The now-familiar phone number came up on the screen in my car while I was stuck in downtown Cleveland traffic, interrupting my rapturous moments as I was playing air guitar with Joe Walsh on “Hotel California.”
It was a usual Wednesday morning and I was on my way to record the weekly television show that I co-host, “Retirement Solutions” with Bill Smith. All the “road closed” and “detour” signs had my lane stopped long enough to play air drums on “Hotel California” the first time I played it.
“Do you really want to find out now, in the middle of orange barrels and frustrated morning commuters laying on their horns, if your cancer is back?” I asked myself.
Was it a sign that the phone call was coming at this exact time, this exact place, during my favorite song and right after the guitar does that little “doink” thing twice during the dual guitar solo which, to me, are the two sweetest sounds in all of music?
To be fair, Creedence Clearwater Revival has very cool guitar in the song “Green River,” from 1:10 to 1:30 in, and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7 in A Major” can make me cry. However, nothing beats “Hotel California” for musical genius, beginning to end.
But back to the signs. I had been getting a lot of signs.
The day before, I had driven to Southwoods Imaging in Boardman for a breast MRI. I know that’s a long way to travel from Westfield Center, but a person very close to me had suggested I use them rather than the Cleveland Clinic.
“Five thousand dollars is a lot to pay for an MRI,” he said. “I routinely request MRIs for my patients and they don’t cost anywhere near that much.”
“I am called a ‘self-pay’ by the clinic since they don’t accept my insurance. Truthfully, though, I can’t afford that kind of money right now so I probably won’t even get one done,” I said, sadly. My doctor had just ordered one to see what the suspicious lumps were that showed up in my 3D mammogram and I had been informed that I would have to pay the $5,000 up front.
That’s when he told me about Southwoods and that people can and should shop around for medical procedures. The best part was that Southwoods was only going to charge me $850 for everything, which included reading the images. In the past, I have been charged about another $250 just for the radiologist to read them.
“I’m in!” I exclaimed and a week later, I was walking in for my bargain MRI.
With the huge difference in price, I was somewhat fearful that I would be walking into someone’s garage and a Doogie Howser lookalike, wearing a lab coat he found at Goodwill, would ask me to take my shirt off and lie face down on an ironing board while he laid on the floor under me wearing a miner’s hat and taking pictures with an old Polaroid.
Much to my relief, the facility was lovely. Beautifully decorated, delicious coffee and a staff that was both welcoming and reassuring.
My radiology technologist, who was a lovely woman and in no way looked like Doogie Howser, gave me a gown and pants and told me I could change in any of the dressing rooms, all of which were open.
As I finished changing into my Karate Kid outfit, I noticed a floral print on the wall. Nothing unusual about that, right? A pretty and calming picture for people to look at before they know whether life as they know it is one step closer to changing. However, a word on the picture could not have been more shocking to me and actually sent chills up my spine.
The word was “Tamara.”
Tamara was my mother’s name. She passed away from congestive heart failure in 2013 and since my initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, I have always wished I could just talk to her and hear her reassuring voice call me her “little sweetheart” one more time.
Just the year before, at my one-year checkup, I got the all-clear sign and I sat in my car and cried tears of relief, gratitude, joy and yet there was a profound sadness that I couldn’t share the news with my mom.
But when I randomly walked into that room, in that medical facility instead of the Cleveland Clinic and saw my mother’s very unusual name, I knew it was a sign that everything was going to be all right and not just because it was a real MRI machine instead of an ironing board and a Polaroid.
When I left Southwoods about an hour later, I headed for a Mediterranean restaurant that serves one of the best salads I have ever had. As I approached Ghossain’s from the back, a giant bird was flying right at me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had seen one circle me as I jet skied down the Sandusky River and I witnessed another as it scooped up a fish in Alaska, but here was a bald eagle flying right toward the front of my car in a parking lot in Canfield, Ohio!
A number of years ago, a friend told me that Native Americans believe that an unusual encounter with a wild animal has a specific meaning when, out of nowhere, a hawk had swooped over the hood of my car as we talked.
She said the hawk symbolized the ability to use your intuition and higher vision to make important decisions about moving forward. At the time, I was attempting to end a very abusive relationship, so could the hawk have been a sign? As if to drive home the point, no pun intended, a week later, a hawk flew next to my car on a Medina County back road, keeping pace with me for a quarter of a mile. I even had one sitting in a tree in my backyard, seemingly staring at me.
I ended the toxic relationship, thankfully he moved out of state and I have never looked back.
Now, here was a bald eagle, our national bird and one sacred to Native Americans, coming right at me in a parking lot in Canfield. What, oh what, could this very special encounter mean?
Except it wasn’t a bald eagle. It was a crow, a very large crow, with a piece of white bread in his mouth.
Alone, I laughed out loud and thought how funny Tamara would find it, too.
And so, I was thinking of Tamara and cancer and signs and things that aren’t what you think they are as I listened to the phone ring that Wednesday morning during my most favorite song ever.
I answered it with great trepidation.
“Hello. This is Robin.”
“Robin, I am a nurse in Dr. Dawson’s office and she asked me to call you. She got the results of your MRI from yesterday.”
My unease heightening, I responded with a profound “Okayyyyy.”
“It was negative, I am happy to tell you. You don’t have to worry about anything. Just come and see us again in six months.”
NEGATIVE! NEGATIVE! Never had that word been so positive. I hung up the phone and once again started to cry. I cried tears of thankfulness for all the people who had been praying for me, tears of gratitude for God’s grace and mercy and tears of joy for a mother’s lovethat has never left me. Not in a changing room in Boardman, nor standstill rush hour traffic in Cleveland.
A block later, I found a primo parking spot and where a pigeon pooped on my hood. I haven’t looked into what that sign means, nor will I. I’m going to keep riding this high and playing air guitar with Joe Walsh as long as I can.