Last week I found a lump in my left breast quite by accident as I was ardently scratching my armpit. It felt like a little garbanzo bean was hiding under there. I fingered it gingerly for a minute, then caught The Father Load’s attention. We were watching Dexter at the time, so he half looked at me and said, “What?” while distractedly shifting his eyes back over to the bloody crime scene and the waif-like Jennifer Carpenter. I scooted over, took his hand and placed it on the lump. Our eyes locked.
“Feel it?” I said.
“Uh huh,” came the reply. “You need to call the Dr. N in the morning.”
My heartbeat sped up. I don’t have any idea what happened in the rest of the episode. I’d switched over to auto pilot.
I remembered when Sunday over at Adventures in Extreme Parenthood blogged about her brush with breast cancer here and most recently here. When I read her posts I thought to myself, “Holy shit that was scary, and I’m so glad she’s cancer free,” but I never actually checked my own boobs. How stupid. Until now, I’ve relied solely on my gynecologist to check me out at my annual exam. Even though it’s fucking Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October and Kansas City’s fountains all turn shades of pink. I NEVER ACTUALLY CHECKED MY OWN BOOBS. MY…..OWN……BOOBS.
So Monday afternoon I went in for my first mammogram. As the tech manhandled me and manipulated my breasts this way and that, I looked up at the ceiling and pretended to be somewhere else. I felt naked, embarrassed and vulnerable. I started sweating, but I couldn’t move to put my hair in a ponytail. As the machine clamped down on my pale, veiny breast, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. In between pictures the tech asked me questions and made notes on her chart. “Is there a history of breast cancer in the family?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, and felt my throat tighten. “My maternal grandmother had a lumpectomy and radiation. My mother and her sister have had several scares and biopsies, but so far everything’s been benign.”
How did I get here? Me….in a hospital gown? Having a mammogram at age 34? No fucking way. I can’t deal with another bully right now. This one is invisible. It’s unfair. It’s secretive and sly, it snuck up on me just as I started feeling strong and brave.
After the mammogram, I had to have an ultrasound. The radiologist came in to look and said he wasn’t too concerned, but wanted to see me back in six months to monitor the lump and see if it changes at all. So we set up that appointment and I left, feeling somewhat better, but still anxious to meet with the doctor and get the official green light.
I saw Dr. N (the breast surgeon) today to go over the results from yesterday’s scans. I put on the lovely gown again and she began to examine me. She found the lump on the left side and we chatted and I started to relax a little. Then she moved over to the right breast. There was the slightest pause, the slowing of her hand, and the narrowing of her eyes. I heard the clock tick and my stomach gurgled. I knew before I knew. I knew suddenly that I also didn’t want to know.
She found a second, larger lump. On the right side.
“I’d like to get you scanned again if you have time,” she said. My stomach lurched like a roller coaster.
Lying sideways with the help of a wedge-shaped pillow, arm up over my head, and lube all over my chest, while the tech rams the probe into my pit and the side of my breast, which is now getting very tender. Dr. N joins us. After several minutes she goes to get the radiologist. Soon there are four of us in the room, but I’m not really there. Dr. N keeps one hand resting softly on my calf, as if to comfort me, but I’ve left my body and my thoughts are falling everywhere, like slow confetti, bumping into one another, criss-crossing. I’m furious with myself for my own stupidity, thinking I was somehow exempt from it, or that this could never happen to me.
A lot was said, but I was alone, my brain was not thinking thoughts and I don’t remember. I know they are scheduling an MRI. Dr. N said she thinks it may be just “very dense breast tissue,” but wants to rule out anything else. The MRI will be sometime within the next week. They are supposed to call me to schedule it.
I am numb. I am fluid. I am stupid. I am like a leaf fluttering to the ground. I am like air, empty and vast, careless. I pride myself on taking such good care of my body and focusing on my heath, but I have ignored this. I have been walking along unfettered and feeling ablaze like fire, finally taking control of my life.
But really, it was a farce. I have failed miserably at taking care of myself. In oh so many ways.