My Boobs Are Conspiring Against Me
I got the letter in January. I made the call in March. Why? Because when I got the letter in January, I read it as saying “your breasts are trying to kill you, and they’re going to win this time, so say good-bye to everyone you love because you’ll be dead by the weekend, sucka.” What it really said was, “You are due for your routine mammogram. Please call at your convenience to make an appointment.”
Seeing as I don’t find impending doom to be convenient at all, I waited 3 months.
Look, I have never pretended that my fears are rational. I won’t swim in any naturally-existing body of water because I am absolutely certain there are either undiscovered sea-monsters, or serial murderers on the lam, down there waiting to grab me. Rational? No. But real enough to stop me from swimming? Yup.
So too, my fear of breast cancer. Mind you, no one in my family has ever had any sort of cancer that they didn’t inhale themselves over the course of decades. But I have watched close friends battle the beast of breast cancer, and it’s scary. And, like all women, breast cancer has been marketed to me with the same vigor as 6-pack abs and dewey, youthful skin. So yes, sometimes I look at my boobies and I swear I can hear them ticking. And snickering.
Then there’s the fact that mammograms are really fucking uncomfortable. Like, horrible, really. And the conflicting evidence about whether or not they are useful. (Those of you who have testicles, ask a friend to smash them between two glass cutting boards until they are the size of a fluffy pancake and 10 times their previous diameter. Now hold still.)
I know that I should be palpitating them myself and seeing if I can detect changes. But, they’re ALWAYS changing. (My husband is useless at this, because he’s just all like “boobies” and then we’re naked, which is not a productive preventative practice.) They change with my diet, with my cycle, with the fucking moon. And, given that I’m convinced there’s a den of serial killers with gills in Lake Washington, I am NOT someone who you want to encourage to interpret any little thing as a sign of cancer. If I did that, I’d be dying all the time.
I am someone who needs mammograms because my ability to worry creatively needs to be held in check. It needs to be someone else’s job to worry about my matricidal mammaries. Period.
So, my breasts and I have this pretty dysfunctional relationship. On the one hand, I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. I think I was blessed with extra nerve-endings there, so, yay. And I think they’re great looking. I wish the nipples weren’t increasingly shy in their old-age, seemingly always trying to duck for cover in the lumpy obscurity of my breast themselves, but it’s cool. Things change. But I do look at them and wonder when they’ll leave me. Or kill me.
When I got the letter, I interpreted it is “now. Now we will kill you.”
So I called. My husband was in the shower, I called. I was nervous as hell, even though, yes, all I was doing was making an appointment, as someone with the lowest possible risk for cancer. I put on my fake voice, the one that is forced-happy, an octave higher than usual. I was overly chatty, so the perfect stranger on the other end wouldn’t know how crazy I am.
“Was it stormy where you were last night? It was so stormy where we were.” She’s picking out dates, and says she can get me scheduled.
Then, it comes. “Are you having any symptoms of anything?” I laugh, still being overly chatty, assuming we’re making small talk to cut the tension, like a bad first date. “Who knows, maybe a little soreness, but it’s probably from doing too many pull-ups or something.”
BOOM. Cue the tympani and cello, doom has just been wrought.
“Oh, well in that case, you need to go see your doctor, have an exam, and he’ll order advanced screenings for the problem area.”
Problem area? I WAS MAKING SMALL TALK! I don’t have a problem area (unless you count the random hairs that are sprouting now, I have a problem with that, but even I don’t think the hairs are trying to kill me!)
I now need a diagnostic screening, not a routine screening. WHAT????? I WAS MAKING SMALL TALK. But, you know how I hear doom? These people hear dollar signs. That’s right, while routine screenings are mandated coverage (at fair rates) by the ACA, they can get more money for diagnostic screenings than they can for routine screenings. I walked right into their trap.
I started to tear up. “You don’t understand,” I explained to her, “it took everything I have to make this call. It took me 3 months of locking up my fears to call, if you send me way, I’m gone. I won’t call back. I won’t call my doctor. PLEASE do this for me.”
“I can’t. We have policies. If you have symptoms, you have to ……”
“I don’t have symptoms. I was making small talk. BUT EVEN IF I DO, then you really need to get me in, because you’ll find it, and ….”
“I’m sorry mam, I can’t make an appointment for you.”
“You don’t understand, I will run, please just do this.”
“Well then, good luck.”
GOOD LUCK??? What the fuck. To a neurotic person, “good luck” is basically synonymous with “they’re right behind you with a knife.”
But more than that, if I had symptoms, WHICH I DON’T (except as smalltalk is a symptom of nervousness) then don’t you want to get me in even sooner? And be even nicer?
My husband got out of the shower to find me fighting back tears, because I had basically planned my funeral while he was in there. Although I stopped short of making him promise to still find love after I die, I explained it all to him…..
He talked me down. He always does. I get it, this is about insurance industry money. That’s it. I am not dying, they are greedy. (Greedy fucking bastards.)
I emailed my doctor. (An email that looks shockingly like this blog post,) and he was pissed. He is also the best human on the planet and I am sure that when he gets home at night he takes off his perfectly appointed outfits to reveal a bright unitard as his cape unfurls down his back like the golden locks of a Princess.
He used a very moderate swear word and said he’d set up a routine screening. And forward my email to HR.
So there. I’m going to go get my mammogram, like a big girl.
But I am seriously NOT going swimming.