Tomorrow’s another birthday, likely to be spent in a state of moderate terror triggered by a single expression caught on the face of an ultrasound technician yesterday.

Normally, I like my birthday. It was always the last or second-last day of school, which meant it came with a built-in sense of joy and release for all participants but not quite too late in the year to secure an adequate number of guests for a party. As the possibility of partying became occluded with adult issues, like sick elders, kids’ graduations, or transitions like moving and traveling, I salvaged that day as Mine, All Mine–one day a year to spend as it pleases me and no one else. On the whole, people respond favorably to that claim–after all, who doesn’t need at least one day a year to please oneself?

Thus the past couple of dozen personal anniversaries have compensated for lack of festivity by being Splendidly Useful, days at whose ends I am once again on the right side of that adage, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Along with a generous snort of a precious liqueur like Mangalore or Ginger of the Indies at the close of My Day, I take a deep breath of courage for the next year, grateful for another chance to become who I ought to be. The Dutch housekeeper in me is mollified once more. Birthdays have become worth-days.

The last day of my sixty-third year could be an ugly-wugly one. It could, for that matter, be the last one. There lies my life, waiting to be Examined by the ultrasound of my intuition, blinking back tears of dread as it senses the look on my face while I wield the new and improved version of that instrument.

Last year’s cancer tinkered with my intuition machinery, showing me many more layers of knowing than I had guessed existed in the human psyche. What a shock to realise that the organism already knows everything! You are your own Ouija Board–ask only the questions whose answers you can face.

Maybe I mis-read the expression on the face of that ultrasound technician. On the other hand, she didn’t respond to my question about whether she was looking at the pancreas (Pancreatic cancer, I gather, is almost as quick a final solution as a firing squad). And then she decided to “do” the kidneys.

Oh, scheize…. The kids start howling the minute she asks me to turn onto one side. The pain is only a faint echo of what they endured during their ugly time, the years of domestic terror when Rescue Remedy must never be out of reach. That unique pain would kick me in the back so hard, I’d have to pull over, administer the RR, and just wait and breathe until my vision was no longer red-limned and the ears no longer crackled like a forest fire.

Engraved especially deep and red in memory is a night when I found myself driving frantically out to our home in the woods to rescue my ten-year-old. In those days I had a cellphone, which had rung in the middle of a rare occasion–dinner with a friend. “Come get your effing brat!” snarled the voice I’d married. “I’ve put her on the road with her effing toys!” Somehow the child had aroused the irrational in him and he was punishing her by dumping her and her equivalent of a security blanket on our unlit street in the forested village where we had chosen executive living on one of its half-acre lots. Anything could happen to her there, most of it bad. Instantly abandoning the idea of dinner, I persuaded my friend to come along for protection–in a previous incident, my husband had disabled my car, forcing the child and me to hide out with neighbors until the police arrived. He had a gun, you see. Several of them. And it was his habit to honor the laws about firearms more by breach than observance.

Small wonder the kidneys screamed as the adrenaline hit. My friend gaped as I crumpled behind the wheel and slewed the car to a stop. I gave him the wheel and my kidneys the RR. We completed that mission, successfully transporting a tear-stained little girl to safety.

Kidneys, I was coming to understand, are the seat of fear. And fear, if it becomes as big a part of a patient’s weltanschauung as it then was of mine, is fibromyalgia-genic. In my several studies of fibromyalgia (FM), I discovered that the element all the patients I interviewed had in common was a triggering event involving adrenaline, the body’s response to fight-or-flight situations. Most had had years and years of fight-or-flight life before the triggering event knocked them into FM. I noticed–and still notice–that my own organism habitually and instantly responds to fearsome situations with adrenaline, kidney pain and, if the fearsomeness continues, with renewed FMS symptoms.

Once a crisis junkie, always a crisis junkie, it seems. The organism has developed habits almost impossible to break. This goes a long way to explaining why, as an excellent naturopath friend once mused, “I can cure chronic fatigue, but not fibromyalgia.”

My theory of causation of FM became simply this: adrenaline poisoning–or at least adrenaline habituation. Damned hard on the kidneys, no doubt.

Might fear not also be carcinogenic, slyly suggests my new and improved intuition? If a couple of decades of second-hand smoke, a few years of exposure to asbestos’ “fairy dust”, or fifteen minutes at Fukushima can start cancer, why not a decade of domestic terror?

It can’t be easy for the ultrasound techs. Every patient wants to know the answer to the burning question right away: Do I have cancer again? And which organ is under the gun this time? Or–heaven forbid–organs?

After all, if somebody somewhere down the line didn’t suspect more cancer, why send me on a ferry trip all the way to this dinky hospital for an ultrasound?

There’s a sign on the wall begging patients not to ask the techs for results but to wait for the Word from their doctors. I confine myself to asking when results will arrive at the desk of one of my docs. Well, the specialist is in Turkey for the summer and my sweet young familyl doctor, when I asked her what she was telling those of her patients concerned about radiation exposure nowadays, said, “What radiation?”

A week. A week in which to worry, or to train myself not to worry. A week in which I’ll enter a new year, willy nilly, via a birthday that, at best, is not a pretty site [sic].

Any worth-day should involve the unwrapping of presents, however, and here we come to the Good and the Bad. In the interests of Feeling Useful, which is a healthy thing, it seems I have a new toy to share with you. A tool to help us live the Examined Life. Here goes.

There are lists online of the ten best foods and the ten worst foods wth respect to cancer. Now of course food alone does not determine whether cancer happens. The point is, food is a factor you can more or less control, unlike stuff in the air, water, earth and politics of the planet. This tool measures my level of control.

Let’s look at the ten worst foods first, because when people are asked whether they want to hear the good news of the bad news first, bad news always wins. Give yourself minus one point if you seldom ingest each category, minus two points if you sometimes eat this stuff, or minus three points if you need a fix of the stuff every day. If you never eat it, award yourself a zero. The biggest score you can get is -30.
These are the baddies:
1. charred food
2. red meat
3. sugar
4. salted, smoked, and pickled foods
5. sodas or soft drinks
6. french fries or fried chips
7. food additives, like aspertame
8. alcohol > 2 drinks/day
9. baked goods
10. farmed fish

My score is -9. A year ago it would have been in the minus-12-to-14 range. But we’re not finished scoring. This time, give yourself plus one for sometimes eaten, two points for often eaten, or three for near-daily or more. The best possible score is 30.

Here are the goodies:
1. cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli, and darkly colored veggies like spinach, romaine, beets, red cabbage
2. pink-colored foods like shrimp, salmon, and certain veggies for the astaxanthin
3. artichokes (salvestrol)
4. grapes or red wine (resveratrol)
5. legumes like peas, beans, lentils (saponins and protease inhibitors)
6.berries, especially blueberries (ellagic acid and anthocyanosides)
7. flaxseed (alpha-linoleic acid)
8. garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, or chives (allicin)
9. green tea (catechins)
10 tomatoes (lycopene)

My score is 20. Last year it might have been about 15. So, I’m improving. Yet, subtract the baddies score from the goodies and the answer is, well, at least positive–6. Now all I have to do is remind myself that I can raise the score 24 points by changing what I eat, thereby giving this theory of cancer-preventing foods a good run. Certainly I’ll be healthier, little doubt of that.

Pretty good Worth Day after all. My cake is going to be salmon-and-veggies quiche with tiny little baked beets for decoration! Libations of cab sauvignon with green-tea chasers all around! Eat hearty, everyone!

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