I am looking at a dark, pear shaped planet. That’s how I describe my mammogram image to Mike this morning. A mesh of lighted corridors lead, eventually, to a colony settled in the north east.
“Plymouth Rock?” He asks.
“Jersey Shore,” I correct his idea of both the location and the intensity.
“The Situation…” He texts me.
I remind him, and me, that it’s likely nothing more than a Snooki.
There is no history of cancer-of-the-anything in my family. When my benign ovarian tumor was removed two years ago, I was tested for the BRCA mutations – just in case. I’m clean. This was routine; no reason to worry.
On three occasions in the last two years I’ve sat down for dinner with girlfriends. They’ve waited until our drinks are ordered to tell me, as if reading from the same script, “I don’t want you to freak out, but I have breast cancer.”
Only now that each of them is safely on this side of their different treatments, has it occurred to me to wonder why they’d worry about me freaking out. That’s not me. Is it?
Probably no. On Valentines day I accompanied another friend to her biopsy. Her routine, then follow up mammogram and ultrasound indicated it might be a good idea to get a closer look at one area. I held her hand and rubbed her back until I was kicked out of the room for the procedure. See, I am not the freaker-outer.
It wasn’t losing her breasts that scared her, she tearily confided. It was her hair. She shored up her own courage by deciding that, if worse came to worse, she’d get bright, rainbow mermaid hair before it all fell out.
The next morning, as fate would have it, I was scheduled for my annual mammogram. I said a little prayer to the gods of radiology for my friend and they were answered. It was benign. But I bet, and this is just between you and me, now that the idea of mermaid hair has grabbed her she won’t wait until tragedy. Perspective, once found, can be a real bitch to shake. Once we’ve realized that there are no points for self-denial just for the sake of self-denial, there is no end to what a woman might do for herself.
A week later, it is my turn in the hot seat. There was a spot on my right breast. I found myself sitting in a waiting room appointed in the most annoying shade of pink, skipping ahead in my mind and wondering about my hair. I’d shave it, I decided, and send it to a wig maker. I could still wear my own hair, right? Or maybe I’d just stay bald. There’s so much beauty in loss.
In this manner, I’ve already found my perspective. My summer in Italy is my friend’s mermaid hair. It’s the thing I am doing when I literally have nothing left to lose; the thing I wonder why I waited so long to stop making excuses not to do. It’s the thing, I suddenly worry, that a breast cancer diagnosis could really muck up right now.
I am not a freaker-outer, and to continue not being a freaker-outer, I stop thinking about that and strike up conversations with the four other women sitting with me in our front-opening hospital gowns. One had pain and a lump she was getting checked out. The others had been called back, like me, because of a shadow on a routine image. The conversations between us were frank and open and if we’d been left in that room ten more minutes…well, I don’t think it’s that far fetched that we might have pulled out our boobs for comparison. Sisterhood, I’ve found, is only ever born of perspective – and we were all there this morning to get some of that, one way or another.
Once finished with my ultrasound, the radiologist said he saw no reason for a biopsy. I cleaned up and dressed. On my way to check out, I looked into the unoccupied room with the mammography machine and said another little prayer to the radiology gods. Please, don’t let these women wait too long to find their mermaid hair.