My honey and I are now in beautiful British Columbia. We landed in Canada 16 weeks ago, and these weeks passed with many graces, as well as the red tape hurdles posed by our return. With most of them behind us, we were starting to feel settled into our new (albeit temporary) home and looking ahead to building our new life.
The grief with my left eye began just over ten months ago. Four ophthalmologists, two of whom were ocular oncologists, had told me it was likely metastatic breast cancer. My medical oncologist believed, and a full PET-CT scan showed, that there was no longer a primary cancer site; so that was ruled out.
The concluding diagnosis was a detached retina. It seems like that may have been an error.
I had three reasons for not pursuing immediate treatment. The first was that we were divesting ourselves of the possessions we had accumulated over three decades to prepare for our transpacific move; and I was reluctant to take a break from that. The second was that the treatment proposed for a detached retina would require me to stay in bed face down for a week and not fly for at least six weeks, interfering with our imminent travel plans.
The third, and most important reason, was that deep down, I was not fully confident in the diagnosis, even as I had accepted the thinking and wished it to be true.
Thinking something does not make it true. Wanting something does not make it real.― Michelle Hodkin
It took me (like all new residents) three months to get BC medical insurance. Another ten days to find a family doctor willing to take on new patients to get a referral (got turned away from three so-called walk-in clinics). And then, miraculously, only five days to get an appointment with a highly recommended retina specialist.
I went to his eye clinic today. It had good energy, with friendly staff and technicians. The receptionist told me to expect to be there an hour, but it was closer to three.
Not long after my appointed time, a Filipina nurse adeptly onboarded me by recording my history and conducting basic eye tests. A technician then captured digital images of my eyeball with equipment I hadn’t seen in the Philippines, one of which could capture the back of my eye where the problem is, much like a sonogram, but clearer.
I waited another hour before seeing the doctor. It passed quickly, chatting with another kind patient who had been seeing this doctor for six years and highly praised him. That increased my confidence in seeing him.
All my data was laid out for the doctor to review on two large computer screens. I had brought my earlier diagnostic results, but he said he didn’t need to see anything else other than what was in front of him.
And what did he see? A tumor. Not a detached retina.
As any doctor can tell you, the most crucial step toward healing is having the right diagnosis. If the disease is precisely identified, a good resolution is far more likely. Conversely, a bad diagnosis usually means a bad outcome, no matter how skilled the physician.― Andrew Weil
Like my doctors in Manila, his demeanor was matter-of-fact but not lacking empathy. He worked fast, but answered my questions to my satisfaction.
With this news, I felt, once again, surprisingly calm. I did not detect panic anywhere in my body. But I did take a few deeper breaths and softly said, “f*ck.”
He did not flinch and only said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to tell you the truth.”
“Of course. And I can take it.”
That session didn’t take more than 15 minutes.
But then it took another hour for him and his staff to get me an appointment for more tests tomorrow and an appointment with my next ocular oncologist early next week. I was grateful, especially since I’d so often heard about long waiting times to get specialist appointments in BC.
As I sat there waiting in the clinic, letting the unexpected news of a tumor sink in, it was as if a veil was being lifted. I thought of Carl Jung’s concept of the “shadow,” the hidden and often challenging aspects of our psyche that we prefer to avoid. In some ways, my journey with this medical diagnosis felt like a journey into my own shadow self.
No doubt I had resisted believing the diagnoses of the ophthalmologists. And then I resisted the idea of immediate treatment, rationalizing it as a desire to continue with our plans and dismissing the possible gravity of the situation. It was as if my conscious self was at odds with the shadow, which held the nasty truth I wasn’t willing to face. Isn’t it a common human tendency to deny or delay confronting what lies beneath the surface?
However, when the truth was laid bare before me, when the word “tumor” hung in the air, I realized it was time to acknowledge the shadow—what I had suspected was a real possibility all along. I can now embrace the truth calmly, no matter how challenging the road ahead might be.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.― Carl G Jung
So, here I go again, embracing my shadow as I navigate the uncertain path ahead. The future may still be murky, but I choose to face it with courage. And isn’t that an essential part of my heroine’s journey to becoming a whole and self-aware person?
The doctor’s last words were, “Bring a lunch to your appointment; this could take quite a few hours.” I appreciated the thoughtfulness.
I took the bus home, admiring the blue sky, and the reds, oranges, and yellows of autumn trees along the way. That helped ground me in the present.
That, and the loving embrace from my honey when I stepped into our cozy apartment and shared the bad news. We will get through whatever comes next together.
Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up, I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue making mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but to embrace it.― Kevyn Aucoin
Have you ever faced your shadow?