“Nice socks,” was the first thing she said after she introduced herself, and I loved her instantly. I was thrilled that my new internist found a way to compliment me, even though I was hunched at the edge of the examination table, wearing only that flimsy paper “gown” and my new snappy argyle socks.
I liked that she was all-business after that, asking me all about my family medical history. I love those questions, to which I answer a long series of staccato no’s. Heart disease? No. The long list of cancers? No, no, no, no, no.
“Condoms,” was my unpopular answer to her question about contraception, which led to her follow-up question about whether we planned to have more kids. Tearing up, I answered, “I don’t think so.” I also teared up telling her about my C-sections– tears fall so easily when I wear clothes made of paper and discuss my family planning decisions with a stranger.
During the physical exam, I waited for her to give me a standing ovation upon hearing I was still nursing my son who is 22 months old. As I braced for adulation, I missed that she was spending extra time kneading my left breast. Maybe she didn’t hear me. Did I say Simon’s age? Shouldn’t she gasp in admiration?
So sure she would suggest that I host a parade in my own honor, I felt physically ill when I heard what she actually said.
“I feel a lump in your left breast.” That’s not what I had in mind—I was thinking about ticker-tape, confetti and floats; now all I could picture was a funeral procession. My funeral procession.
I sucked in my breath and stared at the ceiling. She didn’t just say that. This isn’t happening.
Who should I invite to my parade?
My husband Jeff was the one who suggested that I see his internist for a physical. I laughed in his face when he suggested it, because it seemed like something for newly shorn 18-year olds headed to the army, not for a young mother who just had two years of constant OB/GYN appointments.
Now the same doctor who appraised my husband’s ball sac just used the “L” word when feeling my breast.
There probably won’t be a parade any time soon.
Instead of feeling the terror, I consoled myself with logistics. Who am I going to call first? I should call Jeff, but he’s out of town and may not have cell reception. Is it bad if I call my therapist before Jeff?
I decided that I could get away with calling my therapist first, but only because he’s a cancer survivor. But I decided that I could not go by Ann Taylor Loft before heading home, because I thought shopping with a lump would send the wrong message.
I am not spending what may be my last days trolling around for cabled cardigans.
I kept my panic at bay for a few minutes, but I couldn’t help myself—I started thinking about the music for my funeral and Jeff’s future on-line dating profile. “Warm, loving widower to two adorable children.” Who’s in a better position to draft that than I, his “gone too soon” first wife?
By the time the doctor stepped away from my lumpy body, I was memorizing everything about the room, because what if this was the room where I first learned I was dying? What if this was the dock from which I would embark on a long torturous journey of biopsies, oncology residents, nausea, and macrobiotic dieting? If this was the starting point of a long descent, I wanted to remember her shoes (scuffed suede clogs), the biohazard bin (blue and to my left), and the faint whir of the computer (front and center).
“I want you to come back in 30 days, after you have a menstrual cycle, so I can check it. If it’s still there, then. . . ” she explained the next steps.
I wanted her to get it out now—biopsy it, analyze it, and get it out from under my nipple. I thought about the long life I plan to live—I have to teach my children table manners (and I haven’t even started), and I have to improve my Scrabble score. I have to learn to cook and take criticism and hang drapes.
I am too busy for this lump.
The kind receptionist pretended not to notice that my hands were shaking as I handed her my insurance card. I made my follow-up appointment after asking three times why I couldn’t come in on January 1 (national holiday, apparently).
I’m sure it’s nothing serious. Probably just a cyst.