There are some words you never want to hear.
“You have a small lump on your left breast,” said while your gynecologist is feeling you up, are among them.
|I probably don’t do it every month,
precisely, but I try.
I handle the words rationally and maturely by deciding I’m going to die of breast cancer before my 29th birthday. (Which is a week away, at the time of this announcement.)
The doctor is much more positive about it. “It doesn’t feel suspicious,” she says, “but we’ll set you up with an ultrasound.” And she goes on to continue the conversation that we’d been having before the appearance of The Lump.
But I haven’t caught up with her. I’m still stuck on The Lump. Isn’t a lump, by its very nature, suspicious? (At this point, Rational Me is tsking in the back of my mind, very softly repeating the characteristics of suspicious lumps, but unwilling to force the issue until I’ve had my mini internal breakdown.) How could I not have felt it when I did my own exam a few weeks before? (I could swear it wasn’t there.)
I go through the rest of the appointment in a half-daze.
At the end of it, the nurse tells me “We’ll schedule the appointment—it probably won’t be today—and we’ll call you.”
It probably won’t be today, I think. I have a Lump. And you’re telling me you probably won’t schedule the appointment today?
Before I have the wherewithal to protest, I’m at the checkout station. The nice lady behind the counter (bless her) takes one look at the papers I hand over and says “We’ll see if we can get this scheduled for you before you leave,” then runs off to find the scheduler.
I’m called to another office and confirm that yes, I want the first available appointment.
That’s Monday at 8:30. It’s Friday afternoon. I have two days to wait.
I get out of the building and head to my car. The wind seeps under my sunglasses and makes my eyes water. In the car, I have to clean off my running eyeliner.
That evening, I tell Matt what’s up. And I’m all right. Until he hugs me. That’s when I give one of those embarrassing little hiccup sobs. And I blink like crazy trying to hold back the tears. But it doesn’t work.
48 hours have never been so long.
I know the statistics. I’m under 30 (though just barely), which is in my favor. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family. And approximately 80% of lumps are benign.
But, whispers that little voice in the back of my head, the one that shares chromosome pairs with my Inner Critic, there’s always that 20%.And you’ve had two relatives die of two different cancers in the last three years. How’s luck working for your family?
I hate that little voice.
I wish I could murder it.
By Sunday evening, I’m alternating between being numb to the world and feeling like I could throw up.
I drink 7-Up and cuddle with Matt and the cats and binge on Daria and try to keep myself from poking at The Lump. (I’m surprised I haven’t bruised myself with all the poking and prodding I’ve done. Trying to assure myself that it’s still soft and mobile not hard and fixed.)
Sunday night (or, really, Monday morning), I fall asleep surprisingly quickly. (All the worrying and trying-not-to-worry is exhausting.) I wake up once, at 3 a.m., and then fall back asleep to dream of the Weeping Angels and the Doctor.
|I think there was something to this dream. Haven’t figured it out yet.
The two of us are just about to head back into the angel infested mansion to do something incredibly stupid and brave and I give the Doctor a hug and say, “You know you’re loved, right?”
I wake up at that moment.
Two minutes later, my alarm goes off. (It’s the Doctor Who theme, incidentally.)
It’s 6 a.m.
We get to the Breast Center ten minutes after 8:00. Check in is speedy and they’ve got me gowned (I put it on backwards at first; that’s what happens when your gynecologist has you wear it with the opening to the back) and sitting in a back waiting room by 9:00.
The nurse comes to talk to me soon after, confirming that due to my age they’re going to do an ultrasound rather than a mammogram and she moves me to the appropriate waiting room.
I don’t know how long I wait. I jerk myself awake more than once before the tech, a woman probably not a lot older than me, comes to take me back for the ultrasound.
She asks me how I am and I answer honestly, “I’ve had better days.”
|Breast ultrasound showing a small cyst
(via Wiki Commons)
She’s confident and reassuring and on feeling The Lump, immediately says, “That feels like a cyst, but we’ll make sure.”
I’ve had ultrasounds on my heart and carotid before, so I know what to expect.
She finds a cyst on my left breast. It’s not The Lump. It’s not even palpable. Perfectly normal. The lump, she says, as she moves the ultrasound wand, is a fat lobule. Sometimes they become “trapped” and you can feel them.
(I’ve been stressing myself out over fat. How ironic.)
On the right breast, she finds a couple of cysts—“a little family”—and nothing else.
All perfectly normal, she assures, as I fight to wipe off the gel (it’s making the gown stick to me). But the radiologist will take a look at the scans and then she’ll be back with the final word.
I’m not sure how long I sit in the fourth and final waiting room. But it’s long enough that I start to get antsy and that little voice in the back of my head wonders if something showed suspicious on the films.
I tell it to shut up and concentrate on the table-top fountain, watching the water catch and stream off each copper leaf and pool on the rocks at the bottom.
And then there she is, with the Radiologist’s “okay.”
I don’t need any follow up.
I’m informed that if I do notice anything in future self exams or have any problems (presumably with the cysts), I can call them and come in instead of having to go through my gynecologist. But other than that, they’ll expect me back for a baseline mammogram at 35.
In the waiting room, I tell Matt, practically deadpan, “it’s fat,” and he gives me a hug and says “Let’s go get coffee.”
Outside, the day looks brighter and greener and, for the first time in two days, I don’t feel like I have some carnivorous little creature devouring the lining of my stomach.
You know, as a writer, I think it’s important to have new experiences so that you can better capture them in words. I’ll even purposefully put myself in the path of experiences I think may be less than pleasurable (though not particularly harmful).
But there are some experiences I could definitely do without.