It’s a hard time of year in New England. It’s not the snow, but the gray. On blue sky afternoons, sun glittering through the woods onto a heavy mat of snow traced over by wild tracks, I have no quarrel with winter. But February is not mostly like that. My biology students, required to go outside for 30 minutes a week and observe the world, are sulkily belligerent, pouting and telling me, “Nothing is alive out there. Everything’s dead. And cold.” Quite untrue of course, except the cold part.
Daylight is slowly advancing into both the morning and the evening though, which seems, sometimes, the only hopeful sign. Still, it’s too dark for me to run outside before work, and too dark after, so I am relegated to a basement treadmill most of the week. It’s boring, and I realized the other day that my late winter craving for color has gotten significantly out of hand. My outfits have grown progressively more outrageous:
This was clear to me as I plodded along on the treadmill, observing my reflection in its shiny display screen, and that of my iPhone, streaming podcasts to make me feel less imprisoned and lonely. I enjoy my reflection generally, taking a narcissistic joy in watching myself bound along. But over the last couple weeks, there has also been a new, subtle something there. A rounded shadow on my throat, not noticeable to anyone but me. I had registered its presence even before my dentist felt something under my jaw and sent me to an oral surgeon, who, with long, elegant fingers, pressed against it and said it was my thyroid. My butterfly shaped thyroid had grown too big, distorting its upper wings until they brushed up against the insides of my jawbone. The right kind of dark butterfly for this time of year anyway.
The doctor then began a vague, information free speech about thyroids that I mostly ignored as my brain rifled through the actual possibilities: usually benign, often subclinical, the approachable word “adenoma” rather than the malignant and blithely destructive carcinoma. The odds are heavily in my favor, so I am not terribly concerned. But I am now down low in the long trough between detection and diagnosis, waiting for an appointment with another doctor. I am not even middle aged, and this does not really even rise to the level of a “health scare,” but as I drove home bearing the news of something not quite right in me, I realized that there is a long chapter of my life ahead where I cannot any longer expect everything to be perfectly fine. That there is ever more likely to be news coming home from these appointments. If I needed any further reminder of why I doggedly adhere to my running schedule, I don’t anymore. Another afternoon, another treadmill run, to quiet my mind and remind my body what it means to stay alive.