For the Ladies

Cancer is no longer the scariest word in the English language. For those of us who have survived it our new scariest word is recurrence. Therefore, we run to the doctor for any little pain. If there was a scan for hangnails we would have it to avoid ever having to go through treatment again. A few weeks ago, I went to see my doctor because I had a sore spot. She did a breast exam and agreed with me that there was not a lump. However, being a recent breast cancer survivor herself, she referred me on for a mammogram “just to be sure.” I am in a high risk category for breast cancer, since I have had ovarian, and so she sent me to a diagnostic clinic in Atlanta that specializes in high risk patients. This is the place that caught her cancer even though her regular mammogram came back normal. She said, “If there is something wrong they will find it and you will know it that day.” I get an appointment and print off a mountain of forms to fill out before I arrive.
Now medical paperwork is part of life, especially if you are a survivor. But I wonder sometimes if we could save the planet by cutting out a few forms. I fill out the same information 20 times. I am tempted to write “see first form” on all subsequent ones, since they all want to know the same basic info. I make note that on one form it says to allow three hours for the visit. Gotta love disclaimers. It takes me several days to get the paperwork finished, and gather the three previous mammogram films they require. Bill goes with me, because if something shows up I do not want to be alone. I take him with me like Linus takes his security blanket…I just feel safer when he is there. We navigate to the office through 400 traffic. We find the right floor, but when we look in the window there are mostly men in the waiting room. I am sure we are lost and in the wrong place, until Bill says, “husbands.” Ah. He is right of course. I walk into a room full of men with my file folder of paperwork and a book. I am called to one of the 5 check in stations and am reminded of the checkout lines at Walmart. This place is set up to move people through quickly and I am hopeful that the three hour disclaimer was for rare occasions. As I stand at the check in station she looks over my paperwork and asks me the same questions I have already filled out 20 times. She hands my papers back to me with a number on them and tells me the “historian” will be with me shortly. Hmmm, historian? Really? Am I in a museum and just didn’t realize it?
I sit reading and three chapters later the historian calls my name. I leave my security blanket in the lobby reading his book and proceed to the medical history station. I am amazed that I must answer all the questions one more time. So amazed, that I forget my age. I say 37 because it really seems that I should still be in my thirties. When the historian repeats back the timeline she has created it is all wrong, due to the fact I have forgotten how old I am. I only wish that I had thought to do this on purpose to make a point about repeating information 1000 times. Instead I am embarrassed that I do not know my own age even after repeating it so many times, which only verifies that they cannot trust me to give them the correct info. I claim chemo brain, and she smiles an annoyed smile while she fixes her computer entry. Once my timeline is accurate she escorts me to the change your clothes station. She smiles like an airline attendant as she points to the gowns and delivers her speech. I am to put on a blue gown. You know the ones. They open in the front, have a plunging neckline, no sleeves, are thin, and close by a tie at the waist…which does nothing to keep it closed at the top. Though at my age, the correct one, I am sagging enough I should be able just to tuck the girls in at the waist. Now I walk into a waiting room with several other women, also in gowns. We all act as though we are fully clothed. We read magazines, and smile at one another like we are at the park or something. No conversation however. To awkward to hold a book, keep up with your purse, talk and try to keep your gown from gapping. A large woman walks in with a red gown on. It is then that I realize my blue gown is a normal size. I am thrilled at this discovery and my smile turns genuine, even as I feel for her sitting in her stand out red that says “I am fat” to the rest of the world. I am in a REGULAR SIZE mammogram gown. This is the best part of the whole day.
After a few more chapters, my name is called from the mammogram door. I go in and see the vice grip machine. It looks the same as any other mammogram machine I have ever seen. I had hoped that the high risk clinic’s more “sophisticated” equipment would be somehow less barbaric, but that hope disappears when I see it. The woman is asking me questions and I answer them again, remembering my age this time. Nature music is playing and the wall has a scene from the woods on it. I guess I am to pretend to be on a walk as they clamp my breast into the machine. Let me just say that high risk clinics see a ton of women each day, and they know how to pull and smoosh to get the best pictures. The woman is using her best distracting technique, asking me about my plans for the upcoming holidays. I play along, while she is yanking my breast off, by laughing and acting as if we are old friends catching up on old news. Once I am locked in the machine, she tells me to hold my breath. I am already doing that because of the discomfort of my position. I am thinking of the story that circulates around the internet of the woman who got stuck in one of these machines and had to stand there while the repairman came to fix it. I am hoping that story is a myth. Once my pictures are done, we repeat the whole process on the other side and I am off to the next station.
The ultrasound station is the main reason my doctor sent me to this clinic. When the mammogram failed to detect her cancer the ultra sound caught it. Two more chapters and I am in. This test is new to me, but it is not unlike the ultrasounds I had when I was pregnant. There is gel and a “wand” they call it. Somehow I do not feel like this wand is from a fairy godmother. Once again I am asked the questions. Then, once again, I disrobe one shoulder at a time. This woman has been to my town and so we talk about Babyland and Helen as if we are planning a vacation. All the while she is saying nothing about what she sees on the screen. I am trying to read her face as we talk and I am looking at the gray 3-D images on screen. It is a blur to me and I cannot make out anything. She stops and snaps some pictures as we talk about the new Babyland in comparison to the old one. It is like a game. She is talking about nothing as she thinks about her work. I am talking about nothing as I try to read her poker face. The test only takes a few minutes and I am ushered back to the next station to wait for many more chapters to see the doctor.
Bill and I talk on the cell phone since he thinks I have fallen off the planet. He has finished his book and is on to another one. I have finished my book, and have picked up a magazine. I assure him that we are getting closer to the beginning of the line. The tension is greatest in this part of the waiting room. It occurs to me that every woman here is a high risk patient. Every one of them has been sent here for possible diagnosis. One by one they go through the door, and do not come back. Those of us who are waiting, pretend to be reading our books but our minds do not comprehend what we are reading. I know that I will have to read the last chapters again later since I was not really thinking about them. One lady comes back out the door. She is with her mother, there are tears in her eyes. She says it is allergies and gives a chuckle because she knows what we are all thinking. I wonder if it is allergies or something worse. We all do.
Finally my name is called. As I go into the room, I ask for my security blanket. The nurse retrieves him for me, and I breathe a little easier. The doctor comes in smiling. She is a survivor, and therefore is very compassionate. She does not wait to tell me that she sees nothing on my tests. My eyes well up in gratefulness as they always do when I get a good report. The weight I did not know I was carrying lifts off my shoulders. I can breathe again. The doctor does an exam and tells us that I am clear. We laugh and smile a lot on our way back to the car. Another test, another exam, another doctor, another good report. ..what a great gift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s