There is nothing funny about breast cancer, but I love humor and I spend my life trying not to take myself too seriously. My friends who have experienced breast cancer have told me how a smattering of humor has made even their worst days a little better. I hope you’ll read my story and know that it is my attempt to make you smile today.
I was in the shower performing my breast exam and there it was: the lump I never thought would find its way onto or into my upper body. Frigid blood drained from my brain and rushed straight to my bunions. I stood seriously still while water dripped off my belly button. A thought: Maybe I had grabbed old fatty tissue that had been languishing like Lana Turner on the Rivera of my boob.
So I soaped up the second time and with two fingers working in tandem, thumped defiantly over the area in question. There it was again. Just when I thought I might wear a bathing suit again.
I flew out of the shower like I was on the Concorde, soapy water soaking into the new carpet. I grabbed the phone, dialed my gynecologist and stuttered out my need for an appointment. Immediately, if not sooner, I said, and why.
I got myself dressed and drove to my favorite doctor (except when she puts my feet in the stirrups). She is a delightful woman, sunbeam bright and sweet as can be. She normally tells me funny stories to make me less uncomfortable while I’m spread eagle in one of a woman’s most vulnerable positions.
That day we switched roles and I made with the funnies, hoping to chortle away my fears. But while I was telling her an off-color boob joke, her sincere gaze remained one of serious, but empathic concern. She gave me a slight smile. Normally, she would laugh out loud at my humor. Not that day.
Clearing her throat she said, it’s probably nothing, but I want Jeanine to make an appointment with a surgeon for a second opinion.
Frigid Blood Rush Number Two captured what was left of my rational mind, so I left the office with a serious craving for chocolate. My obsessive brain demanded a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, a Hershey Bar, ten Snickers.
Jeanine called the next day to say my appointment with a surgeon whose name I had never even heard was in five fret-filled days.
I told myself that Jeanine’s call heralded good news. If I were about to find out what the other side of the flowerbed felt like, they wouldn’t make me wait five whole days. Would they?
My right boob felt like a stubbed toe, and when I got my first second opinion from Mr. Google, I was informed that pain does not necessarily denote a sign of malignancy. I was willing to go with that. Denial is my happy place.
Before the appointed day arrived, I did a super job of thinking about everything BUT my lumpy mashed potato. Deep down, however, there was a glacially cold fear that the “Big C” had taken up residence in one of my girl’s dormitories.
It didn’t make sense. Nobody in my family had ever had breast cancer; I did the monthly exam occasionally. I gritted my teeth and never screamed while enduring modern medicines answer to water boarding: ie, a mammogram. I swallowed handfuls of daily vitamins and ate tons of cruciferous veggies. Surely cancer would not have the audacity to show up in my boob when cauliflower and broccoli were two of my BFF’s.
I was so ticked.
Even so, I had a burning urgency to express my fright, my anger and my anxiety with someone who would be more willing to drown themselves in a toilet bowl than to offer me there-there platitudes. I needed to share my apprehension with someone who could make me laugh and get me to quit obsessing on the more serious thoughts of “what if”.
So I did the thing that normally works for me … I wrote furiously of feelings, fears and denial. Everything. The Full Monty. It helped. I began to think that it might have been a wake-up call, and I momentarily scoffed at the notion that it could be worse.
I chose to write about it because it was a way for me to be absolutely honest with myself regarding my cold fear. I knew I could depend on me, with a little help from my family, to see me through whatever because I am my BFF.
I wrote this piece for a humor writing class I was teaching: How to Write Serious Humor With a Straight Face. While the lump I discovered in my breast was very real and very scary, it turned out to be the wakeup call for which I had hoped. I needed to get whomped upside the head in order to realize the importance of monthly breast exams. As for the class I taught, it gave me an opportunity to push self-exams to others while being a teaching others how to inject humor even when writing about something as serious as cancer.