Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Will That Be One Lump Or Two?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The following story is true and was written November 2006.
Send it to someone you love.

I found it late last night.

The lump.
On the right side.

Clearly there. No mistake.

I usually don't write posts about things this personal but I feel I have no choice tonight - it just wants to spill out of my pen. So here goes. Maybe you can relate.

I've gotta tell ya. I'm not a weak woman; have weathered hurricane force trials in my life and consider myself to be -according to friends - "a strong person."
But I haven't had fear strike at my heart like this ever before.
It was overwhelming.

The conversations I've had with myself during what I am now calling 'the longest 16 hours of my life' (well....labor was a close second but I've sort of forgotten that) were irrational......hysterical.....insane.....and still somehow, I managed to do a few things right.
Maybe it was a mistake, Mimi. Check again. 
The other side. Nothing.
The right side.....it's still there and I'm sore.
Ever felt like someone kicked you in the stomach?
I couldn't breathe.
I couldn't even speak.
There was a knot in the pit of my being that wouldn't go away.

It's funny what goes through your mind at a time like this.
It wasn't panic exactly.
Just fear.
Pure and simple terror.
When was the last time you did a self breast exam?
Two months ago? Three?
But I don't need to. I just had a mammogram a few months ago.
Didn't I?

Let me think. Yes.....I remember it clearly. Everything was fine.
I never miss my mammograms.

But what about your monthly self examinations, Mimi?
What about those?
I don't know what made me do one last night. Something just didn't feel right. OK girl, get yourself together. You just had a nice long pleasant conversation on the phone with a friend - lots of laughter. That made you happy, didn't it? Let's forget about this for awhile and just go to bed. Think about happy things. It will be better in the morning. Nothing to fear. You're just imagining things.

I took a shower.

Hmmm....well. While I'm in here I really should check again.
They say you should always check in the shower. Right?

I couldn't do it.

I wouldn't.
I didn't want to know. I wanted to forget about it.

I went to bed. No sense upsetting myself anymore.

This morning I did check again.
It was still there.
Like I thought it would magically disappear?
Well.....yes. I guess I did.

Nausea.
My knees were weak.
I couldn't eat breakfast.
My hands were shaking.

Such are the fears of a woman with a lump in her breast.

Work.
Numbness. Rehearsal. Make doctor's appointment. Take the afternoon off.
Three hours later I'm in my family physician's office being poked and prodded. I was so glad to be there. He would tell me everything's OK and I am imagining it.
It took him 2 seconds to find the lump and report "I don't think it's anything to worry about but you need a mammogram."
Oh my God, I'm going to die!That's exactly what I thought.

I sat straight up. "You mean you found a lump too?!" I said.
(sometimes Mims is slow.....bear with me. After all, that's why I was there.)
"Are you sure you felt something?" looking around to find his medical degree on the wall. Where was it??!!

My doctor collects cartoon memorabilia. I'm sitting in an office talking about breast cancer with Daffy Duck and Tweety Bird for company.
What makes him think I could possibly take him seriously?
"Yes. Feels like a cyst. We'll set you up with a surgeon."

Mimi falls back down.
Grabs her breast.

"On ME?!
Here?! Not there! On ME? .....a surgeon?!"

I look up and there is a picture of Mickey Mouse celebrating his 8th birthday. Mickey is happy. Minnie is happy. Everybody is happy.
Mimi is dying but everybody else is having a birthday party.

On the opposite wall Sylvester the Cat is chasing Tom and Jerry around and around. Sylvester has a maniacal look on his face and is wielding a knife.
I am not amused.
Don't you think the good doctor could find something a little less violent to put on the wall of his exam room? How comforting is a dagger?

And they're going to use an actual knife......
On ME?

Nurse leaves. Makes a phone call. I call my sister. I call my girlfriends-who-will-drop-everything-and-pray-no-matter-what and drive out of town to my diagnostic appointment. No matter what is happening in our lives, when push comes to shove I can always count on certain people to pray for me, encourage me, listen and love me. Thank God for good friends.

But this is not good.

What is he not telling me?! He wasted no time getting me in to see a specialist. I know he's lying with that nothing-to-worry-about line. He just doesn't want to be the one to tell me I'm going to die.

Two hours later I walk into the Diagnostic Imaging Center and prepare to meet my Maker.

I look around. No cartoons.
I feel so out of place. Where is Elmer Fudd?
I would prefer a lighter atmosphere. Maybe a wine spritzer, some chocolates, a slow dance with Mr. Handsome. Anything but this.
They have artificial flowers in here for heaven's sake!


All over the place. Big arrangements of silk flowers. It looks like a funeral home. The tables are elegant and the chairs overstuffed. It's such a comfortable place.

And where are the young people?
Like ME?
Why am I here with all these old people? There are two ladies in their eighties waiting to be seen and a very antsy husband or two - one with a cane and the other sleeping. Only a man could sleep at a time like this.


Mrs. Nice Lady #1 walks over to the perky funeral flowers beside me and leans down.....Don't come near me, I thought. I don't want to talk to you or these flowers. Just leave me alone."Aren't they beautiful?" she asked.
I rolled my eyes.
"Sure" I thought, "if you're into dirges."

Mrs. Funeral Vampire is escorted to Tomb #3 and I slip into Suite #1.
In no time I am fumbling with the over sized blue paper thingy you wear that opens in the front. I pick up the smallest one I can find and it still swallows me. I'm in a closet space neatly folding my clothes and hiding my purse - just in case there are thieves in the place - and it occurs to me that perhaps if I put my clothes back on and leave no one would notice.
I don't like the way this thing looks on me. It's too big!
I'll come back when they find appropriate attire for such an occasion.

They don't even have music in this place.
Where's the music for heaven's sake?!

I sat down on the bench in the little room. I knew they were waiting for me. I heard the coffin lady come out and sit down. She is talking to another lady about those blasted flowers. Will she ever shut up?
Apparently, the funeral home decorator has decided to fill the plants with Christmas lights. Oh, THAT's a nice touch. We'll all sing Deck the Halls.

Could my life get any cheerier?

If I stay in this room, I thought, I can put off the squeeze machine for a little while longer. I won't have to talk about x-rays and invisible lumps and answer a million questions like
'Are you sure you're not pregnant?'
"When's the last time you had a mammogram?"
(I was HERE. Don't you know? Where are my records? You're supposed to have my records!
I shouldn't have to tell you these things. I'm incoherent.)
Sigh.

The Cheerful Undertaker (Nurse #1) calls flower woman back to the embalming room. They must have forgotten about me. That's good. Maybe they think I went home.

I opened my purse. Took out my hairbrush.
Standing in front of the mirror in my safe healthy cocoon I began to brush my hair. It's dark and long. Just like it was when I was a teenager. Stroke one - stroke two - I don't have time for this. What am I doing here?. ...Stroke three - I have half my life ahead of me with dreams to chase and plans to make. I don't want to be here.

Stroke four - stroke five....
I love my hair. I'm vain about it. My grandmother taught me to brush it 100 strokes every night before I went to bed. Many times she sat on the edge of the bed and did just that. Her hair was so long she could sit on it and she used to put it up in a beautiful French Twist everyday - sometimes mine, too.
Six....seven.... I'll lose my hair if I have cancer. I don't want to lose my hair. It reminds me of my grandmother.
Eight.....nine.....
I wish she were here. She would tell me what to do. She would tell me if I had to open the door and go inside the waiting room. She would help me not to be afraid.OK Mimi.
Put down the brush.
Zip up your purse.

I looked in the mirror again.

I don't look old.
I am not old.
I am not sick.

I'm fine.

I touched my face and fixed a mascara run. When were you crying? I don't remember crying today. I remember being afraid but I do not remember crying.. ....Fix your face, Mimi.
Your grandmother would hold your hand but she would not allow you a pity party. She would kick your prissy behind into gear with her 'It'll be OK' smile and tell you to buck up.
It's time to open the door.

The Silky Flower Lover has been told she can leave. All is well. No problem.
See you in a year, Mrs. Cheery.

I plopped down on the too-comfortable-for-a-pity-party sofa and pretended to read a magazine. The first page I found was an advertisement for Breast Cancer Awareness.
Oh great.
A theme party.
Just what I wanted today.
Let's all guess why we're HERE?



Give it a rest will ya? I'm trying to forget the lump in my breast. Can't you see that? I don't want to read your stupid advertisement. There are pamphlets everywhere with instructions for doing breast exams, a video to watch, complimentary coffee and awkward stillness. Isn't anyone up for a conversation? We could bond like women do and talk about men since there aren't any around. Can't we?
It's way too quiet in here.
And the worst part?

The door to the doctor's office was open. Right in front of me. I could see the xrays under the light. I could hear him discussing the findings with his nurse.



He was pointing at them and analyzing every detail out loud for all to hear. Every time I tried not to listen I heard something about 'the right breast'.....always the right.....why not the LEFT? Can't any of you have a problem with the left today?
Is this some kind of joke?
Are you really sitting there with the door open making us guess which one you're talking about?
He said 'the right' Mimi. Weren't you listening?
OH MY GOD I'm going to die!
 
Get a grip, Mimi.
You haven't even had your mammogram yet.
Oh yeah. You're right.

Sigh of relief.

"MIMI Pencil Skirt. Step this way, please."
Jolted back to reality after having spent my last few moments on earth making a list of songs to sing at my cremation, I stood up, blue paper flapping in the breeze and followed her.

A litany of questions,a snarky technician, another ultrasound and five or six excruciating contortions on a steel table and I was done.
I thought.

Back in the smelly flower parlor I was ready to be told I could go home.
Enough of this nonsense. I have places to go and people to see.
Shopping to do and dances to dance. Presents to buy. Planes to catch. Books to write. Flowers to grow - that don't smell of death - and lots and lots of hugs to give. I should be making pasta today or taking an art class. I want to make love in the rain someday. Sing in a cathedral. Go to Italy. I need to work on the peace globe project. So much to do.

I'm tired of waiting.

"MIMI PENCIL SKIRT!"

It was the voice of Dr. Doom, whose door was now stretched open for me.
"Have a seat, please. Mimi......"

Why is he talking so slow? Spill it!
"After looking at these reports and comparing the two I find......"

I wonder if paisley would look good on the pillow in my casket. Nice touch. Unusual.
No one would forget she wore paisley in her coffin. Now how could anybody forget a girl like that? That silly Mimi......


"Miss Skirt? Did you hear me?"

"Yes, doctor?"

I said "I find no abnormalities. No lumps. Nothing suspicious. Just fibrocystic changes. You're free to go. See you back here in a year."

All I could say was "Thank you, Doctor" and I left.

You would think after having this experience today I would be proclaiming meaningful epiphanies and writing soliloquies and such.

No.

All I know is that for sixteen hours my world revolved around one little lump. And what did I learn?

That never again do I want to drive to a doctor's office regretting that I neglected to do my monthly self-exams. That's what I learned.
This time, all is well and I am fine. I am incredibly grateful and relieved.
But had there been a problem, I would have forever regretted that I didn't take the time to check myself like I know darn well to do EVERY MONTH.

So girlfriends, take it from Mimi.....

Who is reminding you - after half losing her mind today - to GET YOUR MAMMOGRAM and DO YOUR CHECKS.
Every year.
Every month.
Always.



Digg!
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
National Mammogram Day

6 comments:

Hammer said...

Powerful post. Thanks for relaying your experience.

Bond said...

This was just as powerful the second time around...

Deana said...

A great post and reminder Mimi. I will never forget my first visit to the mammogram machine. I was only 36 but I am very cystic. While I didn't think it hurt like everyone said the whole experience had me choked up wondering and thinking of all the women that stood there and really did find out they had cancer.
Last Christmas one of cysts looked out so I had the ultrasound. When the Doc called me to tell me I had to come in for a biopsy I was just numb. I didn't want to go and my husband and mother had a fit. I went and when the specialist walked in and started telling me about what was going to happen he looked at it again and said the people had read it wrong. It was still just normal fluid. He asked if I had any breast cancer in my family and I said no. He said "Nope I am not going to cut you. You are fine." He liked to have never convinced my husband. It is overwhelming emotionally just as you have described.

katherine. said...

I've been there...been really scared...

great post Mimi...great.

Odat said...

Very powerful and I sure can relate....I had a rare tumor in my breast. Once I had it removed and luckily enough it was benign, I had to go back for another surgery to get more tissue removed. But luckily I had a great doctor. My Mom's doctor (believe this or not) told me if he had found that type of tumor on one of his patients, he would have performed a masectomy..I looked at him with utter disdain...and told him I was glad I wasn't one of his patients!
I always advise a second opinion in matter such as these....
Thanks, Mimi, for sharing this and I will pass it along.
Peace

Olga, the Traveling Bra said...

This is such a GREAT post! You are a powerful writer...thanks for sharing. :)

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