I should have written about it at the time, right after I heard “tumors” in the context of my right breast but it took 17 calendar days before I could actually put pen to paper. Sort of.
It’s all too common, apparently – all too acceptable. Somewhere between taking a shower and putting on deodorant, on a Saturday like any other, I discovered a thickening, a lumpish thing above the nipple of my right breast. Inexplicably, within a split second of feeling it, I began sobbing, as if my body already knew. I called my husband into the bathroom. He usually doesn’t respond so quickly, especially when he’s reading the newspaper, but he was there in a flash, wondering what was wrong with me. As only he could, he asked, somewhat rhetorically, if I hadn’t been doing my monthly self-exams. He was genuinely surprised to hear that, no, I hadn’t. I think he might even have been shocked or a bit annoyed with me. Don’t all women know they’re supposed to do self-exams? Isn’t early detection via self-exam damn near the same as a cure? So why hadn’t I been checking? Hadn’t I walked with my best friend and my daughter in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure? Yes. Three times. Hadn’t I just donated a dollar for a pink ribbon at the Ulta store? Yes. Actually two, two dollars, because I’d donated a dollar for Sophie as well. And, we’d proudly pinned those ribbons to our T-shirts. Hadn’t I signed up for “Buddy Check 12” email notifications from local TV channel 12, so I would remember to check my breasts each month? Yes, but all those email reminders were directly forwarded – unopened – to my trash folder,. As it turns out, not one of my buddies has been checking her breasts either. Not a one – until now, I imagine – had taken the time to perform a self-exam.
Ironically, and in spite of being proactive by scheduling and actually showing up for a baseline and three subsequent mammograms in recent years, I probably wouldn’t have been able to detect the specific lump any earlier anyway. The dirty little tumor that has taken up residence in my right breast has hidden itself in dense tissue for who-really-knows-how-many years. But that news will come later.
It was a Sunday or a Saturday, as it always is when I need to see a doctor, so I promised my husband I would make an appointment for Monday. I’d been fighting a sore throat for a couple of weeks anyway, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone. Monday came and went, with the kinds of distractions that people running schools actually and easily put before their own health (and their own children) all too often. Whatever. I remembered to call the doctor’s office first thing on Tuesday, and by some miracle got an appointment with my doctor the next day. I love my doctor. She’s a runner with fabulously unruly hair and a sense of style. She’s earnest and gentle which doesn’t really match the manner in which she begins every appointment, – an assertive handshake that strikes me as more typical of a vendor at a conference. On this particular day, she was dressed in autumnal colors, and she even had boots on. Shallow, I know, but I remember thinking less about the weirdness in my right breast and more about my doctor’s fashion choice that morning. Like me, I imagined, she was thankful that Phoenix had finally delivered the sort of weather where it wouldn’t look wildly inappropriate to don boots. And socks.
Why hadn’t I seen my ob-gyn she pondered? Well, it hadn’t occurred to me. I suppose it was more manageable – in my mind – if my family doctor could just dismiss the lump as nothing to worry about, while she figured out whatever was going on with my throat. No such luck. It took her but a minute to attribute my sore throat to the dry desert weather at this time of year. Allergies. Post-nasal drip. No big deal. She was so much more interested in the lump. While she palpated my right breast, she sort of talked to herself about how she couldn’t quite discern if it was just really dense tissue or if something else was going on.
“You’re dense and lumpy,” she murmured as if this was something I’ve known all along. I didn’t know to ask if my denseness was something that might possibly have been related to the negative results of three previous mammograms. Yes, she concluded, my right breast was definitely “distinctly different” from the left. She definitely thought “we” should check it out, so she ordered a mammogram for November 4th, my brother’s birthday, and off I went. I wasn’t even a little concerned. A seasoned hypochondriac, I knew deep down it was nothing, maybe just a little cyst – nothing to write home about.
Not that I thought about it there and then, but there is no history of breast cancer in my family. My mother has had all manner of medical ailments, but none involves a breast. Everybody in our family knows the heart is the organ of concern for those on my mother’s side – blockages, aneurysms, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, that kind of thing. Not breast cancer. And, from a cardiovascular perspective, I am a fine specimen. My doctor tells me so. I’ve been eating well and running again. Every other day, I’ve been running along a 5K stretch of canal, accompanied by “Couch to 5K” podcasts created by a stranger named Carli, who encourages my 48 year old feet to keep going with an eclectic mix running the gamut from Eminem to The Grateful Dead.
My hair’s almost the length I want it to be. Christmas, my favorite time of year, is right around the corner, and we’ll celebrate our darling girl’s 14th birthday. She’ll have a small group of her artsy friends over for tea and cake, and they’ll watch Monty Python’s Holy Grail. For me, after wishing aloud that Bob Seger would bring his Silver Bullet Band back to Phoenix, turns out he’ll be here December 23rd, and I’ve managed to score great seats – an aisle seat for my husband, otherwise he’ll complain, and a ticket for our daughter, who remains completely unconvinced that one day she’ll look back on all her ticket stubs and realize that her mother is very hip and trendy after all.
She’s not quite there yet. Nor is Christmas.