The nurse stood at the end of the waiting room.
I kissed Bear and walked towards a giant set of wooden double-doors.
“We’re going to have you put on a nice cotton shirt and then you can have a seat here by the magazines,” the nurse said as she pointed towards a dressing room and then towards a little waiting room right next door. I put on the cotton shirt and, she was right, it was very nice. Soft.
I walked into the next waiting room with three or four other women, also in nice cotton shirts. One woman was in a lot of pain, as if she’d been in a car accident. She kept moving and groaning and complaining. I felt badly I couldn’t comfort her.
A woman smiled and stood up. She looked like she was on her lunch break from work.
Another woman set down a magazine and hurriedly moved towards the next door.
No names for a while. I looked around at the new women coming in and sitting down, wondering if any of them were as scared as me.
I stood up and tried not to cry as the nurse opened the door for me. She was young, probably my age or younger, and had a very kind smile. “Have you had a mammogram before?” she asked me as she waved her arm towards the room on the right. My eyes filled up with tears.
“Oh, no, are you nervous?”
She looked at my chart. She set it down and looked into my eyes. “We are going to pray this is a cyst. It happens a lot and that’s what we’re going to pray this is, ok?”
“Ok,” I said.
People have described mammograms to be before. They told me it’s incredibly painful, smashing your boob between two plates until it’s flatter than you knew was physically possible. But as the nurse moved both boobs in and out and around these plates, climbing under me and reaching over me, nothing hurt. I am still unsure if this was because I was so scared of cancer or because the nature of mammograms has been greatly improved since the 1980s…
“Do I have cancer?” I knew she couldn’t answer me. I felt dumb after I asked.
“We’re going to send this to the radiologist right now who will read it and then let us know if we need to take pictures from other angles. Then he’ll read it to you right away, ok?”
She walked me back to the waiting room and, within about 10 minutes…
OMG I’m about to find out if I have cancer…
A new nurse held my chart and the door. “We’re just going to grab one more picture, ok?”
Oh God, they see it and it’s bad and now they need to know how bad…
“This is normal, ok? We like to be safe.”
I lifted my left arm and prepared for her to take my left boob into her hand like a hamburger, when she said, “No, other one! He needs another picture of the right one.”
“The right one? Are you sure? The lump is in my left one.”
“Yep! I’m sure. It’s the right one.”
Great. Now I have cancer in both boobs…how does this get worse?
Again, she slid below and behind me, positioning my right boob, only this time she smooshed my nipped into the plate by pointing it to the ground and smashing the top plate over me. It didn’t hurt, but it was fairly humiliating to know my boob could even go in that direction.
“All set. Back to that waiting room in case we need more pictures, ok?”
“Can someone call my husband when it’s time to learn the results?”
“Oh yes, we absolutely will…”
Back to the waiting room. A whole new group of women in nice, cotton shirts sat waiting for their turn. Now I had no idea whether the next move would be door #1, more pictures, or door #2, results.
I sat there for almost 20 minutes. No magazine. No iPhone. 20 minutes of thinking.
A nurse called my name from a second door on the other side of the room.
I stood up.
“Where is my husband?”
“He’s on his way right now!”
My hands…no…my entire arms were shaking. I was repeating, Please, God. Please, God. Please, God… in my head. I saw Bear come walking down the hall with a big smile on his face. Does he already know the results? Why is he smiling?
“Everything is ok, babe,” he whispered as we walked into a small room with my boobs pictured on a big screen.
“The doctor will be right in!” the nurse said cheerfully.
I stared at them. My boobs. Is that a tumor? Or that? Which one is a milk duct? Do I still have those?
“Do you see anything?” I asked Bear.
“No,” he replied.
“Hellooo, I’m Dr. Barker.” He was short and didn’t make a lot of eye contact. I think his shirt was plaid.
“Hi.” I sat up onto the edge of my seat, holding myself back from flinging my entire body into his and begging him to tell me I was OK.
“So, where did you feel the lump?”
“I…It was here. In my boob,” I pointed and stumbled over my words.
“And you found it or your gynecologist found it?”
“I did. Well, she did. I thought she was feeling something else and then she felt that…”
“Ok I see…Well, what I see here is a deer with long horns and a small puppy eating flowers next to a few grass seeds and a soda machine only containing diet coke and pretzel products. When we move to the left we can feel the car spin and the glass in the drivers’ side window crack and crash and then a strange scraping sound leads to a loud boom before the skidding stops…”
That’s probably not what he said.
But that’s what I heard.
None of it made sense. I stared at him. He stared at me. I wanted to scream, “DO I FUCKING HAVE CANCER OR NOT?”
Bear touched my shoulder.
I looked at him.
“Did you hear him?” he asked me.
“Yes, but I didn’t understand.”
“You’re ok,” Bear said.
I looked back at the doctor. “I’m ok?”
“I see nothing to be concerned about. We’ll keep these pictures on file and in six months, let’s do this again. Then we’ll go back to an as-needed schedule. Sound good?”
“Yes,” I said. I felt numb but happy but mostly numb.
I don’t have cancer. Today, I don’t have cancer.
“You can go get dressed and we’ll send you these pictures in one to two weeks. And we’ll contact your gynecologist’s office with an update. Have a great day!”
And like that, it was over. I was wearing a nice, cotton shirt in a little room with my boobs on a screen and my husband with the flu.
And I don’t have cancer…