I Knew Before I Knew

Micro-calcifications. I could see the splattering of white in the darkened radiology room while the doctor explained that they can sometimes be an indicator of cancer. Fuck. There it is. The word I’ve been ignoring. I’d always thought that doctors tried to alleviate cancer fears, not incite them. I’m not that person who coughs and decides I’m dying from pneumonia. I come from a long line of chronic under-reactors. We don’t panic over anything, and even when it’s time to panic, we just don’t. It doesn’t matter; this isn’t a time to panic anyway. This is just some doctor telling me about calcium deposits in my breast, but I wish he’d get on with it. I really want to get in a good 4 mile run this afternoon and then check out all the shows I usually miss because I’m at work.

The Breast Health Nurse walks with me downstairs and into a private room. In the stairwell I can feel my eyes welling, but I’m not sure why I’m on the verge of tears. So I stop myself. I don’t have cancer. But the calcium deposits are creating some problems, and antibiotics probably aren’t going to help at all, so they’re going to do a biopsy. They’re going to slice into the flesh of my breast, cut out pieces of tissues, and have it analyzed at a lab. Would I like the nurse to call in a favor so I can go in today? Excuse me? Since when does anyone in the medical community do favors for complete strangers? But fine, sure, call in a favor. I don’t want to take off more time from work anyway, so let’s just get this done. The nurse has disappeared; I can’t even hear her conversation no matter how hard I strain. There are brochures on the table: Early Detection and Breast Cancer Support. I ignore both; I don’t have cancer.

The breast health doctor’s office is busy. The lady at the front desk knows who I am immediately, takes my insurance card, and hands me patient paperwork to fill out. There’s no copay today, she says smiling warmly. I settle into a chair to wait. So much for my run. So much for my post-run lounging in front of the television. I fill in my name, address, and begin working on the section regarding personal and family medical history. I mark a big X in the “NO” column for breast cancer. Hopefully, the doctor notices that and can focus in another direction. I’ve been waiting about a minute, when my name is called. I’m hustled into an examination room. I’m given yet another half gown to put on, and I’m left alone to wonder why I’m getting preferential treatment.

I can feel pressure, but sensations of pain have been blocked by the local anesthesia. The doctor, Dr. F., said he would take about three samples, but we’re up to six now, and each time I can feel the pressure going deeper and deeper. The loud click of the instrument as it cuts into small pieces of tissue is startling. He keeps asking me if I’m okay or if I feel any pain. Pain? No. Uncomfortable. Very. But I’m playing the role of the good patient today. He steri strips the 1/4 inch incision closed and tapes some gauze over the area. I’ll probably need to ice it tonight, and there will be some bruising. The biopsy results will be in early next week, but I can’t meet on Tuesday like he suggests. I push it to Thursday, April 22. He has already mentioned cancer and asked me about my family history of cancer. What do they know that I don’t know?

I smile and thank the doctor for seeing me on such short notice. I smile and thank the receptionist as I walk out the door, digging for my sunglasses… already crying. The day is sunny and warm, and I crawl into my car. My eyes are swimming. I drive home with my salty streaks, indulging in them after the long day I’ve had. It’s not what they think it is. They’re scaring me, and it’s a little dramatic and unnecessary. And why am I being treated so special anyway?
I park my car, wipe my wet face, and get out. I’m finally home, and I’m already feeling the anesthesia wearing away. I won’t run tonight, but I will settle into both the comfortable red couch cushions and an even more comfortable place of denial. Any semblance of panic disappears with the swelling: completely gone in less than 24 hours.

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