- SHOCK. But not much awe. It’s as if the doctor were talking about someone else entirely. I understand very clearly what he is conveying to me – the change in the mammogram, the size of the lump, the details of the procedure he wants to perform immediately – and I am cataloguing every piece of it very methodically, so I can recall them later.
- INVENTORY OF THE PERIPHERAL DETAILS. I have been coming to this radiology lab for many years. I pay for mammograms and ultra-sounds out-of-pocket because I like to get the results immediately but now I am thinking this is going to cost me a whack and that maybe, just maybe, I should get up, take my exams and start the process with my insurance. I calculate that, being Friday, the likelihood of being seeing by someone else for the better part of a week is small. That is what credit cards are for.
- ANNOYANCE. I am unfailingly polite. The doctor is describing every step of the biopsy – very nice of him – and I don’t tell him I am extremely familiar with it. I happen to know more than most about breast cancer, and I sat through one of these when it was the turn of a close friend. I know what that massive needle looks like, the loud clicking noise it makes. I am not scared. What I don’t know, and nobody ever told me, including this doctor who couldn’t spare a single detail, is that it hurts like a bitch. Is it because I have small breasts? Is it him, too heavy-handed? I am tempted to get up and leave and just say I am done here. Politeness kicks in again.
- DOWN TO BUSINESS. As the nurse bandages me up, I prepare a list of questions: I want the correct terminology, a list of possible outcomes, sizes and names so that I can feel like me and not just a patient.
- PANIC. 90 minutes later I am in the street. The sun is shining on the pretty Beverly Hills stores, my right breast aches and I am waiting for the painkillers to kick in. I fumble for the car keys. I call my husband. My adrenaline picks this particular moment to leave, its job done, and as he answers the phone I slip into incoherent babble and a river of tears.
- SELF-PITY. This has been a pretty crappy Summer, one of the worst in memory, and Autumn has not started on the right foot. I feel sorry for myself as I drive home, skipping all the fun things I had planned for the day. My mother, sitting next to me, knows better than to keep on say reassuring words.
- NEED TO TALK. I need to tell my closest friends. Now. I call my sister. No answer. I type a message. I write an email to Sue. I call Silvia in Bologna. I call Luisa in Los Angeles. They all respond swiftly. They always do to my dramas, real and invented. I need to be told everything will be fine even if I don’t necessarily believe it. The odds are small but I bet that is what they told those people in the single digit percentage too. I don’t know it’s nothing. I will not know until Tuesday. If the news is not good, at least my friends will be there to map it out with me.
- WAITING. Memo to self: do not plan any diagnostics on a Friday. Now I have to wait until Tuesday. I think of random things: the pathology work is done at the hospital where I volunteer, I know exactly where; good thing I washed the dogs yesterday, as today I can’t exert my right pec. too much; I am glad I didn’t skip a year, as most doctors now tend to recommend; I am still going to New York, come what may.
- EXHAUSTION. The by-product of shock is a deep exhaustion. I feel the same as the day I had my only serious car accident. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and my body is as battered as if I ran a marathon. I still sit down to write this in the hope of getting it out of me.
- READING THE SIGNS. We take the dogs for a walk later in the afternoon and we spot, not one, but four turkey vultures circling over us. They are probably considering whether Ottie and Portia could make a delectable dinner but, as their sighting is extremely rare, I take it as a good omen. I will have to invent more of these good luck signs in the next three days. I am not quite sure why I would think a vulture, rare or otherwise, would be a good sign. It isn’t.
When my cell phone finally rings on Tuesday, after a three-hour wait from the original time I was given, as soon as I hear the doctor starting the sentence with “unfortunately”, I am not surprised. It’s as if I knew all along. When my mother found me in a ball of tears on my yoga mat, on Sunday night, mumbling “I can’t do this now. I am not strong enough”, it’s as if I had processed already what was about to come and when it does come, it’s kind of a let down. At least, I know for sure.
Now I have to organize myself to stay afloat and not lose my identity as I become a cancer patient, a statistic, a woman whose life has been upended, who will have to hold on to sanity in the midst of medical appointments, surgery and whatever else. What 20 years of yoga have not perfected, a single cancer diagnosis has: I swiftly learn to live in the moment. I don’t see a lesson to be learnt here, there is no reason for what has happened to me, other than dumb luck or maybe an ancestor gifting me her faulty genes. I don’t quite care.
Surprisingly, I am not that angry – the “why me” moment comes and goes quickly. I am scared hence I plan, to keep control over what is happening, to not let it spiral. If I put it into words, I can make it real.
Whatever grace and sense of humour I possess, I call forth now. It seems I have to do this too.