Some time ago, Mom and I were talking on the phone, and during the course of the conversation, she said, “Ow!”
I asked her if one of the cats had jumped on her, and she said, no, that her arm hurt. “Well, not my arm, really, but . . . .”* so, I asked her what she’d done.
Turns out she was getting the neighbor kids’ kite/frisbee/cat/glockenspiel** out of that big tree and she couldn’t quite reach it, even at the top of Dad’s tallest ladder, so she stretched up just a bit too far. She didn’t hyperextend her arm, just pulled her biopsy scar a little. And she did manage to grab the—
“Whoa. Hold on. What biopsy?”
“I had a lump in my breast so they stuck the biggest needle I’ve ever seen into it and they’re looking at it now.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
You all know what she said then right?
“I didn’t want you to worry.”
Yeah. Didn’t work. That never works, am I right? All the anxiety hit me at once and it’s been years and I still remember it, even if I don’t remember exactly what she went up that tree on a fairly rickety ladder to fetch down for those kids.***
I promised myself that I’d never do that to anyone. But . . . I kind of did.
See, several weeks ago, the city I work for was offering free skin cancer screenings. I spent most of my childhood frying in the sun, I have a nice collection of skin tags and moles that I’ve acquired over the years, and free-stuff-on-work-time is always nice, so I went.
And the doctor found a big weird, discolored, irregular thing on my upper back that I hadn’t known was there and told me to have it removed and biopsied. Now.
Then she circled the area around the weird thing with a pen, instructed me to have my husband do the same before my appointment, and asked me to have a nice day.
So I immedately called the only doctor in my immediate area who was taking new patients, and his office agreed that I should come in as soon as possible, which, as it turned out, meant first thing in the morning, ten days later. Which meant ten days of worrying about this weird thing festering away behind my back.
About what I would do if it was malignant. About what I would do if I needed treatment.
I didn’t obsess, exactly—I did my work, I wrote, I blogged—but I was aware that the the worst words in the world had suddenly narrowed to squalous and metastasis.
And I didn’t tell anyone but my parents, the adults living in our house, and two close friends.
I hid my concern from my family so well that no one remembered why I’d taken the morning off work and I had to run outside and flag down my husband as he backed his car out of the driveway, so he could circle the thing on my back.^
“Do you know where it is?”
“Of course I do.”
Most of the medical offices in our town are clustered into one ginormous hospital complex, forcing first-time visitors to weave and circle around and through the various parking lots reading the three-foot high numbers over all the glass doors. I found the building I wanted connected to the huge Oncology Center, which didn’t make me feel any better.^^
Once inside, I showed my insurance card like a hall pass with a deductible at a series of desks until I was allowed to approach the actual office. Once there, I was led to a small room where I filled out a medical history, stripped, put on a small robe, and re-read Beat^^^ until the doctor arrived.
The dermatologist, Dr. E., looks like Chris Pine and Elijah Wood had a genius son who graduated from medical school at the age of sixteen, and I decided upon meeting him that I wasn’t old enough to have doctors who look that young—nor was I anywhere near mentally healthy enough to have doctors that gorgeous survey the surfaces of my carcass.
But he put me at as much ease as was possible under the circumstances—at least those blue eyes of his made me a more pleasant kind of nervous—looked me over, and told me that he would like to remove the weird thing and send it to be biopsied.
His nurse gave me a numbing shot, he excavated the weird thing, and sent me on my way, telling me I shouldn’t waste time worrying about the results.
This morning, I received a call. The big weird, discolored, irregular thing was just a big weird, discolored, irregular thing. It was totally benign and Dr. E. would see me next year for my annual screening.
A weight has been lifted.
I don’t have cancer.
I don’t have cancer.
*Why, yes, trailing off at the end of sentences is a family trait . . .
**I don’t remember which, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a cat.
***That part didn’t worry me. That’s what Mom does.
^And then run back inside for a pen because all we could find in his car was a crayon, and that didn’t work very well.
^^To make it worse, I had to park in section C, right under the sign. Nice one, universe.
^^^You want a distraction from your problems? Try the ones Stephen Jay Schwartz put his main characters through.