When I found the lump, I was not pleased. (I wish I could tell you I was talking about a lump in my signature gravy or in my cream of wheat.)
As I checked and re-checked my 38-year-old self, I had five thoughts:
* My kids will have to grow up without their mom.
* Could I lose my partner over this?
* I have family, friends, and acquaintances who are graceful role models and survivors.
* Is this a legitimate excuse for breast implants?
* This won’t change my life, except make me more thankful. I love my kids, my partner, my friends, my work, and my direction in life.
(It may be obvious now, but I feel I should state that I’m one of those people who goes to the worst-case scenario first, in order to deal with whatever comes next.)
People talk about their lives flashing in front of their eyes in these types of moments. Not me — I was consumed by a spectrum of fear, insecurity, vanity, and serenity. The fear of loss was definitely top of mind — and the idea of the loss of a breast was, well, emasculating. (Wait, I’m not a man. What’s the appropriate word/sentiment for a woman? Dehumanizing doesn’t account for the feminine angle. Dewomanizing? Defeminizing? Desexifying?)
The layers of the onion were peeling away. Once I was over the thought of dying, I was worried about losing my femininity. Tears came to my eyes over the thought of not being there for my kids, but the idea of implants made me strangely happy. (My unfounded joy stems from the fact that I am no Dolly Parton, and teenagers’ taunts stay with a person a long time.)
While it would seem almost sarcastic for a relatively flat-chested woman like me to lose a breast, I might be better prepared. After all, people might not even notice. On the flip side, for my top-heavy sister to lose a breast she’d look like a carnival dart-balloon game with only one balloon left on the board. She’d be put completely off balance — and would probably have to relearn how to walk.
(I know you aren’t supposed to joke about cancer, but it is my lump, and I’ll joke if I want. It helps me deal with stress — and helps me get this message out.)
I spent some time on the Internet on www.breastnorth.infoand http://www.cbcf.org/breastcancer/bc_aware. asp to learn all about lumps. It seems that in addition to the obvious, it could be: a cyst, an infection, a monthly hormonal change, or some other benign thing.
Then I read a bit about the tests they’d likely perform. The idea of the mammogram now became more daunting than the potential diagnosis. Like most women, I’d heard a couple of different joke instructions to prepare for a mammogram. One — freeze two bricks and then smash your breast between them. Two — place your breasts between the toilet seat and the toilet bowl, and then stretch them like Gumby until you’re sitting on the toilet seat.
How could they put the lack of what I have between two plates to diagnose this?
I suddenly couldn’t help but feel really sorry for all those chicken breasts I had cooked on my George Foreman grill — especially for the way I’d had to push down on the top of the grill to ensure that the whole breast would flatten between the two surfaces for even cooking.
(Men, you can take solace in the fact that they don’t have a “man” ogram machine to check for testicular cancer — they use ultrasound).
As I started talking about this, I was surprised at how many of my friends told me their own lump stories for the first time. Perhaps this is obvious to say, as you are reading all about my experience right now, but I don’t think this is something to hide. We all need to remember to perform those self-checks, even those under 40, including big-breasted and small-breasted women and men alike, as breast cancer does not discriminate.
You can laugh with me or cry with me on this one. Know that you aren’t alone in rational or irrational emotions when facing the discovery of a lump. You are allowed to go through your process no matter how many times people tell you it’s probably nothing. Let me validate your feelings and say that facing the prospect of your mortality is not “nothing.” Just go get it checked — the quicker the better.
For me, finding the lump was shocking, but the self-discovery that I live an almost regret-free life and wouldn’t change my current course is liberating. Whatever comes my way, with a wonderful partner by my side and an excellent support network, I’ll deal with it.