After a half day at Sibley (the hospital), the hospital is starting to feel like a second home. If it weren’t for the uncertainty of recurrence on the horizon, the trips here (totaling two now so far since finding the freshly minted lump) would be a nice outing.
There’s the upscale gift shop, the chic pastry shop with the double chocolate croissants, there’s wireless and even the scent of a swimming pool (most likely a therapeutic pool), but this is the last place that I want to be.
As I recently told the father. If given the choice, I’d rather be fat for the rest of my life than have cancer. “I can understand that,” he said.
Just shy of a year of my 1st Cancerversary why am I here? Two weeks ago I found a new lump in the upper corner of the left breast. At first I wondered if it was the chest or the breast but the oncologist confirmed that it is the Siberia section of the left breast. She simply couldn’t conclude what it is so she sent me to the mammogram and ultrasound assembly line.
So the day started out at 7am and there was the nearly two-hour schlep to the urban hospital.
I should feel so lucky that I have access to such excellent care, I thought.
I sometimes wonder what would like be like if I were in some third world country, and an underprivileged woman. Would I be too busy trying to survive to notice this lump? Would I continue living my life as ignorance is bliss until it was too late?
It was nice to have Lisa* (name changed for privacy), another young breast cancer survivor there, but what's strikingly obvious on this visit is that I'm one of the youngest here. The breast cancer centre is a land of ladies (except for the occasional husband). Even the doctors and the technicians are all women. I was here because I wanted an answer. The past two weeks were wrought with anxiety and stress thanks to the grand uncertainty of a very simplistic question: cancer or not?
The diagnostic mammogram was supposed to offer the answer, cancer or not. The technician was a white skinny middle-aged woman who had breath that smelled of stale coffee and cheap breakfast sandwiches.
She was very pleasant and had cool pink stickers to mark the lumpectomy scar, the lymph node scar and there, no there (I pointed to here), was a new lump.
The matter-of-factness and plainness of this moment reminds me of how many a friend have asked me how I’ve found the original lump. I suppose they are wondering how they would react if dealt a similar deck of cards. I tell them there is nothing extraordinary about the moment of discovery. It’s not like the movies.
I am relatively cool and seemingly in control until I am told that the radiologist wants special slides from the mammogram, and she wants an ultrasound on both breasts.
The technician explains that they need to be thorough because of my history.
When can I return to having just a plain vanilla mammo? I ask her.
“Not for the near future,” she says.
After that I am brought back to a waiting room with three other women, they are typing on iPads iPhones and flipping through magazines. Some are there for a routine screening (I can’t help but listen to their cell phone banter). I am by far the youngest by at least 10 years.
By now I’ve been at the breast centre for three hours and my friend has to return to work. At times like this I wish my fiancée were here or family.
It becomes clear to me that some things we can only battle on our own although we are blessed to have love and support.
The next stop is the ultrasound to check out the lump in Siberia.
The technician here is a gentle woman who did pre- natal before she moved to breast cancer.
I’m trying to make cheerful chat with her and I’m getting increasingly antsy about this. My friendly banter was welcome but she made it known that she’d have to bring the photos to the radiologist who would answer all questions.
After all images were taken, the radiologist finally made her entry. By now I was clearly nervous and started out telling her that I’m usually a very professional person, but I didn’t want to be here and I was really nervous because of my history.
She said she understood and kept her cool, nice bedside manners. She said that the mammo looked good, no new discoveries but she wanted to take a look at the new lump.
There was certainly relief now that someone else had found what I did and showed equal concern.
Now everyone was quiet and she marked it, the growth is the size of a pea, perhaps six millimeters, and there was blood running into it.
She said it could be a fat necrosis, benign, or a reoccurrence of cancer. There would be the possibility that they missed this one as they were so focused on the large tumour.
Based on my history I should have a biopsy, she said.
There is something wonderful about doctors, they seem so calm even when delivering such news.
She smiled even when she handed me the initial report where she had checked off “abnormal.”
She puts in an order for a biopsy. I thank her, schedule a biopsy, and have the sudden urge to go shopping for pretty heels or see a movie.
I email the professor and tell her I’m sorry but must skip class because of a medical appointment. Suddenly the class takes a backdrop.
Since finding this lump my life and outlook has shifted. I'm forced to live two lives. There is the functioning me who wakes up, goes to school, goes to work, who grocery shops and cleans the kitchen. Then there is the grander issue of life, death and living with pain and uncertainty and as I half-jokingly say making lemonade out of lemons.
As the sister cleverly said of life, "nothing is certain or permanent, everything is on borrowed time, some shorter than others."