Back in the middle of December, I came home from Europe happy, exhausted, and totally itchy.
You would think a story that started like that would be interesting, wouldn't you? This one ends well, at any rate, and that's the part that concerns me the most. You can make what you want of the rest.
The problem, I think, began when I left my Body Butter at home. Italy was colder than you'd expect it to be, and there just isn't the humidity in the air that I'm used to over here. There were a lot of dehydrating plane rides, and over-heated hotel rooms, and I was probably only drinking a litre of water a day, rather than the two or three that I usually throw back. Wine was an increased feature in both Bari and London, which didn't help the cause either.
Honestly, by the time I came home, I'd turned into a sun-dried tomato. My skin felt like leather, and there were parts of me to which I wanted to take a wire brush. My loofah became my new best friend; my moisturizers and body lotions, lip balms and hair conditioners, they became my lifeblood, my main resource for living comfortably. Regardless, I was working with a deficit, so that while the air outside got colder as winter raged on, and the air inside became warmer as we raised the thermostat ever higher, my skin continued to feel dry and stretched and scratchy. Once the New Year came around, I increased my amount of workouts per week, so there were more two-shower days instead of the regular once-every-morning, thus leeching my skin of even more moisture.
I used to work in an office where every girl except I had a bottle of hand cream on her desk. They were in awe of my naturally soft hands, and I had the nerve to be quietly smug about it. Karma's a bitch; I was fighting a losing battle.
The more I scratched, the itchier I became. It's one thing to idly scratch your shoulder or the back of your knee, it's quite another to rub your back against every stucco surface you come across. By the beginning of February, I'd lost all shame, and my left nipple was getting more action than it'd seen in a pitifully long time. The other people in line at the bank machine seemed to enjoy it, too. Poor Mr. Capodilupo will never be the same, though.
I suppose I should be grateful, in the end. If it wasn't for the horror of this moisture-sucking winter, and the necessary slathering of body butter every six hours, I might not have noticed the lump in my left breast.
That was a Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, I'd alternately ignored it, worried over it, dismissed it, felt myself up another 6 times, lost my cool completely and finally, I called Stella.
Friends are wonderful; friends who can talk you down from the roof are even better. Stella told me to stay off the internet so that I don't fall prey to the monster that is self-diagnosis, and she told me to stop being stupid already, and make an appointment. And then she told me to keep my hands out of my bra for God's sake, you're only making it worse!
So that's what I did. I closed the 8 breast cancer sites I'd looked up, and called the doctor. I couldn't get an appointment for three days, and for three days I was alternately very scared and not scared at all. The possibility of finding something bad was low, but not so low that I could afford to get cocky. Eleven percent of women is nothing to sneeze at.
By the time my Friday appointment rolled around, I was a walking migraine. After detailing to the doc what and where I'd felt something, she had me hop up on the table to do some groping herself. I'd never wanted to be accused of having too active an imagination so much as I did as I was lying there, watching this woman make bread out of my breasts. She felt something, though, first in the left, and then on the right.
"But symmetry is good!" I insisted, as she handed me a requisition. "Finding something in both is better than finding something in one, right? Right?" I was already willing to grasp at straws, because the wave of panic had started to sweep over any traces of logic I had left. She nodded grimly, and made an appointment for me at a diagnostic clinic immediately. I am over 30 and I haven't had children, she said, and the risk goes up with those factors in hand. I was to have a mammogram that afternoon, and an ultrasound four days later.
There's an old joke that circulated inboxes for a while, about the best way to prepare for a mammogram is to slam your breast repeatedly and with great force in the refrigerator door. It is not wrong. It may, in fact, be understating it a little.
The mammogram was, without question, the most uncomfortable procedure I've ever had, and that includes having thirty-five gallons of water pumped through a hose up my bum. You know that camel hold that figure skaters do, where they grab their skate blade while bending backwards, and touch the back of their head with it? That's what I felt like, except I was doing it with my breasts in a giant mousetrap. Great big pancake griddles, cold as ice, squeezed my poor girls flat, starting from about an inch under my collar bone, until they were flattened into a land mass approximately the size of Toronto's Greater Metropolitan Area. That's a lot of flesh, people! And I had to stand with an arm in the air, and my chin pointing up while this woman tried to make pizza crust out of my mammaries and... and... perhaps worst of all, more humiliating than anything else, she taped, like, ball bearings to my nipples! I asked her, the technician, why why why the little metal balls? Why? And honestly, I'd go into detail about it, but haven't I used up my quota of 'nipple' for this entry? Please?
Four days later, on the Tuesday afternoon, I went back to the clinic for my ultrasound. One would assume that lots of lube, a handheld apparatus and my naked boobies in a chilly room would be more enjoyable, non? One would assume, and one would be wrong. It didn't help, of course, that I insisted on craning my neck to see the screen.
"What's that?" I'd ask, every time she made marked out a spot. "What that?" I'd ask, and silence is what she gave me every time. "And that? What about that? What's that now?" I would point to various darker spots on the screen, and she'd slap my hand away without saying a word. Great, I thought to myself. I'm getting felt up by Marcel Marceau while he's on his period.
Three more days passed until I got the results. Again, I alternated between being absolutely frightened, to living completely without worry. I was 97% sure that I was perfectly healthy; it was just that 3% leftover that refused to let me get too cocky, that refused to let me sleep easily at night. It wasn't a good week. God knows I've had worse, but it wasn't what you'd call a fantastic few days.
I'm fine, of course. I'm perfectly fine. They found nothing in my left breast, which is where the doctor and I both felt something. In my right breast, I have a completely unspectacular, totally benign looking cyst, the kind of thing that many, many women have. I've since done some reassuring safety gropes, and I don't feel anything out of the ordinary. The monsters I thought I felt have since retreated, and my body just feels like my body again. Maybe it was in my head, but then it would have had to be in the docís head too, right?
So, I lucked out. If you had told me this story a month ago, this completely out of the blue story, and then said, "I lucked out" I would have scoffed and told you to not be so dramatic. I would have told you that you canít luck out if you were never in any danger in the first place. And I would have been wrong, very wrong. It means I wouldn't have given one thought to all the women out there who, out of the very same blue, go through the very same tests, feel the very same fear, and turn out to be not so lucky.
So I lucked out. I lucked the hell out.
May we all have that kind of good fortune.
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