In comparison, I am naked, sitting on a chair with stirrups, clutching onto a thin garment, trying to maintain a semblance of dignity. “I’m great,” I announce. “Everything’s just fine.”
She looks at my chart and nods. “Okay. Tell me about your pain.”
Apparently, we’re done with the pleasantries. “It’s in my right breast. It radiates outward,” I explain, moving my hand in a motion from breast to armpit.
She doesn’t frown; she doesn’t smile. Nothing on her face shows an outward visual of her inward thoughts. “How long has it been there? It is intermittent?”
For a moment, my mind goes blank. I know the answer, but my cheerfulness is waning, along with my desire to chitchat. Worry begins to form, and niggles in the back of my mind. “It started around three months ago. It’s a sharp, constant pain.” My mind keeps repeating a phrase over, and over again. I finally state it out loud, to her, in order to feel better. “Cancer is painless, so I’m not really worried.” Cancer is painless. Cancer is painless. Cancer is painless.
… Do I feel better, yet?
“Usually,” she answers, noncommittal. “Tell me, do you drink a lot of coffee?”
“Um, yeah. I’m a mom. Coffee is pretty much a staple, next to breathing,” I answer, trying for levity. Humor while naked, staring at stirrups, talking about my breasts. I can, and will, crack a joke in every situation.
She examines me, and notates a difference in the painful breast, which she describes as being “dense” breast tissue. Then she announces, “There’s not a lump. That’s good.”
I know there isn’t a lump, which is why I’m not panicking. I’m not panicking because I expect her to pat me on the head, call me a hypochondriac, and send me on my way. I want her to say, “Cancer isn’t painful. Come back next year.”
What she does, instead, is schedule a diagnostic mammogram, as well as an ultrasound. Two tests that, to me, aren’t exactly routine. “Now, you don’t have to rush to schedule these tests,” she says, signing off on my chart. “There’s no hurry. But, I’d say within the next two weeks, make the phone call, and schedule the tests. At most, wait a month, but don’t wait more than that.”
I stare at the papers she gives me, and wait for the pain to disappear. I keep staring at the papers over the next week and a half, until they are a crumpled mess, and barely legible. But, I make the phone call. In the waiting period between testing, I am making some decisions concerning how I will act before the scheduled mammogram. More, I am making decisions about how NOT to act, and I want to share those with every woman who is, will, and has stood in my shoes.