Once we got the good news about the scans, we hung up with Jaimie and I continued telling Edith about how I had felt the past three weeks. I told her about the nausea, the varying levels of pain in my hip. I told her about the pressure in my face and the loss of vision in my eye. Apparently those are side effects of the radiation, which means they’re probably not going to go away. That’s now the cost of being alive, I suppose. I’ll write more about that on Monday.
One other thing I told her about was a pain I had been having in my left breast. It had started a couple of weeks ago, and had gone away over the weekend. But I have a rule with doctors— I tell them every single thing I can think of. Because disease is a story, and each symptom is a clue. These clues help doctors and nurses know what story your body is trying to tell, and what they need to do to solve it. Maybe breast soreness was the hint they needed to break the whole thing open. I’d never know if I didn't tell them.
I had told Jaimie about it as soon as it happened. She, of course, consulted WedMD. Apparently breast soreness is a very common side effect for people who are on as much medicine as I am. It’s because of a hormone imbalance the medicine causes. There’s even a word for it. It starts with a G.
After I was done with my laundry list of issues, Edith got me on the examining table and listened to my lungs.
“Everything sound ok?” I asked when she was done.
“The top of the left side sounds a little diminished. Other than that, it sounds pretty good.”
Then she started feeling my chest. This usually isn’t part of the exam. So I just closed my eyes, pictured the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling of my first girlfriend’s bedroom, and decided to enjoy it.
“Yeah, I do feel a little something there. Hmmm.”
She put the stethoscope back around her neck. Then we went over what prescriptions I needed, we said our good byes, and that was that. I sat back down in my chair. I was happy about the results of the scans. I really was. But the permanence of the pressure in my face was starting to hit me. A perception shift was going to have to happen, and I was going to have to do it. I got the feeling it was going to take some time on my part to work through.
There was a knock on the door and Edith reentered the room.
“So I think I felt something while I was examining your breast. I think you should go ahead and get an ultrasound, just to make sure. I called downstairs and apparently you can’t get an ultrasound until you get a mammogram, so they’re working you in for one today.”
“Yeah, I just think we should take a look at it.”
“Oh, ok. And then I’ll get my infusion?”
“Yeah, they’re backed up anyway. While you wait for your infusion you might as well get a mammogram.”
Yet another interesting sentence I never thought I would would apply to me.
So I spent another hour in the examining room while the scheduler tried to fit me in. I had two bites of my disgusting turkey sandwich and wondered how they could possibly screw up turkey and cheese and bread so badly. I also wondered how anyone could possibly make that combination taste good in the first place.
Eventually I made my way downstairs and entered the Breast Imaging Center. I had passed this room once a month for almost three years and never bothered to notice what it was. I went inside. There were people in the waiting room, people who had the same basic thing I had, yet faced a whole different host of issues. It embarrassed me that I didn’t know the name of the chemotherapy they took. I didn’t know of the names of any other types of chemotherapy, if I thought about it. It wasn’t that big a deal, of course. I doubt they knew the names of mine. It was just interesting how similar and yet how different these paths were.
And holy shit, was I getting tested for breast cancer???
I gave the receptionist my name and sat down. No. This wasn’t really happening. People don’t get two different types of cancer, except, oh wait, it happens all the time. I know four people off the top of my head who have two different types. And breast cancer makes perfect sense. I have the growth hormone for it. That’s what the clinical trial is treating. But no, I got a scan less then three months ago—they would have seen something then, right? Unless it came on fast. And wasn’t there that cousin? Or an uncle? Wasn’t there somebody, male, somewhere in my family who had breast cancer. Yes there was because my mom looooovvvveeesss talking about it. AHHHHHHH!!!!!
Nelson. David Nelson.”
They led me back to a room. I sat there for another hour. I was starving, so I got out the rest of my disgusting sandwich and forced myself to eat it. Why did I hate food all of a sudden? Three years into this thing and I loved food but now I can barely stand the thought of it. I hate eating. Cooking is a thing of the past. Wait— is that a sign of breast cancer? How on God’s green earth did I get breast cancer?? AHHHHHHH!!!
A knock on the door. “David Nelson?”
“Yes, sorry, I was starving and needed to eat,” I said as I put my sandwich back into my bag.
They led me into a room and in the middle of the room was the mammogram machine. I took off my shirt, and my nurse taped the tubes from my IV close to my chest, and then she put two pieces of tape right on my nipples.
What happened next was an experience a majority of women I know can relate to. Except, of course, I had much less breast to work with. This poor nurse gathered whatever fat she could find and then fed my tiny breasts into this machine and then this machine proceeded to SQQQQUUUUEEEEEZZZZEEEEE.
It hurt like crazy! Was this a part of life now? On top of everything else, was I now going to have to get regularly scheduled mammograms? Was I going to have to wear pink?? Not that I care about the color pink, I just don’t like being told what to to!!
After the exam they led me back to the examining room. Did I have it in me? Could I fight another thing. I’m fighting the thing I have on so many fronts. Bones, lymph nodes, lungs. Was this going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back except, no, the metaphor is wrong. If they found something on this mammogram—that wasn’t going to be a simple straw. That was going to be a whole other camel. This was going to be the camel that broke the camels back. AHHHHHH!!!
The doctor introduced himself. I can’t remember his name. I have too many doctors to remember another name.
He cut right to the chase.
“Do we did the mammogram.”
“There’s nothing there.”
“Nothing? Nothing at all?”
“No. I can see why your doctor wanted to take a look, but yeah it’s nothing.”
It had a name. The same G word Jaimie had found on Google. She was going to like that. The fact that she was right.
And that was that. He didn’t even need to follow up with me, he said.
I went and got my infusion and at 5 p. m., Jaimie and I were on our back to Greenville.
When we got home I decided to change clothes. I can't stand smelling like the hospital. Or our hotel, for that matter, which is an odd combo of flowers and blunt smoke. When I took off my shirt, I saw the two little pieces of tape covering my nipples. The only evidence that earlier today some very smart people thought I might have breast cancer.
I ripped the tape off and my face winced in pain. I did the other one too. As I was throwing away the tape, I was sad I didn't save that for Jaimie. She would have loved watching me rip that tape off my nipple.