I was standing in line for lunch at the cafeteria, and distracted because I could not get Michael Jackson's Rock With You out of my head. The girl behind me, a classmate named Shelley, was having a conversation with some other girls comparing the breast sizes of her peers. I was just barely paying attention, too busy privately grooving to Rock With You, but my ears pricked up when Shelley declared, "And Kelly's just so flat-chested." And she was right, probably because I was ten years old at the time. But this proclamation marked the official beginning of my youthful dissatisfaction with my non-stacked body.
Throughout junior high and high school, my longed-for breasts did not arrive, although I was an Amazon woman in every other way--5'8" at age eleven, size 10 shoes, "luxurious" eyebrows, really long arms. I loomed over the seven smallish boys in my class for years along with Terri, an equally Amazonian creature whose perfect breasts, superior blonde/blue color scheme and winning smile assured her popularity until (and undoubtedly past) graduation. Meanwhile I was a spelling bee champion and a straight-A student...actually, I was a straight-AA student until maybe sophomore year.
But, you know, I was pretty in my dark, unapproachable, Audrey Hepburn-like way. Unfortunately I didn't know of her existence at the time, and that would've helped. One night when I was in high school, my (busty) friend Reva and I were walking around our little town's pathetic summer carnival. I was wearing an all-white shorts jumpsuit with a zip-neck and a black and white animal print scarf that I wore as a belt. It was unquestionably the best outfit of my teen years, possibly life, and I felt like a million bucks in it as it made its offical Summerfest debut. Reva steered us to a crowd of borderline-sleazy boys and for some reason pointed out my fashionable ensemble to them. "It'd look a lot better on you, Reva!" one of them laughed, staring at her chest as usual. So high school was like that, but believe me by then my escape-from-Jerktown plan was already well in place.
My college and adult years were populated with a handful of romantic interests who tolerated the fact that I was a handful at best. A couple of them even loved that I was small, and I eventually made peace with my breasts. Even though the sexiest Victoria's Secret bras were too big for me, I was still beautiful, and when a sugardaddyish boyfriend offered to buy me implants, I became the guns of the Navarone on his ass. When an online dating prospect, who had spent weeks "enthralled" with my writing and my face, requested a full-length photo of me, I sent him the two you see above. And when he dropped off the face of the planet immediately afterward, I viewed it as his profound loss.
Finally Jeff found me, and as if by magic I started to develop breasts and crossed the A-cup Rubicon into B land. I remembered the following conversation from years ago when I bought a gorgeous, expensive bra.
"What a lovely bra," the cashier said.
"I'm just glad this brand comes in an A."
She grinned. "Oh, I was small when I was your age, but once I hit my thirties..." She puffed out her estimable chest triumphantly. "Maybe it'll happen to you!" said my department store fairy godmother. And what do you know, it kind of did, and over the past couple of years I have proceeded to love and even glory in my new, curvier body.
I had my first mammogram after Jeff and I were married. It was a stressful runaround to be sure, with communication breakdowns, near-faints while my "dense" breasts were being smashed, second trips back for additional images, and waiting waiting waiting with my dear husband who had already lost a young wife to breast cancer. Ultimately, I was fine. No one in my family has had breast cancer, I don't drink or smoke, I've never been on birth control pills or any other drugs, and I seem healthy in every other way.
Everything changed on September 7. I had another (now-dreaded) yearly mammogram. I felt victorious in the fact that I didn't faint and the technician needed only four images. Two days later, however, I learned that they needed to do the mammogram equivalent of photo re-takes due to asymmetry found in my right breast. This had happened the last time, so even though I hated the thought of going back, I wrote off my breasts as being unphotogenic in some way.
Last Tuesday, then, I went back for the re-takes. Jeff was with me, as was my friend Laura via phone, who wanted text message updates. I got changed into a hospital gown and sat in a waiting room with four other nervously upbeat women, all older than me. It was then that I realized the importance of stylish shoes and a pedicure when you're having a mammogram. Those gowns and capes erase any sense of style you might have had, but at least you can keep your shoes on. And there's a lot of staring at the ground in the waiting room, which had a TV that was inexplicably tuned to the Weather Channel. Luckily I wore my nice sandals and a fresh coat of lavender nail polish. One by one the women were led through the labyrinth of the gleamingly new Mills Breast Cancer Institute (such a fun name). Then it was my turn.
The technician doing my images seemed instantly familiar to me. I couldn't say how other than the fact that she was stunningly average, the kind of muffin-shaped, cheerful thirtysomething in the process of growing out a Kate Gosselin reverse-mullet that you see at least twice a day in this part of the country. She was soothing and said that getting more images is "very normal." I thanked her when she was done and told her "good job," which I always tell medical professionals. It can't hurt. I was directed to a room where I could sit with Jeff as we awaited results. I alternately texted Laura and curled up nervously against him.
Ms. Stunningly Average appeared about fifteen minutes later and said to me in a stage whisper, "They need to do an ultrasound--still very normal." Instantly the back of my neck felt hot and I bent over, looking at Jeff. I wanted to stay strong, but this seemed bad and not normal at all.
A while later I was led to a private examination room with a bed/table. The ultrasound technician instructed me to lie on my back. She was a plain, middle-aged woman with a brown bob. "Now lift your right arm over your head and lean to the side a little, that's it," she said, helping me maneuver into what was honestly a very glamorous-looking pose, the kind I liked to draw when I was in life drawing class. She further explained the process and how oh-so-normal everything was while opening my gown and squirting that ultrasound lube all over my right breast. I tried being chatty with her for a while but ultimately became silent as she glided a cell phone-sized object over me and looked at a computer screen. I studied the ceiling, where one of the tiles had been replaced with a photo of waves crashing against a rocky shoreline. One of the rocks was a natural arch whose cut-out area resembled the Native American profile once featured on old nickels. The white part of the biggest wave looked like a fleeing chipmunk. After I felt that I had completely exhausted the photo's potential for hidden pictures, the technician was finished and went to consult with another doctor while I mopped up the lube on my chest. She said that this doctor would come back and probably do an ultrasound herself, which was, let's all say it together, "still very normal."
So the doctor--and I can't remember her name, which is insane as I usually remember the names of everyone who feels me up--came in. She was middle-aged but obviously still really trying to look fabulous. Good for her. The doctor and the technician re-lubed me and re-ultrasounded me, murmuring quietly to each other as they continually passed the instrument over the top of my breast. I couldn't make out a word they were saying. Then it was over. Thanks, good job everyone.
Finally I was allowed to get dressed and sit with Jeff as we awaited results in a suspiciously well-decorated room. A framed reproduction of one of Georgia O'Keeffe's red poppies sat on an ostentatious brass easel near the couch where we sat. A coffee table featured a few untouched-looking magazines. Jeff was exactly the kind of person you'd want by your side in a situation like this, strong and encouraging, but concerned, and once again I cuddled beside him as we sat in silence.
The news was not good. They wanted to schedule a biopsy to see what a tiny area is. It's probably nothing, but the biopsy would tell them one way or another if it's something to worry about. Or I could wait for six months, have another mammogram, and they could see if anything had changed. Jeff, who knew from experience that a lot of bad things can happen in six months, encouraged the biopsy. I was glad he was there because I couldn't think anymore. A bubbly-but-not-too-bubbly young woman came in and scheduled the biopsy, which I will have tomorrow morning at 7:45.
As soon as Jeff and I reached the parking garage I burst into tears, which I did off and on the rest of that day.
So the past seven days have been devoted to the nightmare that is Not Knowing. I've talked with my mom, who has had two similar 6-month-wait-and-see areas that turned out to be nothing. Jeff has been my rock and I adore him. We've gone on epic walks together, comforted each other, distracted ourselves with everything we can think of, worked hard on our various projects, and engaged in gallows humor. I've taken to calling my breasts "my little troublemakers." Last season on 30 Rock, Nathan Lane guest-starred as one of Jack's roudy Irish relatives. When referring to his fists, he held them up one at a time, yelling hilariously, "Say hello to Bono! And Sandra Day O'Connor!" So I've also been calling my breasts Bono! (left) and Sandra Day O'Connor! (right), but this isn't exactly catching on like wildfire the way I'd hoped.
And so, in approximately 19 hours, my right breast will be numbed with lidocaine, a needle will be inserted, and cell samples will be extracted. A hair-width bit of titanium will be permanently inserted into the area as a marker indicating the location of the problem area for future mammograms. "Most people tell me it's not even as a bad as a trip to the dentist," the doctor informed me. But there will most likely be bruising, and oh how my body loves to hold onto a bruise, and I have to decide which bra of mine can hold an ice pack. Probably none of my pretty ones.
I wish this were merely a treatment that would cure the problem area, because then I'd have no trouble enduring this biopsy, but it's not a treatment. After it's over we get to wait for several more nightmarish days to see if it's cancer.
A song has been in my head since last Tuesday, and it's not Rock With You. It's the Annie Lennox/David Bowie live performance of Queen's Under Pressure. The part at the end, where she's clinging to him, that's how I feel. I'm trying to be strong, but that's who I am right now.