The Lump

I like to keep my blog light. The greatest controversy I’ve addressed is my tiptoe into the xanthum gum versus guar gum debate in gluten-free baking.  No politics.  No arguments.  There’s enough stressful news out there.  I’d rather be a fun place for my readers to come and hear funny stories about my cats and read yummy gluten-free recipes.

But I decided to make one exception.

Unless you’re blind (or color blind) and haven’t seen the bags of pink M&Ms and pink KitchenAid Mixers and even pink goal posts at NFL games, you probably know it’s national breast cancer awareness month.

This month took on a new meaning for me two-and-a-half years ago when the doctor found a lump in my breast during an annual exam.

From the moment she said lump, life stood still.  Within three days, I was at the breast cancer center in a room full of 70-year-old women waiting for my mammogram.  Thankfully I got good news, the best news.  I was all clear.

Over the coming days, I had a hard time recovering from the emotion of it all.  I’m from a medical family, and I knew that being 28 and having breast cancer was not impossible. My aunt works at a breast cancer center, and for years I’ve heard stories about the patients in their twenties whose cancer was especially aggressive.

After I got the all clear, I inexplicably cried in bed for days.  The Professor was amazing.  Somehow he knew exactly what to do –  sit next to me with his hand on my shaking back.

I cried because I’m an excellent emotional represser.  Having spent the days before in a box of stoicism, I had to let my emotions catch up with my mind.  Partly I was crying for thankfulness that all the what if’s hadn’t come true.  Partly I was embarrassed.  I told only a few people about the lump and tests in strict confidence.  Within a few days, I began receiving well meaning but unwelcome get well cards from people I’d never met.  I had become a source of gossip, and was mortified that strangers were sending me cards about my boob.

And partly I was crying because of the image I couldn’t get out of my head.  I was sitting in the conference room of the breast center.  That’s where you go to receive your diagnosis.  The doctor came and put the mammogram film and ultrasound footage on the lit glass and showed me proof that I was fine.  I started uncontrollably sobbing.  Through my tears, I kept looking from the mammogram film to the large conference room table.  Back and forth.  Why were there so many empty chairs?

I knew why.  There were so many empty chairs because I was fine.  There were other women, women who’d had the same unwelcome discovery during a routine exam, women who had the same uncomfortable tests, women who came and sat in the exact chair I was sitting in, only they learned they were not fine.  Some women walked into that room and the chairs were full of specialists, each bringing their own unique weaponry to the life or death battle.

As part of my decompression, I wrote a poem.  It really helped me organize all my crazy, scattered emotional highs and lows, and unearth my true feelings.  I may be a writer, but I’m certainly no poet.  Still reading over it again brought back so many emotions.  I decided that two-and-a-half years was long enough to wait to tell people about my story.

As a show of bravery, I decided to publish my poem here on my blog.  Now you have to return the favor and be brave – breast cancer is not your mother’s or grandmother’s disease.  Get annual exams.  Know your body.  Ask questions.  Be vigilant. That’s the brave thing to do.

When They Find A Lump In Your Breast

When they find a lump in your breast,
You urgently call your mom, but then recant.  It’s not a big deal, right?

When they find a lump in your breast,
You wonder why you’re waiting so long to have a baby.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You list all the benign things it could be,
But the one unthinkable alternative lingers.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You have to come home and tell your husband, and let out a brave whimper of a cry.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You vividly remember images of young, widowed fathers in Race for the Cure pictures.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You take a day off work for the test but don’t tell anyone why.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You think about the tingling feeling of your husband’s soft touch,
And shudder at the thought of it being taken away.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You remember your aunt talking about the 20 year olds at the breast cancer center.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You want to be shrouded in prayer, but also feel strange and private.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You reach out to a few trusted people for support, but then learn you’re being gossiped about.
Or ignored.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You tell your husband not to come with you because it’s no big deal.
And then change your mind.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You make sure to wear lipstick to the tests because nothing can take away your femininity.
You skip the mascara though.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You wish you learned how to do a self examination.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You feel a twinge of guilt after you curse your long and unruly hair.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You fluctuate between feeling stupid for worrying about the small chance and anxious because of the small chance.
Eventually you stick to feeling numb.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You stay awake most of the night before the test, too full of thoughts and fears.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You learn things your grandmother never told anyone.
They found a lump in her breast, too.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You drive to the hospital speaking no words, but you’re holding hands tight.

When they find a lump in your breast,
Well, it hurts, because they poke and prod and squeeze and push.

When they find a lump in your breast,
You sit in a room and wait.

They found a lump in my breast,
But in the end, it was nothing.

They found a lump in my breast,
And when I learned it was nothing, I sobbed, my heart full of what could have been.

They found a lump in my breast,
And I apologized to God for not standing next to my friends who I didn’t call when they found a lump in their breast.

They found a lump in my breast,
And I cried for the women who had sat in that room and received a different answer.

They found a lump in her breast,
and now the battle would begin.