ABOUT A MONTH ago, I had my annual mammogram, which is not such a big deal because I don’t experience much discomfort as other women seem to. However, two weeks after the mammogram, I get this letter in the mail telling me that my mammogram was incomplete & they want to do additional imaging on the right breast, and possibly an ultrasound. I see the words “breast cancer” in the body of the letter but I force myself to look away. So I make another appointment for a follow-up mammogram (5/25). This time they tell me the doctor will review the films right away and will give me the results within 2 hours. Of course, as I wait the 2 weeks for the appointment, I try not to panic, start praying to God for divine healing, and then wonder if my writing about cancer (in Choose Me) may have jinxed me.
AS A SPIRITUAL person, I try not to believe in jinxes and superstitions and all that, but because I am a mortal first, sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes when I fear something really bad, the opposite happens. Sometimes when I tell myself to believe the best will happen, it turns out negatively. Of course, this refutes everything that faith stands for, but I am not perfect.
NEVERTHELESS, I WALK into the clinic prepared for the worse, but expecting the best, still praying, asking God to cover me in His blood. I see a sign that says “Please sign your name on the sign-in sheet and have a seat.” I don’t see a sign-in sheet so I go up the receptionist, who proceeds to tell me, “Sign your name the sign on the sheet,” while pointing to the sign-in sheet AROUND the reception table. I’m thinking, wouldn’t it make more sense to put the sign-in sheet NEXT to the sign? (HELLO??!!) Next to the sign-in sheet is a woman (the supervisor or manager), who says very pleasantly (possibly over-compensating for the possible bad news some of us might get): “Good Morning! Are you here for imaging?” I want to say, “No, I’m here for breakfast.” Instead, I say, “Good Morning!” right back. After I sign in, I sit down. Looking around, I notice that while the ages vary, the women are predominately white, one African-American and no Latinos (that I can recognize).
LUCKILY, THEY HAVE coffee (which isn’t very good but it did the trick). I have brought my laptop with the next novel, my headphones with fresh batteries & plenty of CD’s, and my prototype book. I am prepared to wait the two hours.
MY NAME IS called & I’m directed to another receptionist who asks my name & the time of my appointment. She doesn’t ask about insurance or the doctor’s order. Then I’m told to have a seat in another set of chairs (weird—why we couldn’t sit in the main waiting room, I don’t know) with two other women, one of whom has brought her husband.
I DON’T EVEN get to finish my not-so-good coffee before they call me again. The over-compensating pleasant supervisor-manager asks us three women to follow her—“No men allowed!” she jokes. (“Ha-Ha-Ha,” everyone laughs—except me. I want this nightmare over with quickly, without the comic relief.)
WE ARE THEN led to the changing room where we are given the same directions we have been given in the past ('cause they're so complicated): You can use one of the dressing rooms that isn’t occupied to change, wipe off any deodorant, lotion, whatever; then put your things in a locker, take the key with you, blah-blah-blah. Yeah, sister, we know the routine by now.
AFTER CHANGING, I join the other women in yet ANOTHER waiting room where “The View” is droning on the mounted TV and everyone is trying hard not to stare at each other. There is no chatting, no laughing in this room, not even when Joyce Baer or Star Jones (or whatever-her-married-name is now) crack a joke. I leave my laptop and headphones in the locker because there doesn't seem enough time to pull everything out, then pack it up before they call you again.
FINALLY, THEY CALL me into “The Room.” I get a very pleasant tech who is very “technical” in her directions, but in a nice way. For the first time, the man-made breast-crushing machine hurts. I see her almost cheer like she's pleased with her images (hooray for her, not so good for me); I want to scratch her eyes out. I am then directed back to the waiting area.
I TRY TO read some passages from Choose Me, but every so often, the pages blur as I start to think about the outcome. I don’t read the passages where Adam deals with his cancer. I begin praying again. Glancing discreetly around the room, I think, “I see what’s going on here. This is a conspiracy. They’re just doing these additional images and ultrasounds to milk the insurance companies, or get money from temporarily-uninsured folks, like me. And so what, if they scare us in the interim? We’ll be sure to schedule our next mammogram without fail.” I find solace in this thinking & it gets me through the next 15 minutes when my name is called AGAIN. But this time, the tech tells me I can remain sitting as she announces (in front of everyone) that they want to do an ultrasound; it’ll just be a few more minutes.
I TRY NOT to panic. I can feel the eyes of the women closest to me looking at me. I think they’re thinking: “They must have found something. Glad it’s you and not me.” I keep telling myself, "It's a cyst, it's a cyst. They'll probably just want to aspirate it. (Doesn't that involve a needle?) I go back to reading—or pretending to read.
WHEN THEY CALL me AGAIN, an ultrasound tech (who isn’t so technical) comes or me; she is genuinely nice. The ultrasound is much more pleasant (the gel is so warm & soothing), and I’m thinking, “Why can’t the breast-imaging machine be like this?” (My sister says it's 'cause a man invented the breast-imaging machine & a woman invented the ultrasound.) After a few scans, the tech tells me she doesn’t see anything, but the radiologist is going to come in & make sure. I am relieved to see that the radiologist (& the resident trailing her, along with all the techs are all women; I'm not a feminist or a sexist but female attention is very important in this situation). She scans me for a few seconds & is also convinced that she sees nothing, just wanted to make sure & "see you next year." Hasta la vista, baby. I run out of there so fast, I don’t even care that I didn’t get a chance to edit my book. I have lunch with two ex-coworkers who are so happy to see me & make me laugh so much, I yearn for the old days. Briefly.
AFTERWARDS I THINK (because I am always a writer): “This is going to make an insightful piece in one of my future books. One day. But not now.”
Peace, Love & Soul
Paz, Amor, y Alma