Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Take your pink ribbon and shove it.

So, for the last 10 days, I have been convinced that I have breast cancer.

It's not that far-fetched. My grandmother died of the disease. My mother is a nine-year survivor. I had a lumpectomy at the ripe ol' age of 23. I'm the patient the gyn is always asking, "Do you do self exams? Is this lump normal?"

Except this time, the lump wasn't normal. It wasn't there. And then it was. And it was roughly the size of a bowling ball.

Or, 3 centimeters in diameter. Same dif.

I waited to see if it diminished or disappeared with my cycle. Nope. Instead, it seemed to get bigger, like it was feeding off of my growing alarm and neurosis.

I had agreed to get a baseline mammogram at my last gyn appointment, so I made the appointment. And then had to call my gyn's nurse back and fess up that according to the mammogram center, I needed a different work order because there was, umm, a problem.

The nurse and the receptionist at the mammogram center were the only two human beings I told about any of it.

Meanwhile, I planned.

I planned to e-mail my friends and tell them they'd better not give me pink shit, because it's not like you need further branding once a disease has disfigured your most visible womanly feature. I planned to ask for entertainment during chemo. I planned to host a head-shaving party.

It sounds a little alarmist, but I have seen first-hand what this disease does. I've given my mom a bath. I've seen her open wounds when her body rejected the tissue transplanted during her reconstruction. I needed a plan.

And when I made the appointment for the mammogram and the receptionist told me, "Good luck," I totally lost it, holed up in a conference room at Corporate Behemoth.

Today was the day. I even remembered to forgo the deodorant today, even though I was sweating like a freak out of nervousness. The mammogram was uncomfortable, but totally doable. And they saw the lump - actually, it was so big, you could see it just by looking at my breast. It's not just a lump - it's a lump on steroids. The Lump-O-Rator. The LumpMaster.

I had an ultrasound with the sweetest, nicest girl. Turns out, my left breast is chock full o' cysts. I'm cyst-o-riffic. I'm cyst-tacular.

Have I mentioned that I'm 31? And I have friends contemplating boob jobs, friends who have no fucking clue how lucky they are to just have healthy breasts?

Caffeine is the only known factor in breast cysts, and seeing as how I cut that nastiness out of my diet nine years ago, I am, in fact, a freak of nature and a medical mystery. But I scheduled an aspiration for this afternoon, and I went to work.

And walking to my car, I was overcome. I didn't have cancer. I had a bowling ball that could be drained with a needle.

I started sobbing in the parking lot. I'm sure anyone who saw me guessed that I had just received the worst news, not the best news.

I was so relieved. I'm not going to lose my hair. I'm not going to add a giant scar to my collection. I don't have to tell my mother that I have cancer.

I talked to her last night and she could tell I was totally out of sorts. I blamed it on the never-ending kitchen remodel, but I don't know that she was buying it. But I literally thought, "She'll know soon enough tomorrow."

I know I have a complex - if I'm just good enough, if I'm just the best daughter in the whole wide world, she won't get sick again. Because I'm powerful like that. I can keep cancer from coming back.

I've never been so helpless in my entire life.

But I have this game going in my head, and while I've identified it, I don't know how to untangle myself. And anyway, getting cancer myself is definitely not part of the "best daughter ever" plan. Because my mom would feel guilty. Because even though she hasn't had genetic testing, all data indicates that her cancer had the markings of a genetic predisposition.

So I cried in the parking lot. And then I went to work for three hours. And then I went and got my aspiration on.

Turns out they aspirated not one, not two, but THREE cysts in my left breast, filling three 8-cc syringes. Because I am an overachiever and don't do anything half-assed. The darling girl was there again. I love her and want to have her baby.

And then I went home, wrapped in an ace bandage. Turns out that cysts can refill almost immediately without pressure. Who knew?

I was going to work from home this afternoon, but that didn't quite work out. I was exhausted. My body tends to be of the "trauma! must sleep!" school of reaction, plus, really, I haven't relaxed in 10 days, so hell, no wonder I was tired. I never, ever nap, and I slept hard-core for two hours. Work can wait. I'm cyst-tastic.

So, there was worry, and then there was none, and now I can live happily ever after. Except, here's one of the reasons why I couldn't stop crying: now I don't have an excuse. I don't have a reason to not be the person I want to be and do all those things that I'm putting off. You totally have a reason not to date when you're in a relationship with chemo, or your hair is falling out. And all those mental promises to god about nutrition and exercise and really taking care of this booby-trapped body if I could just get a hall pass just this once? It's time to pay the piper.

I think it's sort of unfair that I know these things at a relatively young age. I already eat healthily. I go to the freakin' doctor every other day, practically. It's like I'm an old lady. I should be concerned about American Idol and wearing slutty clothes, not getting a baseline mammogram.

One great thing: I know, deep, deep in my soul, that I am going to live to be a very old woman - in real age, not in the American Idol/slutty clothes way. And so the prospect of fighting cancer now, while shitty, wasn't a life or death situation. I have faith.

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