While in the shower doing my ‘when I remember to do it’ breast exam I find it: the lump I never thought would pop up onto or into my upper body. Frigid blood drains from my brain and rushes down to my bunions. I stand still, water dripping off my belly, before I think to check again to make sure I didn’t screw up. After all, I could have grabbed old fatty tissue languishing like Lana Turner on the Rivera of my boob.
So I soap up the second time more than I need to, and with two fingers working in tandem, slide and thump defiantly over the area in question. There it is. Just when I thought I might someday wear a bathing suit again.
I fly out of the shower like I’m on the Concorde. Soapy water soaks into the new carpet while I grab the phone, dial my gynecologist and stutter out my need for an appointment. “Immediately, if not sooner,” I say, and why.
I manage to get myself dressed, into the car and over the causeway to my favorite doctor (except when she puts my feet in the stirrups). She is a delightful woman, sunbeam bright and sweet as can be. She likes to tell me jokes so I won’t be uncomfortable while spread eagle in one of a woman’s most vulnerable positions.
This day I am the one making with the funnies in hopes she’ll enjoy my jocularity. But while I’m telling her an off-color boob joke, her sincere gaze remains one of empathic concern. She gives me a slight smile. Normally, she laughs at my stories, but not this day.
Clearing her throat she says, “I think it’s probably nothing, but let’s get you to a surgeon for a second opinion. Jeanine will make an appointment for you.”
Frigid Blood Rush Number Two captures what is left of my rational mind, so I leave the office craving serious chocolate. Two super-size Crunchy Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars should do it. Why not three, my obsessive brain shrieks.
Jeanine calls two days later to say I have an appointment with a surgeon (whose name I have never even heard) in five fret-filled days.
After thinking it through, I tell myself that Jeanine’s call heralded good news. If my situation were about to show me firsthand what the other side of the flowerbed feels like, they wouldn’t make me wait five whole days. Would they?
Something else takes the edge off a bit. My boob feels like a stubbed toe and Mr. Google says pain is not usually a sign of a malignancy. I’m willing to go with that. Denial is my happy place.
The appointed day has now arrived and I have done a great job of thinking about everything BUT my lumpy mashed potato. Deep down, however, there is a glacially cold fear that the “Big C” may have taken up residence in one of my girls.
I don’t understand how that could be. Nobody in my family has had breast cancer; I do the monthly exam thing occasionally. I grit my teeth and never scream while enduring modern medicine’s answer to water boarding, aka a mammogram. I swallow daily vitamins and eat tons of cruciferous veggies. Surely cancer would not have the audacity to show up in my boob when cauliflower and broccoli are my two best friends.
I am so pissed.
Yet, I have a burning urgency to express my fright, my anger and my anxiety with someone who would be more willing to drown in a toilet bowl than to offer me “there-there platitudes.” I need to share my anxiety with someone who can make me laugh at the more serious thought of “what if.”
So I do the thing that works for me ... I write about it. I type furiously of feelings, fears, denial. Everything. I begin to think that this thing might be a wake-up call, and I scoff momentarily at the notion that it might be worse.
I choose to write about it because if I am not absolutely honest about my fears, I’ll have to look outside of myself to find a new best friend!
I wrote this piece for a humor writing class I was teaching: “How to Write Serious Humor With a Straight Face.” While the lump was very real and very scary, it turned out to be the wakeup call I hoped it would be. I needed to get whomped upside the head in order to realize the importance of monthly breast self-exams. As for the class, I was able to show how to inject humor even when writing something as serious as cancer.