Wherever I go, I arrive early. Not on time like most people but about twenty minutes before my scheduled appointment. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no rush to be in any doctor’s office, especially this doctor. I think ‘I just want to be there and get it over with.’ The walls are pale pink, the chairs alternate between fuchsia and plum, first one than the other, all around the room. When I am here I just want to re-arrange the chairs, put all the fuchsia together and then the plum or put all the chairs in the middle of the room and stack them up. I know this room well. This morning I sit in the waiting room with a woman named Mary, she is here alone too. Once in a while a husband, boyfriend, lover, brother comes too. I sit here with my anxiety waiting for the nurse to call my name.
My doctor is the product of two old hippies, his first name is Pond. No really, I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Pond enters the examining room and I automatically sit straight up, with the blue hospital gown open in the front. He is a breast surgeon that I see every every year. He examines my breasts, first one than the other; I wish he would close his eyes but mostly he stares into space. He starts talking about his vacation in the Hamptons and I shush him, telling him to concentrate. He laughs and says “It’s a good thing I’m not chewing gum, right?” I say a quick, terse yes. I am waiting for him to say, the usual breezy, “it’s all good” but this time he goes over and over one spot on my right breast and kneads it as if he is making bread. I become perfectly still and feel freezing cold in less than one second.
I pick up on another vibe in the room that has changed; I know something is wrong. He straightens up and in his bright blue eyes there is a new hue of concern. His face is still unreadable but his forehead now has deep wrinkles. I have never seen that before but I have always dreaded it. “There’s a mass, ” he says. He has me feel what he feels, but I barely want to touch my body since there seems to be an intruder there, a most unwelcome guest. This is a feeling I had before when I needed a biopsy of a lump, thirty years ago. I was very young then and very naive. I remember my parents drove up from New York to Boston to stay with me while I waited for the results. Dear God, those feelings of fear and panic come back immediately.
Now, I am a postmenopausal woman but before I was a youngster, a youngster in shock. I remember going to the doctor with my best friend. ‘It would be nothing,’ we thought but I ended up needing surgery though the lump turned out to be benign. I remember staring into the mirror and drinking coffee, day by day, early in the morning of my one bedroom apartment and wondering how I could still drink coffee normally and function at work with this huge secret.
I have to focus now but I can’t; crazy things go through my mind like the scene in Mary Poppins with the chimney sweeps dancing. I see Lassie in the closing credits where he puts his paw up and remember that my sister and I always loved that part the best. I try to remember the lyrics of a song I just bought on iTunes that reminds me of my teenagers but my mind goes blank.
The nurse schedules me to come back in a few days for a needle biopsy, that is familiar too. I try to remain perfectly still, trying to clear the thoughts and panic clouding my mind but it is virtually impossible. What can I focus on, I ask myself? My daughter’s blue eyes, my son’s olive complexion, my husband’s kiss on top of my head, my sister and I posing for photographs on a rooftop in Brooklyn Heights, my mother’s soft hands. I try to picture my puppy Lucy but the images change to my deceased dog, Storm, who died unexpectedly and dramatically of cancer of the spleen. I can only try to remember highlights of my past favorite things. It’s my only chance of survival: I remember the free trip to Hawaii when we were upgraded to first class, the small town of Roses near Barcelona, Spain. My favorite memory, sunsets at Cape Cod when the children were young, when we were all young. I try to imagine these things to steer my mind away from the doctor and nurse talking to me about scheduling a possible biopsy of my breast tissue yet I can’t remember one thing they said. As soon as you feel like you are a patient, you become one. I feel weak and tired, sore, and very, very cold even though it is 93 degrees outside and humid.
I need to drive home, alone, in my car down the parkway that winds and bends dramatically. How can I calm myself down enough to do this and not crash my car into a tree? I have no idea. I turn on the engine and on automatic pilot, I just point my car in the right direction. Luckily, the car seems to take over and I am just a passenger at the wheel, driving slowly, steadily, on my way home.
*I wrote this last night before my appointment. While some of the facts are true, the end and some details are all FICTION.