This is what I get for submitting to my first mammogram. They took one set of 'grams, then called me back for another set, stating a dissatisfaction with the entire left side of my left breast. Well, fine! Picky, picky. Calcifications, they said. Naturally, they wanted a core sample. And since the area is large (takes up half my breast), they wanted a big core sample.
Well, OK. I was imagining a little bitty incision somewhere in the underwire region. When the surgeon told me that he makes the inch and a half incision at the edge of the nipple so the scar won't show, I cringed. My scalp crinkled, and I thought, "You're gonna cut me WHERE??? THERE??" Oh, ouchie. Think of the bad old days when I would have been offerd a leather strap to bite on. Or the slightly better old days when I would have been chloroformed. I love modern anesthetic. In a truly bizarre moment, I walked into the operating theater and greeted my capped and masked surgical team. So many people! And they're all here for MOI! Hi, guys! I climbed onto the table and extended my arm to the (attractive) anesthesiologist. He found a vein. I was about suggest removing my glasses, but then I woke up and it was all over.
Well, all over except the cancer.
I kept calling the doctor's office all afternoon, asking whether the results had arrived from the lab as promised today. First, "They aren't up from the lab, yet." Then, "They're on Dr. Naylor's desk. He'll call you today." Much joking at the office. What does it mean when he doesn't call you first? How long should you wait before you call him? That's what I get, letting him feel me up on the first date. Maybe he's just not that into me? By the time I got the call, I was standing in the grocery store parking lot with the kids. So the whole time he's telling me that I have cancer, the kids are climbing on the cart return and jumping off, then tugging on my coat. "Mom! Are you good? Are you fine?" It was, like, "So, if I decide to have the radia- Nate, be careful, please. Sorry. So as I was saying, if I decide to- just a second, OK, guys? Yes, we'll go into the store in a second." You get the idea. I have another appointment with him in a few days, to "talk about the options".
As we walked into the store, Sara asked, "So...do you have cancer or not?" She rolls her eyes, as if the idea was just ludicrous.
I have cancer. Well, well. I guess I am on the spot, here.
"Well, yeah, I do" I say, picking up a shopping basket and pulling my list out of my purse like I always do. "But it's no big deal. He told me it's totally curable. I'm probably going to have to have some more stuff done to me, but then that'll be it."
This is the great thing about little kids and being in the supermarket. You can hardly break down and start bawling. The groceries must be bought and the kids mustn't worry. No choices, which should not be mistaken for courage.
They were reassured and forgot about it almost immediately. We were walking through the store and they were pestering me (again) for a donut (which they NEVER get, so why do they keep asking), and I am staying totally focused on the groceries. A little part of my brain is amazed that I am doing this. In the middle of canned fruit, I feel this strange flash.
I have cancer.
But I don't have a chance to process the whole "I have cancer" thing. I have to check out, drive home, get the mail, bring the trash can up from the curb, start supper. Oh, yeah. Gotta tell Si at some point. I suppose this will make him even grumpier. Now we don't just have The Knee as a permanent member of the family. We get to welcome The Boob, too. I thought I'd better practice telling someone, so I called my parents. Sorry, parents. "Hi, Dad! Its Kate! How's it going? How's your gout clearing up, you old codger? Me? Oh, I'm pretty good, but I do need to tell you some kind of bad news. I have breast cancer." Yeah, this does take practice. I'll try it out on Mom. She is (as always) unflappable and has been in this same exact position, herself: making the choice between keeping part of the breast and having radiation/chemo; or going with a mastectomy. Indeed, she was just what I needed: totally calm, telling me about how it felt, how long it took to recuperate, how the rehabilitation was. Mom is really brave. But.
"What about reconstruction? How long did you wait to have reconstruction?"
"Oh, about five years."
"WHAT? You waited five years?"
"Yeah. Well, it was expensive. But I got tired of my prosthesis. It was itchy."
"But what did Dad-"
"He got used to it" she said in a flat, final tone that indicated he was not at the top of her list of concerns.
WTF??!!?? Of course, this is the difference between me and Mom. She was post-menopausal when she found a lump. Being a cute, sexy chica was not high on her list.
I'm 41! I'm young. I flirt outrageously with everyone. I wear sexy lacy stuff. I wear two-piece swimsuits. I am vain and spend long minutes in front of the mirror, sucking in and admiring my abs. I still like to have sex with the lights on.
I have cancer.
That's just too crazy, putting those three words together about me! I must have had cancer last week, too. And the week before. But I was lifting weights and skiing and running for miles and bossing people around. I feel great! I'm too busy being healthy to have cancer.
There must be some mistake. They have mixed up my test results with someone else's.
So, eventually Si came home and I told him. The black raincloud that has been hovering over our house since last September when he hurt his knee crashed with thunder and began pi*ssing down rain. Oh, for Pete's sake. I told him that there was only one thing that I asked of him. No gloom. No brooding. I want to laugh and drink too much and screw like rabbits (after I get my boob out of this bandage). Then I want to have the stupid mastectomy, allow people to fuss over me for a day or two, then get back to lauging and drinking too much and screwing like rabbits again. I told him that I was planning on shaking this off like it's nothing. He said he know that; that I'm really tough. People say that about me sometmes. They have no clue that it's all b***s***. I guess we'll find out, won't we?
Whoops, 6:00! No more time to ponder. I dished up supper, poured wine, played some upbeat music, supervised showers and stories. Nate read his Star Wars book to me. While he was reading, I glanced down at my (petite, but shaply) set and thought, "In a couple of weeks you won't have a left breast down there." It made me feel dizzy.
Oh, yeah! Almost forgot. I have cancer.
What will it be like, having a body part cut off?
Will my insurance cover reconstruction?
Will I have to wait, going around with a flat chest that scares my children and disgusts my husband?
Or will I go to sleep and wake up with a new boob?
Is it awful that I'm so obsessed with my looks and sex life?
Shouldn't I be thinking of more weighty matters?
Like, will it hurt a lot?
Will I be cured, like the doctor says?
Or will they make further sinister discoveries? I tell you, I am not like SueSun. I won't be able to go through chemo and lose my hair and feel like h*ll all the time without being a huge ungrateful brat.
Geeze. How will I tell my friends?
(Gasp!)My students? They will worry. About me. Unacceptable.
I have loads of contract work lined up for March and frankly, now I'll need it more than ever, to pay for all this. Will I be able to do it?
One thing I know for sure. There will be scope for humor. Are we ready for lots of boob humor?
Enough about this. I have stuff to do. PLUS, this is a red-letter day. I get to peel off my dressing from the biopsy and say hi to my left breast. Hello, and good-bye, baby.