I am reworking and categorizing all of my writings from my initial breast cancer experience. I will be posting them in chronological order again. I hope they are helpful. Thank you for reading them.
OUR SILENT CAMARADERIE
The television was particularly loud or maybe it was just loud because of the intense quiet in the room. The show was a round table discussion, kind of like The View, five women interviewing a guest female singer speaking about the life revelations she had as she wrote her songs for the new album she was promoting.
“You wrote a song about your mother, can you speak about that?” asked one of the interviewers.
The songwriter began her story with the happy photo of her mother and her looking freshly bonded and renewed. The singer shared how she realized her mother was just a woman like all of us who had her own baggage from her own life she unknowingly brought to her ability (or lack there of) as a mother.
“We are all women with our own experiences,” she crooned. “Once I realized this, I reached a new level of understanding of my mother and I am so teary eyed thinking of our connection now.” The entire table of women all proudly clapped and so did the audience. The positive reinforcement would have made Oprah proud.
I heard a deep sigh from the woman sitting to my left. The woman on the right was occupying herself with emails on her cell phone and the woman across from me was looking a little impatient with the wait. We all sat there, our little tribe of women who didn’t know each other in the semi comfortable green velvet-ish, supposed to look soothing chairs, along with the eight photos of female doctors with their varying degrees and post doctorate work lining the walls like artwork.
We were here in the middle of our workdays and our personal days while the kids were away at college or at school or at daycare. Some women were fully made up, hair coiffed and high heels, looking like they would head back to work after this inconvenient but necessary interruption in their lives. Some were in work out gear or casual clothes, obviously their day off headed afterwards to Whole Foods to stock up on the clean, no sugar, no dairy and organic cart full of food that was supposed to help stop the estrogen flow that caused the first round like mine.
I had already gone in for one round of photos and was waiting for my next appointment with the tech. The woman on the left of me had a super hip short haircut. I was trying to figure out if it was post chemo or intentionally cut this way.
Why aren’t we talking? Why is this silly television show on instead of calming classical music? Why did the singer just happen to be on speaking about this healed relationship with her mother reminding me of the one I didn’t have with my own? Why are the flimsy gowns so flimsy? Why are we so quiet as we sat with each other in our private torture trying to feel relaxed.
The woman with the short hair cut was nervously deep breathing. She didn’t have to actually say anything, I could tell she was nervous, whether it be from anticipation from her first follow up or worry knowing she was there for a concern. I decided to take the plunge and speak to her, “I love your haircut, it looks really hip.” I said. Her hands immediately went to her head. My question broke the silence. “I’m here because my doctor found a lump,” she said. We were all here for some reason. The silence was the heat of our minds stirring with the what ifs. We were comrades without knowing each other’s names or life’s story, just waiting in our too thin too small gowns with the ”opening in the front” ties in the wrong places. Who designed these? At least they weren’t pink. Just sitting there vulnerable and quiet as women mostly in our 50s was enough to link us.
“Silvia?” The tech came and got my short-haired friend and off she went. Meanwhile I waited to be called for an ultrasound after having been already called back for one more detailed mammogram. The waiting was an opportunity to take some deep breaths rather than be tempted to peruse my cell phone pulsing in my bag. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back.
Silvia came back out quickly looking happy and relieved, as the lump was nothing. Yay Silvia. The thought flashed through my mind that my chances of a negative outcome just went up because of Silvia’s good news. Any statisticians out there? Likely there is no basis for this rationale, but it was my first thought post being happy for her. Always happy, always smiling, trying to keep it together so that it seemed like we were playing the roles we have been assigned. Strength, resilient, tough, get through anything. Never let them see you sweat and all of the other memes that have been spoon fed to us in our lifetimes.
“Alayne?” The tech came out to get me for my ultrasound. As I lie on the bed, breasts exposed, I started thinking about how I could improve the experience. Warm towels and blankets for starters. Warm gel squirted, cooling down because I swear they had the air conditioning on. After lots of slipping and sliding and clicking to capture the image, the very kind tech lets me know, “We’re all done, I’ll have you wait here while the doctor looks at these and then she will come back in and speak with you.”
Alrighty then. I got up, wiped myself of the sticky ultrasound goo and lay back down on the bed trying to stay warm and calm as I awaited my fate. I had been in this rodeo two years ago so I was familiar with the possibilities of the doctor’s diagnosis.
When the doctor came in with the sullen expression that doctors have when they have to tell you anything other than good news, I knew it was a repeat. That is the thing about breast exams, there is no happy medium. Either it is thumbs up or thumbs down.
I could tell immediately it was thumbs down as she explained the new spots and that I would need to get a biopsy pronto. I hate fucking biopises. They are worse then lumpectomies of which I am a double fisted seasoned ticket holder.
So much could be worse. This I know. I am the queen of half full. But I have to say that I felt like I was in the movie, Groundhog Day. The pictures she showed me looked almost identical to the pictures of two years ago when I discovered I had early stage breast cancer. Before genetic testing, before learning what the word prophylactic meant. Before.
I left to go back to the waiting room and all of my silent comrades had left or gone to their own appointments. I would never know their outcomes except for Silvia’s, but I knew mine.
As I changed out of my gown, I realized that the unique experience of sitting with strangers in silence awaiting our fates from our mammograms binds us together. Even though we will likely never see each other again, like soldiers from war there is a bound by experience that creates long lasting connection and that only women who sit in flimsy gowns among each other in the middle of their workdays likely understand.