Cooking With Myra: Live one day at a time

By Myra Starkey
Nov. 20, 2012 at 5:20 a.m.

Baked stuffed apples

Baked stuffed apples

The square tiles above my head were about 24 inches. The room was six tiles wide and 10 tiles long, making the space about 240 square feet.

I was lying down on a hospital gurney, thinking how short the moments are between normal and "we'll do all we can," between healthy and sick, between taking life for granted versus making the best of what time one has left. There is no middle ground.

These irreconcilable thoughts were spinning through my head, and I was praying, not using audible words but using those that are composed deep within a heart full of fear.

On Tuesday of last week, I listened to my voicemail and one message reminded me that I had a doctor appointment at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Funny, I did not remember making an appointment, but perhaps I had.

I realize that I have been somewhat preoccupied with mom's illness and death, my job, my dad, my kids and all the other things moms keep up with in their lives.

Several months ago, I had found a lump in my breast, and the doctor at that time had assured me that there was no problem, so I wiped the worry right out of my brain and continued on with life.

I survived breast cancer 12 years ago, and like one who has lived through a lightning strike, even distant thunder can cause concern.

I arrived early to see the oncologist. It helps to stay positive, remaining hopeful that the appointment will end with the reassurance that all is well.

There is a quiet peace in the comfortable waiting area. Many are in the middle of treatments wearing the tell-tale scarves that cover their bald heads.

Some of the patients are just like me, only there for a follow-up. Everyone in that club hopes and prays that they have conquered the cancer monster.

The young nurse called my name, and I left my friend, Janet, in the reception area to wait. I was weighed, measured, and the nurse asked me if I had been in a rush because my pulse was elevated in anticipation of my visit.

I disrobed and waited in the room for the doctor. This is the man who saved me from cancer all those years ago, and I am forever grateful to him for my life.

He is normally reassuring, but on that day, he seemed worried - or maybe I was just reading him wrong. Ever since I read a book on body language, I look for microexpressions on faces and his seemed to show anxiousness.

He explained that he needed an ultrasound to check on my previous masses because they had not gone away.

I was whisked to the back room and given an ultrasound, which confirmed their presence and that they had enlarged. Perhaps they were harmless cysts, only filled with water, or maybe they were a more sinister diagnosis of cancer, but I surely hoped we would know before the day was out.

I went back to the waiting area for at least an hour, where a nice nurse kept asking me if I was there alone or if there was someone to call. I finally left the area to find Janet and tell her I was delayed until I could have another procedure. She acted as though this type of thing happened all the time, but her brow knitted together and her lips flattened in a single line, both indicating worry.

I came back to the waiting area where I downed two Dr Peppers. I actually had quit drinking those a couple of years ago, knowing they were bad for my long-term health, only I wasn't too concerned about that at the moment. I think these gave me a sense of calm.

I visited with other ladies clad in robes, who were also waiting for mammograms, and quietly talked to one who was tearful, fearing a bad report.

I knew exactly how she felt. I tried to flip through a People magazine, but realized I did not care who looked best in the dress or what celebrities were dating each other this month. I only cared what was happening to me.

I felt sick at my stomach, and it was growling, not to mention full of butterflies and bees. The nurse finally called my name and asked that I go into the counseling room to sign some paperwork. "Why?" I queried. "Just standard stuff before having a procedure," she said as she showed me a table with about eight pages in a neat stack. Unfortunately, the words "right breast, malignant" jumped out like they were printed in bright red. I did not read it in any great detail. Somehow, the risks of complications at that point were the least of my worries. I asked her where to sign.

I waited again, the time passing so slowly. I was called and led into a dimly lit room, where I again put on a gown, laid on the table and began counting ceiling tiles.

Another doctor entered, a radiologist, who explained that first she would do a needle aspiration with the aid of the ultrasound machine and then a biopsy, if necessary.

I offered up several prayers, thinking that I was never really in control of my life from the beginning, and that if I had cancer again, I would live one day at a time - just like I do now.

So I closed my eyes, felt peace cover me and let her do her work. I tuned out everything but the hum of the computers in the room and the clinking of instruments.

The doctors were probably never as worried as me. Perhaps they see this type of thing every day. They hold lives in their hands and give it their best. Tears rolled down my cheeks as she said everything was OK.

"Are you sure?" I asked her. She answered yes and told me I could go get dressed before seeing my oncologist before I left.

I felt like I had aged five years in that span of time. My doctor assured me that all was well, and this time he was smiling. I guess I still fear the cancer monster since an encounter like this brings everything back to me just like it was yesterday. I am grateful and thankful that my normal life continues to be just that - normal.

I left Houston and celebrated life. Janet and I slurped java chip frappuccinos on the way home, realizing our hearts were much lighter than earlier in the day.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for life, for family, for friends and for a God who answers prayers but sends peace despite the storm.

I love apples at this time of year. Prepare individual stuffed apples for your Thanksgiving feast. These are easy to prepare and can be baking while you are eating your meal.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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