turned into day. I couldn’t wait to get going on my post-Thanksgiving duties. My sister, though, brought me back to reality by stressing the need for my seeking some type of intervention for my neurosis. And she’s right. I need to get this in check.

Meanwhile, though, I am filled with gratitude. For my husband, our cats, for my sister and her family…for life. In fact, I believe I’ll start that gratitude journal that’s suddenly become so popular. It certainly can’t hurt.

And when my physical comes up in December, followed by my mammogram in February, I’ll stay focused and positive, because deep down, I know I’m fierce and stronger than I give myself credit for.

There’s one more thing, and I probably buried the lead: Writing the story about my fears, for this platform was like happening upon a fresh-water stream in a desert. It slaked my thirst. What did I thirst for? Change. I wanted, no needed, to change my way of thinking. Turn my head around. And you wonderful, supportive people helped me do just that. I’m not overstating things here. Without getting mushy, because that’s not who I am, your kind words and understanding of what was going on in my head was like a warm, communal hug. (Okay. I went there.)

And for that, I’ll forever be grateful.

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Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinnhttps://medium.com/@sherrymcguinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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31 CONVERSATIONS

      • I went for my post-op visit just this morning, Sherry. Thank you for asking. The knee is coming along slowly. I learned this morning that the unexpected soreness is from all the arthritis the doc had to grind out of there. But we’re making progress. I’m cleared to be back in the gym. And there’s no looking back.

        Since I’m here, I’m going to give you a few extra points for getting your scan behind you. No one wants to face the prospect of a bomb or, in your case, another bomb. But you summoned the fortitude to run toward the fire, rather than away from it. Your relief at its being safely extinguished should be all the sweeter. Well played.

        I love the fact that even though we’ve never met, I’m proud of you.

  1. Sherry, my chiming in at this late date will only cause me to echo what has already been said. Since you shouted out to the community, I will join my voice with the others in celebrating the only unremarkable thing about you, the dreaded exam results. I swear, if someday the technology that we cling to in the hopes of making our lives easier or more connected ever contrives to give us a switch for the gray matter betwixt our ears so that we can sometimes, many times, as often as we need to – switch our brains into “instinctual” so that we can function at a level that just allows us to muddle through and take care of what we need to take care of… I know that our brains might be the most complex things in all of creation, and so necessary – but we overwork them.

    It’s not intentional, it’s just that we give them free reign to take a single thought, emotion or circumstance and build elaborate frameworks of conjecture, possibility, inevitability, happenstance, and add multitudes of scenarios, from the most mundane to the absolute fantastic, and convince ourselves that this will be our future. In all the ways that our brains make us human, we can be made to pay for that privilege, with a mind that becomes a run away freight train, on steroids, caffeine, and adrenaline. Our imaginations are such gifts to us, and any gift that goes off the rails at times can feel like so many things that we do not necessarily see as something pleasant to have.

    And then turning all of that anxiety into relief and thankfulness, it’s a relief on so many levels. I love your entire deconstruction of the whole process. It can seem so silly and overblown in hindsight, but in the moment, we don’t see any of this as being unreasonable, or controllable. It’s not like we are conspiring to turn every thing that happens to us into a great story, but some of us have that stenographer inside us recording all of it, so that our misery at some point will be able to entertain others… And the best part is the happy ending. You’ve earned that. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Tom — “runaway freight train” — could you have stated it any better? Tha’s what it feels like when I give my already overactive brain free rein to go where it wants to go. I appreciate your response more than I can say. At the end of the day, I’m a writer whose goal is to engage, entertain and inspire. The fact that you feel I’ve achieved this means the world. Thank you.

  2. So thrilled for the “unremarkable” results of your tests, Sherry! And I can totally get how important processing the shocks to your nervous system (that’s what traumas are BTW) of the loss of both your parents so quickly and the grief that remains in that wake. Shock and grief are two very important human realities that deserve your attention and the compassionate support of others. Our minds sometimes distract us from what our hearts simply must flush through and feel-even if it seems overwhelming-like we will cry for decades-that’s the mind trying to trick us into not grieving profound loss-and maybe we will grieve on and off for a lifetime-yet, that could be the most important work we do! Who really knows for certain? My mind tried to convince me for years that “things are not that bad!” “You have Nothing to cry about because other people have much worse situations than you.” and all other kinds of limiting beliefs/thoughts that kept me unwilling to actually grieve from my soul. I’ve learned to be brave, to drop into my heart and allow my whole self to grieve in waves, trickles, and weird moments when ads come on the TV about Klondike Bars and I cry remembering how much my dad loved Klondike Bars-the dark chocolate ones….. Hugs to you, my friend. You can go there with me anytime. I’m full of gush. Unashamed of my “soft ways.”

    • Laura, dear, you’ve perfectly expressed the thoughts and feelings I’ve been experiencing. “Suck it up! Others have it much worse than you,” etc. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response here. I can’t adequately articulate the gratitude I feel for the support but I hope everyone here “gets it.” Thanks so much, my friend.

  3. Glad to know that things are better.
    I believe that you should feel proud of yourself for having faced so much grief over the severe loss of your loved ones and at the same time facing life challenges for yourself.
    This shows that you have the courage to face difficult challenges and you can overcome them.
    As the saying goes, I wish you always have three protectors in your life: love, happiness and luck. But if you need the fourth, remember that I am friendship.

  4. I’m very glad that your test was “unremarkable”.
    If I may suggest something for the future, Sherry. The next time you take a test and get frantic about the results, understand this is not a behavior for which you should be ashamed. Indeed, you may be upset that so much of your focus was pointed at the test but who in their right mind wouldn’t? I think the feeling of shame only adds to the unwanted anxiety. Of course, you may want to wait a bit before processing this but I felt compelled to mention it.
    CONGRATULATIONS!

  5. Sherry.. Our minds have a most unusual way of trying to destroy our own sanity. Slowly we get overwhelmed and panic sets in, the worst of the worst is happening, the sky is falling… I have been there a few times in my life, different things, but there is nothing worse than having those stress hormones course through your veins. This is why people join groups, to seek out comfort from people who can relate, to anchor our emotions during turbulent times… I’m so glad you have discovered this tribe of good folks here. I always knew your writing had gravity and that your pointed words simply needed the right audience. Of course, writing doesn’t solve all problems. Each one of us has a mountain to climb, but it sure is nice to know that there are others reaching through the ether with words of comfort and encouragement. Just keep yourself together my friend, everything will be just fine. You are made of tougher stuff, and we’re always praying for you…

  6. Thank you for the follow up Sherry! My heart soars like the eagle (my inner Indian coming out!) So happy that you are unremarkable in your own remarkable way! Clearly you are stronger than you think you are. I am a huge believer in prayer. Is is not always God’s will to heal us, but all things do work together for good as the Bible tells us – even the not-so-good, hard things are meant for our betterment in some way. Sometimes we don’t see it right away. And with all you had going on sounds as though you put on a great meal! Take a break – go smell some roses! Blessings.

  7. I can’t begin to tell you, Sherry, how much I relate to your story. Give yourself credit for being as strong as you are. Between the passing of your parents within nine months after being diagnosed with lung cancer is hard enough to deal with. Throw in your own health issues with the need for scans that require drinking those ever so delectable “shakes” (I don’t even want to think about what they are made from)in conjunction with scans that require IV solutions that add their own measure of discomfort would have destroyed a lesser person such as myself. I go for my physicals. my brain MRI’s (seizures and memory) plus my blood tests for my Hemoglobin A1C in addition to being a good boy with taking my scrumptious snacks of medications for diabetes (oral and insulin), cholesterol, blood pressure, kidney, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, along with a medication to help me fall asleep (I suffer from insomnia) and of course something for my acid reflux. Anytime I see a scratch or small bump on my skin that I never saw before I immediately diagnose myself as having cancer. If there is blood on the bathroom tissue I convince myself it is cancer. I have had a Sigmoidoscopy but never had an Endoscopy nor a Colonoscopy. Neither will I ever have. Going without snacking a whole night is impossible for me plus the preparations for the Colonoscopy in addition to being sedated make these tests a no go for me. Give yourself a hearty round of applause for overcoming the challenges you have had. By the way, as if you didn’t know already this is a GREAT article! Stay well!

  8. After reading three of your articles, if someone werr to ask me how I’d describe you, what popped into my head immediately was “ballsy with a heart if gold.” You speak what’s on your mind. Am not saying your sister is wrong, but after the trauma you experienced with your parents and your diagnosis in such a short time, it’s understood how that could manifest itself in a bit of neurosis. Now you have leverage through caring friends to move on. Blessings!

  9. Sherry – First, I am so grateful that nothing overly serious was discovered – that’s a big thanks to the Father for answered prayer. Second, I am glad that you wrote about this wonderful community. I have been amazed by the close friendships I have begun because of this forum – people I know I can call upon for support and understanding in times of need. This place is safe – this place is special – this place brings the goodness out of people – this place is a home – and your article demonstrated just how important that can be in a world where disengagement is more the norm. I will keep you in my prayers as you seek to vanquish the fears that have filled you with dread and robbed you of joy – because now you know this important truth – you are so special that people who have never met you care about you. Feels good, don’t it? 😁

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