42, according to the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, is the secret of life, the universe, of everything. However, having recently slid through that particular birthday, 42 has yet to impart any secrets to me.
Middle-age has not come with its own guide to this particular galaxy.
For example, I recently decided to try to be an adult woman and take better care of her face. So, I bought some lotion for overnight use, with some fancy magic in it that is supposed to renew skin and prevent aging related calamities. It came in a little purple pot, and looked suspiciously like those "cremes" my grandmothers used to use. Diligently, I washed my face each night and spread the potion all over.
My face started to peel off. Literally. I got big, scaly patches on my cheeks, my eyelids looked like lizard skin, and my forehead flaked. "Ok," I thought, "Maybe this is the renewal process. You know, getting rid of the built up dead skin or something."
I broke out in a rash on my neck. My face began getting angry red and inflamed. Fearing I might lose all my epidermis and end up looking like Mother Bates from Psycho, I discontinued use. Apparently, I am meant to age more naturally.
Yet another middle-age highlight: My formerly superhuman, iron clad stomach has now given up the title. For reasons that cannot be explained by logic alone, I have begun producing more bile than is strictly necessary for digestion, resulting in various levels of gastrointestinal distress not fixable by Tums and Pepto alone. I now take a pill prescribed by a doctor, and hoping that I'm not deluding myself in thinking this is perhaps, temporary.
Oh yea, now I have "a doctor." Like a real, primary care physician, who expects to have an ongoing relationship with you, and does things like order routine tests to check out your health and wellness. Including letting you know that even though your ob/gyn said you didn't need a mammogram until 45, she really thinks women should get them earlier, and ordered one for me.
So I went, thinking "ok, we'll get it out of the way, and be done." Until the test results on the online portal said all was not well, and I would need more tests, this time at a specialty center. Oh, and I have "dense breasts," which means they won't be quite so saggy in my future old-ladyhood, should I make it that far, but also that they make mammograms harder to read.
So I went to the breast health center, where I received another mammogram, administered by two techs applying apple-cider-press levels of pressure to my lady bits. They then conferred and pointed at things on their monitors while I stood there and wondered what the circle on the displayed screen meant. They sent me to wait in a special room with two other women decades older than me, lost in their own thoughts. Which I understood, because my thoughts ran to all the what-ifs; chemo, radiation, talking to my family, and the people I know who have recently gone through all this.
They called me back for an ultrasound, where the tech dug in with the wand, then ran out of the room saying "the radiologist should see this spot live."
I ruminated on that word (and the speed with which the tech exited) with my breast hanging out of my hospital gown, wondering if this is when we were going to say goodbye to each other. Rightie, I hardly knew ye.
The radiologist finally came in, and she repeated the exam. She showed me the concern on the screen, a dark mass with tiny triplets underneath, like a hen sitting on her eggs. "Its fluid filled and not solid, so its a cyst," she said. "I'm 98% sure this is not cancer."
When the radiologist is 98% sure its not cancer, the protocol is exams every six months to monitor the chicken coop. After two years, they call it "stable" and you are in the clear. She also talked to me about monthly breast exams (which I have been doing since forever, although not really knowing what a normal breast should feel like?) I asked if this is something I should have found but didn't. "No," she said, "They are soft because of the fluid." I held back from asking "then why are you telling me about breast exams??!!" because I know that this is good practice, albeit timing is everything. I will also tell you that I have been poking around in there ever since this second set of tests, and I STILL can't find the darn thing. However, I still have a breast to poke at, so that's good.
Exactly none of this was in the Women's Guide to Middle Age. Again, not that there's a guide.
Maybe I should write one, although I am clearly not yet qualified to do so. I would include a chapter on the continual war against facial hair. If at 60 I'm making a living in a sideshow, don't say I didn't warn you.
Don't Panic! should definitely be on the cover... which is, of course, the first helpful or intelligible thing anyone's said to me all day.