On Mortality, Banality, and Boobs, Part I

I can’t stand suspense…not in movies or books, not in sporting events, and certainly not in real life. The past couple of weeks have been one long, suspenseful nightmare because I thought I might have cancer. Let me tell you right upfront that I do not.

It all began with a callback mammogram. I got a letter in the mail explaining that it was sometimes difficult for mammograms to produce clear images for people with “dense breast tissue.” Dense breast tissue — hunh?! After nursing three babies, more like droopy, flaccid hackysacks that have lost all their stuffing. But – whatever.

This was not my first rodeo. I had been called back for a second mammogram once before so I knew what to expect. I knew I would be in for a torture session that would somehow manage to be simultaneously futuristic and medieval. I would be asked to mash the side of my face against the plastic and metal of a mammogram machine. I would be made to sling my arm around it as if in a lover’s embrace. A stranger (a lovely and kind nurse, but a stranger nonetheless), would pat and squash and arrange my breast as casually as if she were making a biscuit…if making biscuits also involved mashing the dough impossibly thin between two cold, hard plates. I would endure the torture with stoicism, wincing only when I simply couldn’t bear it.

“Too tight?” the nurse would ask as she turned a knob that would cause the boob vise to clamp down ever tighter.

“Yes,” I’d gasp.

She would loosen the crank a touch, but then with a cruel, deft flick of her wrist, she would tighten it right back to its original position.

“I saw that!” I would think bitterly each time it happened.

Never mind. It would all be over soon enough. I’d receive my benediction and be dismissed to go on with the rest of my life. Only this time I wasn’t.

I knew something was up when the nurse escorted me to a back room I’d never seen before and told me that a doctor would come talk with me soon. I was pretty sure she was trying to avoid making eye contact with me. The doctor spoke to me in gentle, soothing tones. She told me that there were “areas of concern” that would need to be further examined. I would be scheduled for a needle biopsy. Once the pathology report was back, if there was evidence of cancer, we would discuss my treatment options.


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