“Can you feel that? At two o’clock?”
Pamela, my np, was looking at the ceiling, her fingers on something she thought didn’t belong in the breast exam portion of my yearly physical. I tried to find the something, but didn’t quite.
“And the cancers in your family were?”
Stomach, malignant melanoma. I had a dysplastic nevus at 23 that was clearly on its way to basal cell, but it was whisked away, along with nevi and dermatofibromas in my 20s and 30s.
“When was your last mammogram?”
I demurred that I hadn’t had one yet.
Her eyes looked concerned, not scolding. “You know, you’re supposed to start having them at 40.”
“I figured I looked young for my age.” And the chuckles that usually pepper my medical visits returned, but not without a same day appt at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for a mammogram and ultrasound.
I moved a job pre-interview to midday, which left me only two hours to worry. It was the right plan. But in those two hours, I managed to run through the list of next actions:
Would I tell H? No, not until I knew what it was.
Would I tell anyone? Yes, I called a good girlfriend, who was away from her phone. Just as well, since I wouldn’t want her to worry.
What would I do if it was something? Take next actions immediately and schedule whatever needed to happen, at the soonest possible time. Call my wonderful neighbor who is a PA and worked at the Hutch to see if she could help with overnight childcare – she is such a pro at making things work, I actually trust her. And only if I could pull all of this together would I call H and let him know. H wouldn’t be able to do anything even if in the same room, and it might only be more upsetting and frustrating for him. He would be home soon anyway.
And so went the next few hours. I brought clothes to the thrift store. I took the backway to SCCA, listening to a wonderful oldskool rb/soul/funk cd a colleague sent that week. I noted how the SCCA decor was largely spring green. No obvious pink. I realized I didn’t want to be part of the pink ribbon (TM) movement. I was given a mask to keep me from spreading my nagging daycare cold, I waited in a consult room, alone. The only reading materials were a brochure for the Women’s Care floor and an info sheet on needle biopsies.
My screening was somewhat uneventful. Other than using a special towelette to remove any traces of antiperspirant, it was like any other waiting procedure, except as I sat in the little waiting room, I kept wondering how I could have missed this lump – and how I still couldn’t quite find it. I could tell the tech almost all about it; Left breast, 2 o’clock, edge of the areole, but all I felt was sore.
Then came the mammogram. The tech was surprised and a little excited that it was my first, and began swapping out lucite trays to fit – smaller seemed to be better. And then the pressing. Veal medallions, pressing the water out of a block of tofu. Not as bad as I expected, until they did the side views, and I wished I had remembered to take Advil in advance.
I didn’t get a chance to see the results; the tech just told me everything looked clear, but that we’d do an ultrasound exam just in case. The radiologist, Dr. Bang, used the same technique – a light palpation while looking at the ceiling. We looked at the screen together while he explained what it was we were seeing. We weren’t able to find a lump, though we may have found some tissue that caused the concern. And then I was clear to go.
It’s been some time since I felt that tired coming back from an appointment. I wrote a short mail to H, with a two sentence summary of my lump and medallions. The call in the middle of my night, in his Amsterdam morning, was caring and gentle, his voice holding mine as I whispered the details, the soft sound of our sleeping boy ebbing and flowing from across the hall.