“Miss Taylor?” asks the technician. I’d guess she’s in her late 50’s, reddish bob, no makeup. She reminds me of someone. Maybe an old friend of my Mom’s.
We are down to two in the mammo lounge now. The other woman is buried in her cell phone and two whispered damnit!’s indicate she’s stressed. She’s had her mammogram and it appears they want her to stick around, reason unbeknownst to me. Maybe she’s answering work email, another diversion to the present ambiguity.
I follow the tech to an exam room. She sighs trying to discern the history I scribbled on my form.
“There’s a lot of notes here,” she says. “So you’ve had breast cancer?”
She opens my robe and asks which breast was removed.
“Have you had a mammogram since then?”
“Yep. Every year.”
She sighs and wonders aloud about which machine to use.
“Every doctor is different. Let me see exactly what kind and how many images they want.”
She leads me to another room with a different machine where I take a seat in a familiar chair and wonder if she’s had to take images of a dual recon before.
She returns with confidence. She isn’t fast moving or eager. She’s steady and thorough. This is a good thing.
“Do you have any of your breast tissue left?”
“No. Not unless it’s microscopic.”
“Step up to the plate.”
I slip off the right sleeve and she positions my right side.
“Did good,” she says, referring to the reconstruction.
“Don’t move. Hold your breath. Hold your breath. Step back and breathe.”
Right sleeve on. Left sleeve off.
“So how old were you when this all happened?”
“So you’re 47. You did good.”
“I got lucky.”
“No. God loves you.”
During the next wave of sleeveswap and positioning and imaging, she mentions she has a friend who had a bilateral mastectomy. A good prognosis but was so afraid she went ahead and had her breasts removed.
“It was recommended that I have them removed.”
“Oh, so was it really bad then?”
“No, early stage, ER/PR positive, node negative. But the recurrence score…” I explain a little about the Oncotype Assay.
“So was it really high?”
More sleeveswapping, breath holding, freezing. She tells me to rest my arm and I realize it’s totally flexed. I’m more tense than I realize.
I study her eyes as she assesses the images. I always study them now. I didn’t get it in 2006.
After each angle was captured, I would glance over my shoulder and look at the monitor. While I couldn’t make sense of the images, I could see the technician’s face. It was after she took the last image, when she briefly turned her eyes from the monitor to me, that I saw the slightest shift in her gaze, an almost undetectable beat in an otherwise benign moment in time. I would remember it later but in that instance I didn’t give it a second thought. When she said she needed one more image of the right breast, I mindlessly stepped up to the plates. And when she asked me to wait in the changing room instead of telling me to have a good day, I took a seat, nonchalantly thumbed through a Real Simple magazine, and waited. – excerpt from my memoir, I Don’t Wanna Be Pink
She says we have good images and that they’ll be read first thing in the morning. I must have looked a little disappointed. Since cancer, I’ve always had them read the same day. She explains that there’s been a change with insurance. Only diagnostic mammograms get read the same day. My oncologist ordered a high-risk digital, which is now not read the same day. I’m confused but it sounds like diagnostic is considered an active concern (noted suspicion or lump maybe?) and those get priority. (Welcome your insight in comments if you know. )
She also notes that it’s 4:30 and one radiologist is in a meeting, the other is probably about to leave for the day.
I had no clue what time it was. I suggest there may be a chance.
“You want me to ask?” She seemed to be offering. She was game.
“Sure, why not? I have a history,” I say, surprisingly upbeat.
“I know you have a history. It’ll take a few minutes, though. And it’s late in the day. He may be gone.”
I thank her and wait in a different waiting area, across from the lounge. Drink some water. Sanitize my hands. Feel old hat, calm. This is how it is. This is what we do. Would be nice to know sooner than later. Of course.
“God must be on your side,” she says. She’s returned much sooner than I expected.
“The doctor called over about something else and I asked if he could read your films. Everything’s clear.”
“Thank you,” I say. “I appreciate you.”
I get up and she gives me a half hug.
I’m grateful and suddently exhausted. I note that the past, as far as November calamities and having mammograms before moving out of state, is not sticking its nose in here. There’s also guilt. I’ve survived Catholicism and cancer and feel guilty about both. I Debbie Downer my own party but facts are fact, cancer’s ugly and it’s mean.
Back in the lounge to relinquish my robe, I note the cell phone lady out of her robe now but still waiting. While I change and collect my things, a tech comes in and tells her she’s good to go. It was a shadow.
We’re both collecting our things now. She says aloud something about how scary or unnerving it can be but we have to go through it, we just have to get it done.
Part of me wants to tell her but I just smile instead. I remember being that scared.