Above Us, Only Sky

August 18, 2014

photo-2There’s always a moment, when you’re climbing very big rocks, that you look down and say ‘oh, shit.’

Sometimes you say those words out loud, sometimes the words just fly around in your head like trapped butterflies, but either way the feeling is the same: you’ve just looked down, and you’ve seen how far there is to fall, and your breath catches in your throat and you hug the rock a little harder and even though you know that all there is to do is keep climbing, there’s a part of you that just wants to stop and stay where it’s safe. Because it’s terrifying, that oh shit moment. It’s the moment when you realize, oh god, I could fall. And if I fall it will hurt. If I fall I could die. And, you know, you don’t want that.

You rarely have those moments on the ground, but when they do happen on the ground, they’re no less terrifying. They’re more terrifying, actually, because the ground is supposed to be safe. You can’t fall from the ground, right? Still, it happens, and when it does the feeling is exactly the same: a momentarily deafening vertigo, the infinite seconds of complete breathlessness, the panicked butterflies leaping from your head to your stomach and back again, beating the same frantic poem with their wings, ohshit ohshit ohshit ohshit ohshit. And the thing is, you weren’t even looking down.

I was in the hallway outside of a conference room, taking a call from my doctor, when it first happened. I was in a radiology office the second time, and laying on my back in a very dark room with an ultrasound machine the third (I was looking up that time, which fact did not escape me. Have you ever been afraid while looking up, I asked myself. My self didn’t answer. My self was working very hard to catch her breath and manage the vertigo.) The fourth time I actually was up a mountain, on a very big rock, refusing to check the messages from my doctor’s office on my phone. I tested myself and looked down and wasn’t at all surprised to find that there was no vertiginous oh shit moment to be had right there, because I was deep within one already. Falling held no terror because there was something that I was more afraid of, something contained within a voicemail message on my phone.

I returned the call when we were part way down the mountain, even though I didn’t really want to. Prolonging these things is a little like staying stuck on the rock, looking down and looking up and being terrified to move. Not moving doesn’t make the fear go away, which is why you always, always move. Up or down, doesn’t matter; the only way through the fear is movement, and getting yourself either to the summit or the firm safe ground below. So I called.

The rock that I’m standing on is a lump in my breast. We don’t know how precarious this rock is, whether it’s a rock that I can climb up from or that I will be forced to climb down from, but we do know that it’s a rock that I have to pause upon and evaluate. And I am whispering oh shit not because I am up too high, but because the rock is unstable. It could give way beneath my feet. I can’t just climb through this, not now, not yet. The mammograms and the ultrasound have told me to stop where I am. I will have a biopsy next, and it will tell me for sure whether the rock is tipping, whether the rock could hurt me or kill me, and I will know what to do. I will climb up or down or sideways and maybe I will fall and maybe I won’t fall. But I will be terrified either way. I am terrified.

But still.

I quell the terror by looking up and to the side and all around. In some moments, I look down. If I calm my breathing I am able to take it all in, the sky and the sunlight and the air. The view from here. It’s a good view, a worthy view. I am glad to be here, at this height. Whatever happens. Because whatever happens, I will still climb.

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    { 32 comments… read them below or add one }

    TraceyClark August 18, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    You can do this, girlfriend. I just went through it with one of my oldest, dearest friends and “I can do this” was her mantra, even when she wasn’t sure she could. She’s doing so well now after climbing the mountain and standing on that same rock. It’s a process full of unknowns (and waiting and fear and hope and patience). Sitting with you (albeit virtually), supporting you, loving you, listening to you, looking up and down with you. Thank you for sharing where you are at right now, it allows us be with you in it. You are not alone. xo


    Alexis Gentry August 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    We are with you! We stand together and gasp and hurt and hold it with you. I will pray, too, because often when I cannot hold it any longer, Another can. Big hugs from someone you have only met once, but is your friend nonetheless.


    Lorraine C. Ladish August 18, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Oh, you have no idea how that resonates right now. I´m sorry you are going through it and yet, I´m waiting on an MRI that I will have Wednesday because there is a mass in my breast. I´ve been trying not to think about it for the past few weeks. Hugs, hugs, hugs. I tell myself if it´s something, I will write about it. I will.


    Jill @BabyRabies August 18, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Thinking of you and sending you tons of good energy. You are a force. You got this. No matter what this rock is.


    Issa August 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Have no real words, just sending tons of good energy your way.


    Kelly Tirman August 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Thinking positive thoughts for you.


    Angella August 18, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Huge hugs and even huger prayers sent your way. xoxo


    Chrysula August 18, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    A fight so many of us have either experienced or witnessed too many times. Courage and strength to you Catherine. I can’t think of any words to take away the fear. But know we are with you.


    Leahpeah August 18, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I love you. You can do this. <3


    Asha Dornfest August 18, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Fucking hell. Life can be scary sometimes, can’t it? I just did a very tiny, scary thing, so very very tiny that it wouldn’t scare most, and yet it does me. My heart is pounding, but it’s done, the unknown is known. Catherine, you have so many people who are right here with you, in it, and we will be here with you when your unknown becomes known. Sending much love and, while I’m at it, gratitude for your beautiful Instagram posts.


    Tanis August 18, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Love and positive thoughts to you. Internet hugs too.


    Katherine Stone August 18, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Girl. I’m in the same boat. Lump found last week. Diagnostic mammogram tomorrow morning. Hopefully it’s nothing but this shit is scary. It’s so hard to sit here and wonder whether my right breast has something in it that is trying to kill me or not. Waiting sucks.


    Her Bad Mother August 18, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Oh, lady. It is so, so scary. You don’t think that the mammogram will be scary, but it is. And then the waiting is scary, and then the follow-ups are scary. I am holding your hand virtually. Tightly.


    Katherine Stone (@postpartumprog) August 19, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Had the ultrasound this morning and definitely have a similar lump. My biopsy is this Thursday. So let’s just go ahead and decide that both of these lumps are benign and can go to hell.


    Danielle Smith August 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Thinking of you. Thinking only good. All good. Great big hugs. xoxo


    Christy August 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Sending positive thoughts your way…I’ve been reading Her Bad Mother for years, and I’ll keep reading as you get through this.


    Cristie Ritz-King August 18, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Oh, crap. I haven’t commented here in a very, very long time and I have nothing of any value to say this time. But I felt compelled to just put my name here as a way of showing someone else in your corner-pushing against the tipping rock.


    Deborah August 18, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Catherine, I have no words. I’ve been on a rock, much like your, at different points in my life. I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers & I know it’s scary. The unknown is terrifying but I suspect that you are stealth and strong willed like a ninja cat & once you set your mind on the direction to leap off this rock, you’ll land in your feet. Virtual handholding & real life prayers being lifted up for you my friend.


    Amanda August 18, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Hugging you from afar. Glad you let the tea kettle whistle a bit, though I imagine it was incredibly hard.


    @buddah67 August 18, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Catherine, Katherine and anyone else who finds themselves in that position. STAY POSITIVE. Here are a few good stories- I had a lump, probably 30 years ago. It was nothing. I am Ashkenaz Jewish with Breast Cancer in my mom and my paternal aunt. Both are absolutely fine. My mother is 20+yrs free and my aunt a good 10+yrs. My mother races with a Breast Cancer survivor dragon boat team. Yes, occasionally, someone is taken after they fought the good fight, but most survive & thrive. Breasts are like beaches – some are sandy & some are rocky. It could very well be ‘just a lump.’ Two of my bff’s mothers had breast cancer 20+yrs ago too. They are fine. Today, there are even better & more targeted treatments. Be fearless. Stress is more dangerous than Cancer itself usually is. Smile, breath, smile, exhale, smile, believe you are ok and will continue to be ok. Love and be loved..you are loved, you are admired, you are respected and you are a titanium strength woman, we all are! Leave your fear at the curb, fly/climb and be free of it! :)


    Alexicographer August 18, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Oh, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Am out here thinking of you, and of Katherine, too.


    kristen howerton August 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Love and light to you as you take this journey.


    Jen Au August 19, 2014 at 1:57 am

    I have been reading your blog for years and when I read this post my heart sank. Please continue to climb and know that all of us are with you holding your hand every step of the way. Sending good thoughts and prayers your way today. Stay strong!


    kelly @kellynaturally August 19, 2014 at 10:37 am

    In trouble, we all search for words that will be profound, a soothing balm, and will… fix you. But I think that there no words from the outside to calm the storm and struggle and panic inside. Only you are experiencing your reality, tragic and troubling in the moment, in your own unique way, only you can give yourself permission to have peace and strength in this challenge.
    But I’m hopeful youll continue to climb.


    kelly @kellynaturally August 19, 2014 at 10:42 am

    In trouble, we all search for words that will be a profound, soothing balm, and will… fix you. But I think that there are no words from the outside to truly calm the storm and struggle and panic inside. Only you are experiencing your reality, tragic and troubling in the moment, in your own unique way, and so only you can give yourself permission to have peace and strength in this challenge. On this unintended journey.
    But I’m so hopeful you’ll continue to climb.


    The Confessioness August 19, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    You’ve managed to capture a terrifying moment so beautifully that I could feel every word you wrote. There is nothing quite like that phone call. My 22 year old sister was recently diagnosed with a rare form of stage 4 inoperable liver cancer. They never expected her to make it, but she is. I truly believe part of her fight to thrive is largely due to the community of friends and family that pray and think positive thoughts for her on the daily. While scary and private, the fact that you are sharing opens up the possibility for us to help you during this time. Best wishes for you!


    The Other Dawn August 20, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    I have had you on my mind so much. Not just because of this brave post but also because of the Ice Bucket thing… I made my donation to http://mdausa.org/, because I recognize and acknowledge that all neuromuscular diseases need a cure– and MDAUSA specifically funds Duschenne’s research. You brought Tanner to my awareness years ago with a very similar, heartfelt, post.


    Her Bad Mother August 27, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    This made me weepy. Honestly. THANK YOU.


    Amanda August 22, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Still thinking about you and sending love.


    Anemilyb August 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I saw your most recent Instagram photo and suddenly felt the urge to send you a virtual hug. ❤️


    Lena August 24, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Loving you through this, my friend. Your words continue to be a gift that inspire me not only to write better, but to think better, to mother better, to love better, to LIVE better. The world is a better place with you in it.

    We’re all here for you.

    So many x’s and o’s.


    Elli August 27, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I know that the waiting is terrible. When they suddenly tell you the final verdict, you aren’t sure if the peace is coming to your mind or not. I admire that you are able to write about it. That is saying a lot about your strong personality. Keep being brave and I wish you good luck on your way. Sending lots of love and hope!


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