I had to go back for my six months mammogram. I have to do this because I have "dense" tissue apparently and they don't like what they see inside me. They don't say that. They say "probably benign" after you suffer all the indignities of the process. But you can tell by watching their faces that they don't like it.
Once upon a time I had a lump. It was in my armpit and after I saw my GP he referred me immediately to a specialist. The sign on the door said ONCOLOGY. I remember walking through that door by myself at about age 24 or 25, not having realized what I was in for. They did an ultrasound and scheduled me in surgery the next morning. I remember not even processing the possibilities of the bad, but being numb with terror. Oncology. I'm having surgery and the person who ordered it is AN ONCOLOGIST.
It was outpatient surgery and I was awake for it. I remember them putting one arm over my head and securing it, and the nurse taking my other hand and holding it. I thought she was being nice but now I realize she was doing that so I didn't interfere. What I remember most was this crunching sound. They cut into my armpit and it went crunch. I'm not sure why. Crunch crunch snip and he pulled something out. I remember the look on HIS face - it was relief "It's just a sweat gland," he exhaled. Then he added in a more serious tone, "Of course we'll send it for tests to make sure everything is ok." But I could tell from the first statement I was ok. He told me a sweat gland had gotten infected and turned hard. No big deal.
Getting my mammogram is nowhere as harrowing. I hate it. I feel like meat. I don't feel like a person while I'm there. They aren't unkind. They aren't cold. But I think they're just so "matter of fact" about what is so scary that it's just, well I'm not sure how to explain it. I guess in their efforts to mitigate the terror some of us feel while there - their neutrality swaddled in a sea of pink ends up dismissing the very human part of us that is screaming inside. I guess they don't want a bunch of sobbing females when most of us don't actually have anything wrong.
I'll get my mammogram despite how dehumanizing it is because it's important and frankly I don't want to be dead. I'll get it on time and I'll get it every six months or three months or whatever they say. I'll go and sit in my pink gown and eat their graham crackers or smart ones cookies, and drink their tea or coffee and I'll pretend like I am not sobbing inside. I'll pretend like it doesn't hurt (it's not agony but it fucking hurts) and I won't ask questions. If I ask questions I will start crying. "Do you have questions?" "No."
I have no family history, in terms of maternal breast cancer. My mom is adopted. What I know is that my mom doesn't have breast cancer. They asked me about 10 times if I was sure I couldn't get more family history, does anyone else have information? What don't these people understand about NO?
They took me to the little room this time, the bad news room. I held my breath while I waited. If I a man in a white coat showed up, I knew that was bad news. But it was just the same woman who had actually GROANED while lifting my breast onto the machine, and she walked me through my results for this round of tests. "Probably benign." I'm enough of a cynic to hear "but maybe not" aloud in my brain. She goes through the list of things, dense tissue, large breasts, etc. Come back in six months.
I sat and listened to her ramble trying to process my relief. There is a pink phone in there, with two handsets. It's just one phone. But two people can talk at the same time. I don't know what that's for. That would be a good question for next time. "Why are there two handsets on this weird phone?" Maybe it's so you can call your family with bad news and they can talk too? I'm not sure what you would use this phone for.
You do a lot of introspection and thinking about your life while you're wondering if someone is about to tell you that you have cancer. Now, if only all that wisdom would stay put once you hear you don't have it, I'd probably be on the path to a better, more fulfilling life right now.
Oh well. Maybe next time.