A Memory Trip Brought Me Down a Rabbit Hole

A Memory Trip Brought Me Down a Rabbit Hole

I went down a rabbit hole yesterday.

I suspect my husband does it all the time because he’s always coming up with obscure tidbits you’d only discover if you click, click, click, going deeper into topics that don’t have anything to do with what’s on your to-do.

A writer friend of mine named Mike asked me about blogging, and I sent him a link to the blog my family kept while we lived in Costa Rica.

We posted about everything. Gary shot crazy photos. There was one of a cellphone tower growing through the foyer of an apartment building like a palm tree. I wrote about losing our car keys in Nicaragua and the serviceman who wanted to use his hammer to unlock the door. Our daughter kept a video diary about surfing lessons and the iguana that got stuck in our toilet. Blogging was a fun way to capture our experiences.

When I sent that link, I couldn’t help revisiting all of those memories. I clicked on one image after another, rabbit-hole style. That’s when I saw the photo of a sunrise hike I took one morning with my friend Beth.

Beth had discovered the world’s largest labyrinth, which is tucked away in the jungle outside Tamarindo, a Costa Rican beach town. The two of us met there frequently to walk its winding paths, silently contemplating life’s big questions. Just beyond that labyrinth, towering mountains offered spectacular hikes and breathtaking views. One morning, we hired a guide to take us to the peak.

Howler monkeys looked at us from treetops as we started our climb, our guide carrying a machete in case of an unlikely, but not unprecedented, encounter with a jaguar, anteater, or venomous snake.

Then something weird happened.

My pulse raced, pounding in a way that felt like a heart attack. The sweat that suddenly coated my body felt gooey and thick. I wanted to rest, but I was embarrassed to admit it. Beth is an athlete, and she could have sprinted up that mountain without breaking a sweat. And our guide? He was a grandfather who rode his bike to meet us from a village over an hour away. “It’ll pass,” I told myself, and I pushed on.

What’s going on with me? I thought, wiping my face. I had played sports in high school, and I still made at least a half-hearted attempt to keep in shape.

Eventually, I had to give in to my discomfort. I figured the only thing more embarrassing than stopping to rest would be if I keeled over and the poor grandfather-guide had to haul my sorry ass down the mountain on his back. They went on without me while I enjoyed a mid-mountain view.

Something is wrong, my body told me. But my head wasn’t listening yet.

In Costa Rica, I was tired, but I chalked it up to the tropics. The heat there can be oppressive, and some aspects of life are demanding — like walking along dirt roads and giving up the creature comforts that Americans take for granted.

In Granada, Nicaragua, where we took a side trip, the market bulged with everything under the sun: live chickens, straw hats, cocoa beans, raw meat, eyeglasses … and mammograms.

My family had a $10,000 deductible on our health insurance policy. In the U.S. a mammogram would have required a $250 office visit to a doctor just to get a referral. And the mammogram? That price tag wasn’t available. I’d know how much it cost when I got the bill. So, I put it off.

I looked at those machines tucked into every corner like ice-cream shops, and I knew they’d be affordable. I should really get one, I thought. Instead, I vowed to make an appointment when we were back in the States.

I didn’t know then that a lump had sprung to life. And I wouldn’t know it until my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and sternum.

Sometimes I wonder if that hike was my warning shot, like when a dog nips at a kid who pulls his tail one time too many. Would my outcome have been different? Would I do things differently if I could go back?

When my friend asked about blogging, I dived down a rabbit hole. And that’s what I saw: A photo documentary of the day-to-day wonder my family miraculously experienced when, against all the odds, we managed to swap out the bonds of our lives for a wonderful adventure.

But I also saw a crystallized memory of a day that haunts me still, one that prompts lingering questions about cancer, a warning shot I missed, and a different story of what might have been.

Guanacaste Mountain Range in Santa Rosa, Costa Rica. (Photo by Nancy Brier)

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