The process of aging is a strange thing. You go along blithely, knowing that each year you’re getting older but feeling immortal nonetheless. You turn 40, 50, and subtly things change. One day you start getting hot flashes – you take hormones and forget about it. Then you’re at the dollar store buying reading glasses so you can see small print. You get a pill from the doctor to take care of that acid reflux in the morning. And if you aren’t on blood pressure or cholesterol medicine, your friends are. It’s only in hindsight that you start adding things up, and then you think, “This sucks.”
But it’s turning 60 that really starts the train moving. Friends you still picture at 18 or 25 or 30, aren’t. People you used to laugh and drink with half the night start talking about their heart stints and knee replacements and won’t stay out past ten. The guy who partied too hard and got in fights on Saturday night, who should have died behind the wheel more than once, dies of cancer instead. And then one of your dearest friends in the world, who sat next to you in Sister Mary Mark’s first-grade class, dies of complications from ovarian cancer, and part of what you feel is the Sixties punching you in the nose and saying, “Pay attention, fool!” Which you sort of do. But you sort of don’t.
I went for my annual physical last month. Had to. They wouldn’t refill my prescriptions anymore. I was a little wary, as my doctor of 15 years moved on and left me in the hands of someone who could pass for 24. (She’s 34. I asked.) There were times during the physical when the new doctor just sat there studying my medical history, looking worried and saying nothing. My old doctor used to do that too, so I figured the new one knew what she was doing. I know she’s thorough, because she signed me up for more tests.
Which is what led to the discovery of two nodules in my neck, one on the thyroid gland and one on the parotid gland. They call them nodules because the word “mass” tends to alarm people, but if you ask them what a nodule is, they say, “Well, it’s a mass.” The next step, of course, is any number of tests and scans, because God forbid you should skip one and jump ahead to the place you know you’re headed anyway, The Biopsy, where they plunge a needle into your neck a lot deeper than the so-called numbing stuff goes and you end up looking like someone jammed a golf ball down your ear canal. Excuse me, that was Biopsy #1. #2 is coming up.