I’m driving on the highway at night. It’s a broad highway, at least five lanes on either side of the median and I’m heading to the airport after a visit to my family. Although the streetlights cast their orange glow on the pavement, I can’t see very well and realize I haven’t turned my headlights on. The car is unfamiliar, though, a rental, and as I search for the switch that turns the lights on, I lose control and the car skids sideways, across several lanes. Finally it flips over — a complete somersault front-to-back — but I manage to get it stopped on the shoulder of the road and I sit white-knuckled but unharmed in the driver’s seat.
We are on vacation, and though I can’t recall what happens in the actual dream, I wake up with an old Carpenter’s song trailing through my head:
I’m on the top of the world
Looking down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I’ve found
Ever since you’ve been around.
Your love’s put me at the top of the world.
I haven’t heard that song in probably 25 years and have no clue why it dropped into my brain that morning. True, I’d been feeling pretty good and was on vacation. I figured it was just a subliminal trigger that reflected my state of mind. And then, on the plane home, the song appeared again in the soundtrack to the in-flight movie, Shrek 4: The Final Chapter.
I am undergoing a scan during a follow-up exam and all seems to be going well until the very last minute of the scan, when the doc suddenly spots something suspicious where the original lump had been. A recurrence. As he begins to explain to me what it is and what treatment options I have, I curl into the fetal position and begin to moan.
And it is at that precise moment that my daughter comes to wake me to take her to the school bus stop.
Being an English major, steeped in the ways of theme and symbolism, I can usually fathom the meaning of my dreams, so we don’t have to call out the psychoanalysts just yet. The first dream alarmed me, but I quickly pinned down its meaning. There’s nothing like a journey with cancer to make you feel out of control, and to make very clear that we really don’t have much control over our lives, despite being in the driver’s seat. Rather than dwell in the fear left me by the dream, I choose to focus on its ending. Yes, the car skidded and flipped. But afterward, I got it stopped and was safe. Time now to venture back carefully onto the highway.
I have no clue where the Carpenter’s song came from after 25 years, but I took it as a sign of my mental and emotional state at that moment. On vacation. Relaxed and optimistic. Either I really was on top of the world or I’d developed the skill of premonition. A few things have changed since my cancer treatment. I now read faster, scanning phrases and sentences rather than parsing individual words. If I’ve also developed the art of premonition, perhaps these two phenomena are some weird manifestation of chemo brain.
The meaning of the third dream is patently obvious, and I suspect I’m not the only cancer patient who’s had dreams of recurrence. This is the sort of dream that can really rattle you, even though all the physical signs are normal. It occurred a few days after my 3-month check-up last summer. The results of the blood work and the physical exam were all good. How does one interpret a dream like this, as just a manifestation of lingering fear or a warning of things to come?
That’s the maddening thing about interpreting dreams. You don’t know if your interpretation is correct. The passage of time helps distinguish what is the result of fear and what is not, and I’m glad to say (with fingers – and toes – firmly crossed) that my recent round of exams, a year after that dream of recurrence, are reassuring: mammogram and breast MRI normal, pelvic ultrasound normal, blood tests normal and, except for one minuscule polyp, a clean colonoscopy. My bones are a little thin, which is not surprising given my genes, the chemotherapy, and those Neupogen injections, and the naturopath has suggested Vitamin K. But overall, my body tells me it’s in good health.
My mind, however, still struggles to recall what it’s like to believe I am healthy.