I was reaching for something in my pantry and felt discomfort in my right breast. I never feel discomfort in my breasts, so I stopped what I was doing and felt around with my left hand and within a second I felt a lump. I walked into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of chardonnay, and called my wife.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m almost at the bodega. What’s up?”
“I need you to come home. I feel a lump in my breast.”
My wife and I have been through a fair amount of loss in the last 6 months, so I’ve become good at not escalating things that don’t warrant it. And so I knew that my insistence that she come home would result in her walking through the door within seconds. I could have waited for her to finish buying the spinach that I needed to finish the Sunday dinner I was preparing, but I didn’t feel like being a fucking hero.
As expected, she walked through the door within moments. I pulled my shirt off and whipped out my breast pointing to the spot and said, “Feel.”
“You need to raise your arm,” she said. Of course. That’s how a breast exam is conducted. I’d know that if I performed them each month. Or even each year. I’ve had an aversion to breast exams my entire life. I don’t like the way my particular breast tissue feels to me when I touch it. I get grossed out easily when it comes to myself. I can handle your blood. Your crisis. Your breasts. Just not my own. It’s no excuse. Just an explanation.
“OK,” she said after touching it. “We’ll call Andy and get you in to see him first thing tomorrow morning.”
Andy’s our doctor. We call him Andy even though he’s never invited us to. It’s a way of making our doctor seem more human and less medical. More friendly and less pathology-driven.
By 9:40 a.m. the next day, Andy had emailed me a script for an ultrasound and mammogram, which brings me to my next confession:
I’m 43 years old and haven’t had a mammogram since I was in my 30’s (women are supposed to get them yearly from 40 on). I could give you a bunch of reasons why. I’ve been busy. First I was getting separated, then divorced, then starting a relationship with Steph, then battling my ex-husband in court over the businesses we shared, then getting married, then creating peace, then beginning my media career, then stopping my media career to try and get pregnant, then getting pregnant only to find out that my fetus had a severe chromosomal abnormality which resulted in the termination that pregnancy, then handling Hurricane Sandy, then throwing our life savings into an IVF cycle which produced more chromosomally abnormal embryos, then losing the 30 pounds that I’d gained between my pregnancy and my IVF cycle (I’m only half way through that one), then throwing myself 110% back into my media career and my dance, both of which had been neglected for the past year…
I hope you know that this is all bullshit. It’s the same bullshit that I am known for calling my clients out on. Life is busy. Everyone is busy. People have celebrations and losses, none of which is an excuse for failing to take care of ourselves. And so my appointment for my long-overdue mammogram and bi-lateral breast ultrasound was scheduled for Wednesday, May 8, 2013.
“I’m here for breast imaging,” I told the polite receptionist at NYU’s Breast Imaging Center.
“3rd floor,” she told me as she pointed to the elevators just behind the 2-man band playing lounge music in the lobby. I looked at Steph and giggled. I sometimes giggle when I’m losing my mind.
The elevator doors opened on the 3rd floor to a sign that read, ‘NYU Cancer Institute.’ Note to NYU: This is not what you want to see when you’re going for your yearly (or decade) mammogram.
My appointment was for 12:30. By 2:30 they had finished twisting my breasts into the various shapes necessary to complete my mammogram. “I can’t imagine why I don’t do this every year,” I said to myself. I’m a real wiseass when I’m scared and defensive. Still, I marveled that the words managed to remain in my head and didn’t come out of my mouth.
My ultrasound was going to be no big deal, I reasoned. I’ve had more ultrasounds in the last year between artificial insemination, being pregnant, the thousand tests it took to confirm the chromosomal abnormality and my subsequent IVF cycle, that I had planned to get a good nap in on the table.
“Where is the lump?” Asked the technician who sounded like she came from Russia.
“It was right here on Sunday. It’s not really uncomfortable anymore and I can’t really feel it as much so I’m thinking,”
“Yes. I feel.” She replied tersely, touching the exact spot I had touched on Sunday, confirming that I wasn’t just being my normal neurotic self but that there was indeed a god damned lump.
I kept it together during the scan on the right, trying not to notice every time she rolled over something fibroidy (my term and the exact thing that’s sent shivers up my spine on the few occasions when I tried to administer a breast exam on myself). I did not do an exceptionally good job when she got to the left.
It was taking too long. She was taking too many images. My blood pressure rose with each additional click of her mouse – and she hovered in one area and continuously came back to it again and again. I started writhing on the table. I broke out in a light sweat.
“Almost done,” she said.
Almost done with what, I wondered. Diagnosing me with cancer? My sense of foreboding was so intense that I began meditating, right there on the fucking table, so I wouldn’t unravel.
“Doctor will be in shortly,” She said, and left. A second later the doctor walked in.
“OK, so the lump on your right breast looks fine. You have very dense breast tissue so it’s a good thing your doctor ordered the ultrasound.”
“Thank God,” I said.
“However,” of course there was a however, “there are two lumps in your left breast. One looks fine but we’re going to have to biopsy the other.”
“When do you have to biopsy it?” I asked.
“I’d like to do it now. We have a pathologist on staff so you’ll get the results before you leave.”
I was trying not to unravel, trying to be brave, and I couldn’t do that and speak at the same time.
She put her hand on my shoulder.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” she said, and then, as the tears rolled down my cheeks she said, “It’s OK. Everyone cries. I don’t think it’s cancer, but we can’t be sure until we biopsy it. “
“Please get my wife. She’s in the waiting room,” I managed to say.
I didn’t want Steph to come with me for the tests. I didn’t want her to miss more work – she’s missed so much with all that we’ve been through. I didn’t think it was necessary. Maybe I thought that I would be less likely to get bad news if there was no one there to comfort me. The games we play….
I’m not going to drag this out much longer. I won’t turn it into a novel – it’s already a short story and this is supposed to be a blog. I had the biopsy. It didn’t hurt too much, and it was benign.
There is a point to my sharing this story. On my way home I spoke to my friend Amy who didn’t know I was going in for these tests today. She told me that she’s going to schedule a mammogram right away because she also hasn’t had one in years.
I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t get mammograms, and if you’re like me, I’m writing this for you. We need to get them. Every year. I don’t know what needs to happen for us to get them. Do we need a crisis? Do we need to find a lump? Do we need to lose a friend, a sister or a mother? I have at least 2 friends who have survived breast cancer, so I know it’s real. No more excuses. In 12 months I’m due for my next mammogram. Who wants to make plans to schedule their mammogram for next May with me? Maybe it can be fun. Maybe we can have brunch first and a drink after. Hell, maybe we should just take the day off and play for the rest of the day. Who’s with me?