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Commentary: Chest Pains

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Patrick Shaffer is a 35-year-old divorced pastor who chronicles his personal journey to "Love Again," in his debut spiritual memoir, of the same title. In this exclusive three-part series, the author discusses the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional quest to open up to love again after divorce, sharing what many men don't say. I had been divorced for almost two years and it was one month before my 30th birthday. I woke up one morning feeling soreness in my chest with faint heart palpitations. I shrugged it off like men most often do, thinking maybe I had slept wrong and all I needed was to stretch, go about my day and I would be fine. As I entered the bathroom for my morning rituals, I saw bruising slightly above my left breast. Again, I shrugged it off thinking it was some sleeping anomaly and it would go away. I headed out the door for work; I arrived and got busy working. After a couple of hours I had forgotten about it until a poignant reminder happened. As I sat at my desk I felt the palpitations increase in ferocity and frequency, I was shocked to feel my heart jump inside my chest. I opened my jacket and used my hand to touch my chest, trying to assure myself into calmness. What I discovered was a tender lump that had grown since the morning. I scurried to the bathroom, concerned and in pain, I opened my shirt and looked in the mirror to discover that the lump was worst than I imagined. It was large and discolored; I came to the conclusion that this wasn't something that would go away on its own. I went into my boss's office, who also happened to be a childhood friend and informed him of the situation. Then, I left to go see my doctor. I sat anxiously in the waiting room very out of sorts; my vocation in the pastorate usually has me on the other end of this equation.  My life's work is caregiving, I am the one who visits the sick and sits with members who need comfort and care in situations like these. This time I was the one who was uncertain, afraid and confused as to what I would find out about my own health. After the examination and an x-ray, the doctor concluded it was a mass that had to be removed very soon. In his words "we will remove the tissue and have it biopsied to know whether it is benign or cancerous." Looking at him with shock and I quietly asked, "CANCER?" I returned home that night and I immediately felt how empty my house was, the aloneness was profound. My ex-wife and I had not talked at all since our divorce was finalized. I thought of her often, more often than I wanted to. We had life plans, but after the divorce and now with the threat of cancer at 30, life seemed like it was so short and unfinished for me. And now I was staring my own mortality in the face, contemplating dying -- and dying alone. Divorce left me a half-domesticated, part husband and wholly single, a 30-year-old guy living alone for the first time in his life and now sick and scared. My instincts were to call her. Her voice had been comforting. I loved her voice. But there was too much pain between us and I was not her responsibility anymore. Men don't heal themselves in the same place we hurt ourselves, so going back for comfort was not an option. In her defense, she did not divorce me, I divorced her. She did not want to divorce, truthfully neither did I, but I loved her and had stopped believing that we could ever be happy together. As a man, we protect what we love even if that means sometimes disappointing who we love in the process. I wanted her to be happy, she was young, smart, and beautiful and I knew that she would find someone to share all the moments we talked about but never had with each other. At this point it seemed like the right thing to do, I didn't know what was about to happen and I didn't want her to live the rest of her life a grieving widow. But I selfishly needed her and she wasn't there. If you talk to us about what happened I would say she left me, she would say I pushed her away and time has told us that we are both right.  The day of the surgery, I said goodbye to my parents while I successfully held back tears.  Like a little boy, I was so scared that I didn't want to leave them, I didn't want them to leave me. As they wheeled me into the operating room, it was quiet and dense. I didn't know what was going to happen. I lay on the operating table, knowing I had hidden what I felt from those around me, I felt guilty, thinking: did I say goodbye to everyone I should have? Do they know that I love them? Will I ever see them again? I quickly concluded that in my own way I was caring for them, I guess. For them to know what was going on inside me would have no doubt added to their anxiety, so I internalized the idea that I was in some way grieving my own death. Before the anesthesiologist put me under, I remember looking at the clock on the wall to my right, it was moving as clocks do and I thought that my time was in God's hands, and I felt peaceful. As my eyes closed, I drifted to a place I cannot remember but my last conscious thought was: would I ever get a chance to love again?
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