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Boobs On A Platter

March 8, 2011

I have awesome breasts. Really. I have always loved them. They’re tiny – like, I can wear those cute Hello-Kitty training bras in the kids section, which I would totally do, except that they don’t make matching thongs for little girls and I am way too OCD not to have a cute matching set. But they’re a good handful, mouthful, whatever. They give me pleasure, fed my baby and are still awesome, if you ask me.

If you ask my doctor, they have suspicious lumps. That’s what he said when I went in for my routine exam last week, and then ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound. “It’s probably nothing,” he assured me. That is a meaningless statement after you tell a woman she has suspicious lumps in her breast. I’ve seen the news, and the pink yogurt tops, I know what breast cancer is. By the time I made it to the scheduling desk I had (entirely in my head, in one imaginary conversation after another) broken up with an amazing man in order to spare him the pain and drama of loving and losing me, explained to my daughter that she’d be fine without me, resolved not to tell anyone else, sold all my worldly possessions and disappeared into the international ether to do nothing but write, smoke pot, and have emotionless sexual entanglements with men who would never know my name and therefore would not miss me when I died from breast cancer – but knowing me would change their lives forever. Phew, that was a long 3 minutes.

That was 4 days ago. This morning, it was mammogram time.

A couple people with penises have said to me, “what’s the big deal, so you get your breasts squeezed.” No, it’s not like a graceless grope with a drunk dude. For you men out there, here is my suggestion. Go grab a couple bricks, stand in a public place, take your pants off, place your balls on one brick, and then place the other brick on top. Now squeeze as hard as you can, until your balls actually cover the entire surface of the brick, and are no more than 1/8 inch thick – yes, you can push hard enough to make them spread out that far. That, my friends, is a mammogram. Now hold very very still.

For those of us with tiny tits, it’s even harder. My perky AAs spread out on the glass like pancake batter on a skillet until they were bigger and flatter than my hand all spread out.  By the time my right breast had been flattened horizontally, vertically and at a 45 degree angle, I was really hoping I’d have a shot at a perky new pair, because it was hard to imagine that they’d get all round again. (They did.)

This is scary. I wasn’t here as a routine, I was here because my doctor was concerned. It’s hard not to be scared, even when you know the statistics.

An ultrasound is nothing. Except that the ultrasound tech was immediately followed by a “real” doctor. Maybe it’s routine, but I don’t ever recall hearing a second opinion requested when nothing is wrong.  Sure enough, the doctor is looking at this suspicious mass (that even I can see,) from every angle. She is sweet as can be, shiny and soft and glowing as if she were a spirit on the shoulder of a cartoon character, sharing the light of the right path…  Until she said, “I’d really like a biopsy of this.” Then she was the devil on the other shoulder.  “I don’t want you to worry,” she tells me. “Unfortunately, you can’t control that, and neither can I, I’m just gonna have to go through whatever comes up.” Tears came up.

I started crying immediately. It’s just shock and surprise, not gloom and doom; but no one orders a biopsy for no reason.

This is where my brain started doing interesting things. Called a girlfriend, predictable. Thought about who else to call, I was in a panic. But what was anyone going to say? Nothing was going to make me feel better. I just didn’t want to be, well, alone. I wanted, more than anything, to know that someone would care if I had breast cancer.

But why? Because if they missed me, then I would know they cared? Well that’s bullshit – if I don’t know that already, then it’s meaningless to hear it in such a situation. (And I do know it.) For them to know how much I mean to them so they will do something differently? Well that’s kinda bullshit too – if they don’t know it already, then maybe they’re not ready for me anyway, so it’s kinda meaningless too.  And it is not my job or right to manipulate people into doing or being anything. So that I can remind them that life and love are so rare and fleeting and we should grab every moment, NOW, and that no petty worry you have means anything in the face of losing love. Well shit, it’s not my responsibility to teach people that. Control control control. Fuck it. I can love or live however I want, who cares how people react to it?

Okay, biopsy. Now that’s cool. They get the ultrasound focused on the suspicious mass, which I have now named Sigmund, (like the Sea Monster and the sex-obsessed shrink.) My “job,” (aka, how they distract me) is to watch the needle go in and make sure that they get several samples from IN various spots of Sigmund. (I imagine him squealing as the needle goes in, and I feel a little bad for him.) It’s cool as hell, you can see the tissue and fluid move around the needle….  The last thing they do is insert a tiny stainless steel chip so that we can communicate with Sigmund in the future. (Teeny tiny walkie talkie!) If he turns out to be a cancerous little fucker, we’ll know how to find him and go get him. If he’s just chillin, then anytime I get tested in the future, they’ll be able to check my records and know it’s nothing. In general, we’ve got our eyes on Sigmund.

One more mammogram, to make sure the chip is in the right place. The same ultrasound tech from before. She was surprised to see me, surprised that I wound up getting a biopsy. This time, she confides in me that she’s had breast cancer, twice.  And she’s fine. I was already cried out by the time she told me this, otherwise I would have cried again, just because I was so touched. It meant so much to her to make sure that I know I’ll be okay.

And I do. I do know that.

But ya know what? Don’t let anyone tell you that getting a mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy is nothing. It isn’t nothing. It’s scary as hell. The results may be nothing, but the process is a naked walk in a stormy forest with your own mortality and unmet desires.  Those are some shitty traveling companions. And don’t let anyone tell you there is such thing as an unnecessary biopsy. Given the choice between a negative biopsy and the negative energy of worrying, I’ll take the biopsy any day. Because in the moments when I had legitimate reason to worry, it was awful. If a biopsy can alleviate that, it’s totally worth it.

It was raining when I went in to the Breast Center. It was sunny when I came out. I felt alone when it was happening. Now that seems like a blessing. I’m not hiding or anything, people who want to play with me will play. This is a game that has just begun, you can join at any time…..  As long as there is time left, and no one can predict that.

And now I wait for results. (Which will be nothing.) But not for life. (Which will be everything  – and then some.)

(By the way, I’ve been asked, more than once, “what’s the rush?” Um, this is. Now or never, and that’s not morbid, at all. It’s empowering.  It’s permission.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    March 8, 2011 4:50 pm

    Wow, Alyssa, what a powerful post! As a guy, I haven’t had this same experience but the way you capture that feeling, “I felt alone when it was happening. Now that seems like a blessing,” is just amazing. Stay strong and keep doing your thing. 🙂

  2. Peacemaker_MC_Demo permalink
    March 8, 2011 6:16 pm

    I couldnt imagine being a woman, let alone go through this type of thing. being a guy, i had to go through something similer to the nuts between the brick. my harley jumped and the seat took one of mine out. a trip to the dock , complete with untrasound, and then to get sliced open down there, and 5000 bucks later, and im not as good as new.

    now im not a boob man, but still like them, but i did once date a woman that had hers removed, nipple and all. I really doubt many guys could handle that, and i wasnt sure i could at first, but it was ok, and i was her first to see her that way 10 years later, and it was all good. My point in that is it wouldnt be the end of the world as long as you live to tell about it. there are guys that could handle it, if there the right guys…

  3. March 8, 2011 7:38 pm

    well said (as usual), I love that I’m not the only one who can have entire conversations in my head, also naming of Sigmund and your perfect description of a mammogram for those with penises…
    hang in there, hugs,


  4. Kristen permalink
    March 8, 2011 8:01 pm

    I work at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I hope it’s not cancer, Alyssa, but if it is, well, come visit and I’ll eat lunch with you while you’re between appointments.

    Cancer can kill you, but so can a burger with e. coli, or a car that misses a red light. I’m glad you’re grabbing hold of the reins of your life with zeal. I can’t imagine you doing anything else. The world is a fabulous place, and I enjoy your presence in it every time I see you or read your posts. Thank you for continuing to share yourself with us.

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