I don’t care about my boobs. Okay I guess what I mean by that is I don’t really think about my boobs. I am often aware of them- but I don’t buy them special potions or fancy holsters to showcase their potential. I have never used them to get anything. I don’t post photos of them on Instagram and I don’t wear low-cut tops with push-up bras. (Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think there is anything wrong with a woman doing that and, like everyone else, I have been known to look at and appreciate a nice rack.) I have just never been interested in attracting that kind of attention… or any attention, really.
Look, my boobs are fine. They’re not freaky or weird looking. They’re both the same size. I don’t have to shave them or anything (THANK GOD). They’re just your regular run-of-the-mill boobs, save for one teeny tiny scar.
I don’t have children so my boobs don’t serve any utilitarian purpose. They are just appendages- much like shoulders or little useless arms. I wasn’t cursed (or blessed) with large breasts but they do still occasionally get in the way and certain times of the month, they really hurt (“Feels like rain’s a-comin!”).
I had a breast lumpectomy in 1993 when I was twenty years old. The lump was a fibroadenoma- a noncancerous tumor. The tumor was under my nipple and was removed using only local anesthesia- I was awake for the whole procedure. I vividly remember the feeling of my breast being cut and tugged. My nipple was cut almost off and pulled back like a little lid. I remember the sound and the feel of the tumor being cut out. I remember feeling something cold on my side and hearing a nurse tell the doctor (who had walked away to show my mother my tumor- leaving me lying on the table with my stupid nipple hanging off) “Doctor, she’s hemorrhaging.” They then had to tie off all the little blood vessels that were just hanging there like live-wires. They sewed the nipple back on and violà! Done. Good as new. Or okay as new, in my case.
I guess you could say that whole Shyamalanian plot twist was pretty traumatic for a twenty year old. Up until this point in my life, I had felt pretty immortal- like most twenty year olds. The eighteen years that followed that event have been riddled with more hypochondriac moments than I even care to remember. So imagine my surprise when one dumb day five years or so later, I noticed the lump under that same nipple had GROWN BACK. “Fibroadenoma”- the bad Hollywood remake.
Of course I had it checked out by a doctor- complete with a biopsy reminiscent of medicine practiced in the barbaric Tudor period. I will spare you the details because, to be honest, I buried them deep in the caverns my brain… behind the lyrics to “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears and every word to the movie “Fargo”. File Not Found.
When I found out I was having another noncancerous fibroadenoma, I decided to keep it.
Cut to: Present day. Exterior. Can of Worms.
I have had this lump checked yearly by my doctor who says “We just need to keep an eye on it”. Then two weeks ago my doctor said, “It feels bigger. You should have a mammogram and an ultrasound.” But I was keeping my eye on it! You said we JUST need to keep our eye on it! Ugh. Here we go.
Here’s the thing. I know it’s not cancer. I have had this lump for so long that if it had been cancerous, it would have killed me a million times by now. But that’s RATIONAL thought. When it comes to medical procedures, I am not rational.
Sitting in the waiting room at UCLA Women’s Imaging Center, I look around at all the women attached to the boobs that have brought them there. In the way that pets look like their owners, boobs look like their owners: Mosquito Bites brought in by the tall, slender, older woman; Tan Melons brought in by the hot soccer mom with a tan, wedge heels, and short skirt (anklet sold separately); Stumpy Breasts looking in opposite directions brought in by the round, short older Asian woman with a pixie haircut.
I hear my name called quietly and enter through two large doors to find Big Bazongas attached to a wild-haired blonde woman in her 50s. She is all business (The Boobie Business) but manages a smile and a “Hi, sweetie. What are you here for today?” I’m surprised she doesn’t know. “I have a lump.” She drops the smile and looks at me, concerned. “Is this a new lump?” she asks to which I reply, “Oh no, I’ve had it for like ten years but my doctor said it feels bigger.” She gives me a pink “shirt” to change into and tells me she will be back for me. The “shirt” is an extra large rectangular piece of fabric with two holes for my arms. It has several ties that hang down- and I have NO idea how to wear this thing. I wrap this large piece of fabric around me and hold it closed. Because of the many ties hanging off it, it looks like a pink straitjacket. I join the other women in the waiting room who have expertly tied their rectangle and actually look normal. I am the only one who looks like a mental patient.
Big Bozangas finds me and starts the mammogram. Pulling and flattening and tugging. Four x-rays. While sculpting my boob like a piece of clay into a nice, flat slab, she tells me that one in eight women will get breast cancer and that “If you live long enough, you will get it too.” She also tells me that husbands and boyfriends are the ones who find most breast lumps in women. The only thing I manage to reply is “Gross.”
Big Bazongas puts a little pink flower sticker on my breast where my tumor is. I look down and inspect this little pretty sticker on my boob and think to myself, “Hmm. Not bad.” Better than a scarlet letter… worse than a gold star.
I head back to the waiting room to be called for my ultrasound. Finally a pair of Perky Hooters attached to an accent and a sweet face find me and take me to a dark room. “Take off your shirt.” I lie on the bed and she begins the ultrasound. I see my tumor appear on the screen. “Is that it?” I ask. “Yep” Perky Hooters replies. “Aww, my tumor” I say. “May I take a photo of it? I’ve been growing that thing for a long time.” I tell Perky Hooters the images of my breast look like photos the Mars rover has sent back. “Look! There’s the Face on Boob!” Perky Hooters tells me to be quiet. The Boobie Business is very serious.
After a series of photos and measurements of Tumor, I’m ready to go get dressed when Perky Hooters’ face changes. She looks very concerned. I notice that she is now inspecting a different part of my breast. She’s at 10 o’clock. Oh my God why is she at 10 o’clock? Tumor is at 9 o’clock! Perky Hooters stays on that spot for a LONG time. She isn’t saying anything and I have been advised to be quiet. I can feel my heart rate picking up. I’m starting to panic. Her face… oh my God Perky Hooters’ face. She began taking photos of 10 o’clock and measuring it and checking blood flow. I just sat there quietly searching her face.
“Okay, sit up” and relief washes over me. It’s done. I’m free. Perky Hooters tells me to wait there so she can go talk to the doctor. “Okay” I say. WHAT? WAIT HERE? TALK TO A DOCTOR? She leaves the room and I’m left there- alone. I start shaking. What is going on? This can’t be happening.
For the record, Boyfriend offered several times to take me to this appointment. I thanked him for offering but told him this was going to be a fast appointment and there was no need for him to take me. “It’s nothing. I’ll be in and out of there in less than an hour.” Now I was wishing I had taken him up on his offer.
While waiting for Perky Hooters to return, I texted Boyfriend with shaky hands: “Something is wrong”.
Perky Hooters returns and tells me to take my shirt off because she said the doctor wants her to run further tests. “Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?” she asks. I tell her my maternal grandmother died from breast cancer. She makes a terrible face and proceeds to inspect 10 o’clock again, taking more photos and more measurements and checking blood flow again. Tears begin to fall down the sides of my face. The room is spinning. I tell Perky Hooters I’m freaking out and she tells me it will be okay and asks me if there’s someone I can call. I couldn’t even answer her.
After what feels like an eternity- Perky Hooters tells me to put my shirt on. She escorts me across the hall to a consultation room so I can wait there for the doctor to come speak with me. The only thing I notice is that I am not at that moment getting dressed and going home. I’m going into a cold room with ugly fluorescent lighting and a couch. I see a “Breast Cancer Diagnosis” pamphlet on the table next to me. This is NOT happening. I try to text my boyfriend but my hands are too shaky. “They found something else” was all I could manage.
In my head, I imagined the doctor looked like the wizard from The Wizard of Oz. An older man behind the curtain pulling on various ropes and granting wishes. I wanted to click my heels together and chant “There’s no place like home” three times and be gone.
Breasts covered by a clipboard and attached to a pretty young doctor finally entered the room. Dr. Clipboard was not what I was expecting at all. She was not smiling. She got right to it. “You have two tumors, both benign.” The room was spinning. Did she say benign? She said benign right? I think she said benign. “Did you say benign?” I asked. “Yes, they’re both benign.” I pretty much don’t know what else Dr. Clipboard said after that because I could only hear my heart beating in my ears. BENIGN. The prettiest word in the English language: Benign.
Walking out of the building I kept telling myself “You should be SO happy right now!” but it wasn’t happening. I just wanted to get to my car so I could cry. I can’t remember being that scared in a long time. Or ever.
I can’t stop thinking about women who sat in that consultation room just as I did- shaking and scared- receiving the worst news in their lives… wishing they could click their heels together and go home.
I have to go back for a follow-up exam in six months and you better believe I’m not going alone.
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