Archive for February, 2014

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Udder Despair

February 12, 2014

Do all women live in fear of their own breasts?  I feel like I’ve been waiting for the lump-shoe to drop from as early as I can remember, and my whole life I’ve been scared one day I would wake up and face the breast cancer facts. These things that are supposed to be my prize possession, right? These things that (straight) men are supposed to desire and women envy – that we’re supposed to hate one another over – at any moment could decide to kill me. Or at least make my life very, very challenging.

It is not the first time I have sat in this little room in a pink cotton gown fresh from the sterilizer, waiting for a radiologist to call me down the hall. There’s a spot on my right breast my gynecologist gets nervous about every couple of years, and has me go get a sonogram. I don’t mind that she’s over cautious. As I said I’ve expected these two fibrocystic packets of fat would try to kill me at some point anyway, so might as well get used to exposing myself to doctors on a regular basis now, right? Only this time is different – this time there are two lumps. A brand new lump! Christmas in February.

So I sit in this little room in a pink cotton gown, sweating the mixed sweat of anxiety, vulnerability and overheated doctor’s office, when the friendly-but-close-talking radiologist comes in and attempts to mask her concern about my two “palpables”. But where her mask is so uncomfortably close to my face, I can’t help but see the fear in the eyes behind.  She informs me I’ll be getting a mammogram today. Suprise! Bet ya didn’t know it was Mammogram Tuesday! I’m instructed to take wet wipes and remove what deodorant remained after fighting my anxiety sweat, and follow her down the hall for a good old fashioned boob-squish.

Believe it or not, this is not my first mammogram. In 1998 I first joined The Pancake Club to get a baseline imaging before I had reduction surgery. I wish I could remember what was going on in my head at the impressionable, uncomfortable age of 17, as a woman I’d never met tugged at the breasts I was about to have chopped down to size.

The breasts I had learned to hate.

The breasts I was ashamed of. The breasts that pointed down to the floor instead of up into the room. The breasts I had grown way too early. The breasts I was told I had to cover with undershirts or else kids would make fun of me. The breasts that are now covered with faint scars: tiny external mirrors of massive internal wounds.

So here I stand, scars and all, a woman-over-30 while another woman-over-30 shoves my tits between two plates of plastic and has the nerve to ask me if I’m comfortable, as she cranks my neck around the side of the machine. A mammogram really is a ridiculous procedure. I look in awe and macabre humor at these poor little water balloons, distended into shapes they were never meant to make.  As the machine bears down on me and I’m told to hold my breath, I notice the side of one of the plates says “8×10” and I almost erupt with laughter: my tits are getting their headshots done!

I’m sent back to my tiny little room in my pink cotton gown and sit. And wait. And like a good Buddhist I try to feel where this fear lives in my body. My chest – who’s surprised? And then feeling where this fear lives in my body gets to be too much – I’m overcome by all of it. By the anxiety, by the years of waiting for the shoe to drop, and by the nagging feeling of regret that the breasts I’m scared of aren’t even the ones I was born with. That a part of me is lying in a medical waste dump somewhere in Massachusetts. Has it decomposed yet? Did the grams of flesh they removed from my chest 15 years ago dissolve back into the earth, as the rest of me will one day? Or does it still fester somewhere in the heap? Does my DNA, my tissues, my genes, separated from my being by my own warped decision, severed by a scalpel of self-hate, still pulse somewhere? If time is non-linear, is there another me in this universe who proudly carries her pendulous chest around, appreciative of the female form and unashamed?

I know. It’s a lot. But there’s a lot of time to think in my little room in my pink cotton gown. A lot of time to unpack how this part of my body has affected my life. A lot of time to grieve and to mourn and to recognize how badly I needed to do both.

Finally, after far too long, the radiologist calls me down to her office, and to my amazement, shows me the inside of my breasts. There on the screen. My DNA. My tissues. My genes. Looking whole and complete, and possessing two distinct popcorn-like patches. One, scar tissue from my surgery. The other, traumatic calcification from a bike accident in 2012, when I took a handlebar in the chest. Both utterly benign.

I am a lucky one today. My breasts are not trying to kill me today. Today I simply stand in a little room, in a pink cotton gown, and view my scars and my trauma from the inside out.

 

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