By Karen Swank
I am at my dreaded Annual Female Visit, talking to the nicest doctor I’ve ever known. His voice is gentle and his smile is real, and he is not in a hurry at all. He talks to me like one ordinary person to another, somehow making it all okay. What you have to know here is that it’s not easy at all to make it all okay with me; my early experiences on this front were fairly dreadful, and all these years later I still recall the time I almost passed out from fear and general upset as I waited for another exam like this one.
He scans my charts and notes the Very Important Thing every medical professional immediately spots there: my round with Melanoma, some six (or is it seven now?) years back. Though I have already been to my annual skin check with the dermatologist, he gives me a good once over, his voice wry as he notes that even dermatologists get “shy” sometimes about looking Absolutely Everywhere. I don’t know any other person who could pull this off so gracefully, and I am grateful.
We both know that I went a number of years without any doctor visits at all after I got clear of the Melanoma. It wasn’t me hiding so much as the simple fact that I had no insurance and my income during that time barely kept us afloat – I couldn’t see choosing a doctor visit when I felt well, at the risk of getting my power shut off or not having enough gas money to get to work. When I got insurance and a more regular paycheck, I returned directly to even the most dreaded of recommended visits, and I am eternally grateful to Dr. West in this: he was pretty much the only one of all the doctors who didn’t chastise me upon my return for my years of absence.
I tell him again how grateful I am for my insurance. It’s nice to have the freedom to schedule appointments, and know they won’t be followed later by calls from collection agents. My job with the City is a huge blessing in a number of ways, but especially the big basket of comforts wrapped up in that simple word: benefits. He is sitting on the counter now, talking to me and nodding sagely. “You must never quit this job,” he says, reminding me that no insurance company outside of a group package like this will ever touch me again, with the word cancer in my files.
I know the many voices that would join the chorus on that reminder. It’s true that I am basically uninsurable in many settings. And I know a number of people whose lives and choices are dictated by realities like this one…people who already have their futures planned out by the things they must do or must never do, in order to keep their safety mechanisms in place.
Still, I can’t help but recall that I had no insurance when I had cancer. I had no backup plan or safety mechanisms whatsoever. No husband to pay the bills if I could not. No rich relative to bail me out of a tight spot. What I had when I had cancer was so much bigger, so much better than all of that: my God supplied all my needs. The end result of that: I came through in the end without cancer, and without overwhelming debt.
I was treated by my local doctor, a general practitioner, in my tiny local hospital, which many deem nothing more than a “band-aid station.” My dermatologist, who I didn’t meet till after cancer was long past, studies my records and studies my body, shaking her head in awe at the precision and detail of what he wrote, and the artistry and perfection of his surgical technique. She asks me again, “You didn’t go to a University hospital for this?” I smile and shake my head, filled with wonder once more at the way I was carried so gently through that valley.
I thought of all of these things this week, as I filled out an email survey from my sister. The question was something like, “How do you see your life ten years from how?” I smiled, filled with the wild yearning that has pulsed through me this past year amidst my conversation with God about what’s next. I don’t know the answer to that question, except in the most vague of terms. Radically different from here and now.
My job at the City is the perfect solution for this segment of my life, and He is using it greatly to mold and shape me. I work with wonderful people, I learn about myself daily, and for now, the way He supplies many of my needs is that beautiful benefits package. For today, I am at much peace with where I am, and I wake filled with joy and gratitude.
But my health insurance and all the other niceties are not my purpose in life. They do not hold my feet to a particular path. They never direct my steps, and they certainly don’t stir the fire in my heart. The what’s next of the calling on my heart…that’s what drives me. I don’t know its parameters, and that’s part of the beauty of this dance. I hear it, I feel its draw, and I am intoxicated. No everyday safety mechanism can hold me back from where I am bound (oh, won’t it be fun when I finally know where that is?!)
For today, I seek to bloom where I am planted. For tomorrow…I hear the wind blowing, and rest in the happy certainty that when the time is right, Christ will carry me to my next destination, whether it’s very near or very far.
Choose this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
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Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.