Friday, April 11, 2014

PINK RIBBONS, CANCER, NO, AND YES

It’s all peripheral at first, slogans and plastic reminders to hang places -- and ribbons, always ribbons.  What color is the ribbon, that half bow, that graceful twist, crossing over itself?  Is it yellow?  No, that’s for finding someone, bringing someone home, as in 'Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree!’  Or red, no that’s for AIDS.

Of course I know it's pink, a reminder ribbon, rinky-dink, kitchen sink.  It’s a girl thing mostly, so we think in pink. Hang the ribbon on your blouse.  Leave it through one washing and your blouse has a couple of safety-pin holes and a pink snarl hanging on the shoulder.

Good verb hang, breasts hang.  Hang the plastic instruction thing on your shower head.  You got it in the mail with a request for some money.  It tells you how to feel up your breast, left arm over your head, soapy right hand checking for lumps.  The whole damn thing feels lumpy.  What does that mean?  Oh, well, think about that later.  Breast tender?  That’s good, breast should be tender. Discharge, squeeze, ouch.  Make an appointment. You can’t do this all by yourself.  Get a mammogram.

The Mammogram 

The damned machine pinches.  It doesn’t really hurt, just pinches, and then you have to do it over because you had some talcum powder on and the pictures aren’t clear.  They’ll let you know.  Rules are different now.  In the past they let you know only if something was wrong.  Now they let you know no matter what.   I guess one of those awareness organizations got that through. There’s probably a law now, a breast and cervix status notification law.  Who bothered to write a law?  Maybe a man, but probably not.  

Breasts are like buses; if one pair bites the dust, there’ll be another coming along in a few minutes.  They’re just out there, out in front, outstanding, outlandish, knock your eye out.  The adjectives never end, they stretch as far as the strap can snap. Describe her as buxom, full breasted, top of the hourglass.  Check the cleavage.  Jokes?  Melons, grapefruit, oranges, eggs -- yeah, fried. 

Bless the words nipple, erect, uplifted and the image invoked by wet t-shirt, strapless, topless, yellow polka-dot bikini, string bikini. Call them boobs, knockers, jugs, hooters - name a restaurant after them.  Can you say perky?  Perky is reserved for small or nubile.  Rita Hayworth put hers in a tight sweater and went for the side view during WWII.

The fun is over and the call comes.  It’s not routine.  "We found a small lump in the right breast.  We need to schedule another test, an ultrasound, so  I need to make an appointment for you at the hospital." 

The appointment is the day before Thanksgiving.  I wait five days.  I pick up the mammogram pictures to take with me. I tell myself I'm not scared because I’ve already had some fibrous cysts aspirated.   Probably this is the same, but deeper,   "Eight o’clock on the right breast"  That’s written on the report that accompanies the mammogram results.

The Ultrasound

I go to the hospital and register.  I’m led to the x-ray department by an old friend who is one of the pink ladies.  I don’t tell her why I’m there, so we make small talk.

The technician took a lot of time, then told me to rest on the cot while she took the results to the radiologist.  She said that sometimes he likes to come in and look for himself.  The cot was narrow and I tried to figure out someplace to put my arms.  If I hang one over each side, at least I won't  fall off. I finally clasped them together over the chest that is now in question.

The technician came back and brought the radiologist with her.  They spent a lot of time looking at the screen while they talked and ran that lubricated thing over my breast.  He asked me questions about whether I had found the lump and whether I had had other lumps and did I have fibroid disease? 

I said, "Well, I never called it a disease."  
And he said, "You’re right.  It’s not really a disease."  
And I told him I’d had several nodules aspirated. 
And he said, "Um, hmm."   

I don’t know if he came in because he always does, or because the technician was new, or because he was new, or because he’s very careful, or because they found something unusual.  I know he told me to be sure I got the results by the first of the week and to call my doctor if he didn’t notify me on Monday.

Thanksgiving

When I leave the hospital I go home and bake four pumpkin pies and boil sweet potatoes.  I whip half of them and put them in a casserole.  Then I slice the rest and put them in a pan with some butter and brown sugar.  I’ll simmer them tomorrow.  We have to have two types of yams, candied and with marshmallows to satisfy everybody.  I whip one batch of cream, add some vanilla and powdered sugar.

My husband acts very patient and understanding, but he doesn’t have breasts.

We’ll eat one of the pies tonight after Amy and Marykay arrive.   I can’t wait to see Emma.  She’s only three.  My son, Wes, is coming Thanksgiving morning.  

I put the turkey in the oven early in the morning.  When it’s done, Wayne takes over. There will be repeated assurances that everything hot is on the table before he will bring in the platter of turkey.  He not only carves the turkey, but he cleans off the carcass after we’re done eating.  

Wes always fixes the ham.  He and Emma make a special sauce to glaze it.  She loves to help.  She puts the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole.  The girls fix the mashed potatoes and gravy and the stuffing and Grandma's  cranberry salad that they brought. 

After the table is set Emma lights a votive candle at each place and we turn out the lights.  That is a pause for the adults to be thankful, and for Emma to blow out all the candles.  (Last year she was 17, but she still wanted to light the candles.)

I decide not to tell my family anything about my tests because I don’t know anything yet.  I have a sinking feeling in my stomach most of the day.  I guess I’m not as thankful as I should be. After Thanksgiving dinner and cleanup and naps, Amy and Marykay go home and leave Emma with us. I read her two stories as soon as they leave and we’re asleep in a few minutes.  We’re very tired!

Friday

On Friday morning we get up early and make a big Christmas poster.  She cuts out old Christmas card pictures and I help her glue them on a big piece of thick white poster board. She writes her name carefully on each picture.  Sometimes she writes EMA and sometimes EMMA and sometimes EAM, sometimes forward and sometimes sideways.  

After breakfast, she bounces on her uncle’s bed to wake him up and they bury themselves under the down comforter to watch Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Then she and Grandpa play and do chores outside for a long time.   The birds and squirrels wait for the goodies they bring in her wagon, and there's a big basket of outdoor toys in the basement, too. 

While she’s playing, the candy fairy brings her a treat.  This time, however, she wants to leave a thank you note for the candy fairy, then she has me add "Please don’t bring me any more black ones."  She plays and watches the movie Thumbelina at least twice.   

Toward evening, Wes gets dressed up for his ten-year class reunion and Amy and Marykay come back to stay another night.  Wes calls late in the evening from the hotel where he is staying with some friends to tell us that his girl friend Amy is coming with two new puppies to watch the Tech/UGA game with us on Saturday. 

I say, "Okay, that will be fun," but my heart isn’t much in it.  I’m having that sinking feeling again all day, but I can get through this. It will be good, will take my mind off myself.  After all, wasn’t I the one who said I don’t worry about things?

I blurt it out to my daughter Amy.  I want her to stay and help me on Saturday.  The sinking feeling is coming more often and my head aches.  I feel better after I tell her, but I also feel worse, as if I’d laid it on her shoulders and off of mine.  Now I’m feeling guilt, too.

Saturday - Game Day

Saturday morning, Emma and I make noodles, two batches.  We’re soon covered with flour from head to toe.  I never again look at that pink sweat outfit of mine without thinking of noodles and a lot of flour.  Emma uses that rolling pin like a pro, then helps me roll up the thin dough, cut off the rolled up pieces and pile them on a plate to dry.  She sticks with me through both batches and I do mean STICKS!  Bath play time for Emma.

Amy cuts up the turkey and makes the gravy.  We cook the noodles, then put everything in the big crock pot.  Marykay fixes a big bowl of fruit and puts peas in the small crock pot.  I whip more cream, put out the last pumpkin pie and a chocolate cake from the deli.  Wayne already has drinks in the cooler on the porch and has also loaded the kitchen table with nuts and cheese and chips.  My son’s girlfriend, Amy, has brought me some beautiful fall flowers, so I put them in vases for the tables.

The puppies are adorable, both miniatures; one Min-pin who weighs about two pounds and the other one a Chihuahua who weighs about a pound.  Emma is in love with them both and is her usual adorable self.  She watches Thumbelina again while we watch the game.

Waiting 

By seven-thirty everyone is gone.  I don’t know what I would have done without Amy, but she has been very quiet all day and now I feel so guilty about telling her because now we both have to wait.  Everybody is in their own home now, routines resumed.  Amy and I keep in touch.

On Monday I tell my son by phone.  He says, "Is it okay if I’m selfish and wish you hadn’t told me until right before you get the results, so I wouldn’t have to worry for a week?"  I understand that.  I wish I didn't have to know. 

We all wait now until the next Tuesday, my appointment with the surgeon.  I keep myself busy, but still the time goes very slowly.  On Tuesday, after a thorough examination, the surgeon leaned back against the counter while I still lay on my back on the table.  

Results

He said, "I’ve looked at the ultrasound and the mammogram with another radiologist as well as the one who performed the procedure.  I don’t know how to tell you this except to say that he is very cautious and sometimes sees more than is actually there.  We all agree that there is nothing on the film to be concerned about.  My exam today confirms that.  We’ll follow up with another examination three months from now, but it is my opinion that there is no irregularity in the breast at all."

I left with my head spinning.  I couldn’t decide if I was angry that I had been alarmed for nothing, or happy that the radiologist was so thorough that even a slight irregularity caused him to insist on further tests.  I think the latter is a more reasonable attitude, although a rather difficult one considering the panic of the last few weeks.

Now began my life after no cancer.  I'm very happy as I tell my family and get on with all the things that had been fading unwillingly into the background.  In three months, the no-cancer diagnosis was confirmed, and I was scheduled for regular  exams. 

I knew that I would be more conscientious about the breast exams and wear that silly pink ribbon reminder.  But time always resumes its happy, plodding passage, so soon I was complacent again, and all that remained of the incident was a faint memory of anxiety and in my closet a blouse with a small rusty spot on the shoulder where a frayed and wrinkled pink ribbon once hung.

Later

I did keep my appointments every six months for five years, but almost didn't go to the last one, even though Wayne said, "I think you ought to go."

Again, the doctor looked down on me lying on the exam table.  This time he said, "You have a lump in your right breast."   To make a long story short, it was cancer.   Pink ribbon be damned. 


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Do you wear a ribbon for someone?  Do you wear a ribbon or a bracelet for a cause?  Add a comment.