"Have you felt this before?" the nurse asked.
"No," I lied. I have felt a lump before, but in all honesty I convinced myself that I had, in my obsessive fear, imagined its existence. I guess I wanted the nurse to form an unbiased opinion on the contour of my seemingly perfect breasts. She continued to roll her cold nurse's fingertips against the knot inside my chest. I squirmed to avoid the feeling of that lump pressing against my skeleton. I didn’t want to be aware that they were there. "I get nervous," I offered, as an explanation for fidgeting and face scrunching, but the nurse didn't seem to understand. She continued to press and roll and inspect, and in a matter of moments, I was crying. Her insensitivity made it impossible to bridle my fear.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"Yep," I answered, as if the tears weren't even there, and she was clearly disarmed by my oddly placed cheery tone. She didn't seem to understand. I guess cancer isn't everybody's deepest fear. I guess some really do place M. Williamson's inadequacy over the thought of rotting on a hospital bed. Personally, I think I fear nothing more than cancer. I fear it more than God.
"Have you ever given yourself a breast exam?" the nurse continued to ask. I told her no, but the truth is I've tried three times. Twice alone and once with my boyfriend. Each time I balled, but at least with my boyfriend he held me and we had that emotional patch-up sex. This summer I finally braved a breast exam and found a lump. I cried myself to sleep and in the morning convinced myself that the lump didn’t exist.
Well, I probably looked pretty foolish to that nurse, who has probably never gotten tears during a routine breast exam. And when she asked what cancer my Mommy died of and my answer was not breast cancer, she looked at me even more strangely. Cancer is cancer, no matter where it ends up on your bod…right?
Though the nurse made every attempt to assure me that the lump was probably benign, she offered to refer me to a breast specialist so I could have an ultrasound of my lumps. When I visited the breast people, I was so elated to find that my doctor was a hot doctor. I actually couldn’t help it. He walked in on my paper-robed body and pulled on some gloves and felt me up. “You’ll get better contact with the gloves off, doctor,” I wanted to say. But I figured I’d save that comment for my next dream when I masturbated to his image. My right breast was a bit insulted to have been spoken off in solely medical terminology. If she wasn’t going to be sucked, I think she at least wanted to hear how beautiful she is.
The hot Indian doctor told me that my lumps – I’m so special , I have two – were benign and absolutely normal for women in their twenties. “We can have them removed, or we can just keep monitoring them.” Knives belong in the kitchen not in the body, so I opted to leave my lumps be. Besides, I would consider myself a spoiled human being, in that I never get sicker than a cold, the only needles I’ve taken are vaccinations and stitches when I was two and too young to remember, and the only time I spent overnight in the hospital is in my mommy’s arms after she pushed me out. My most invasive procedure to date has been the beloved pap smear, and while strange they don’t hurt too much. I’m afraid of all things of and relating to hospitals.
I walked home, but I was still unsettled. Was I making the right decision by leaving my ugly lady lumps? Well, since I had posted my worries on my Facebook and Twitter, my friends and family felt the need to comment. My cousins tripped on me, “YOU NEED TO GET THEM REMOVED NOW!” an attitude that I found a bit excessive, considering I’m the one with the dead Mommy. Some guy told me insensitively, though he meant well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I kept getting word from friends of friends of friends who had had lumps giving me both perspectives. And when I tried to google my situation, the first article I found read something like “21 year old college student battles breast cancer.” I immediately closed my computer screen, and just so I wouldn’t have to see that headline again, I pulled the battery out of the back rather than simply close the window.
But finally, a friend of mine sent me a message that said she too had a breast lump and was getting hers removed. Days later, a girl told me that she’d had a lump in her breast since 7th grade. She’s in college now, so she’s been holding on to her lump for years.
So, if it is okay to hold on to a benign breast lump, or two, then there is a far lesser sense of immediacy and room for far more questions. Does surgery hurt? Will I have a scar? Will they ruin my breasts? Will losing a lump make one breast smaller than the other? How much does surgery cost and can bill paying Karen afford it? How much school will I be able to miss? Those were the physical questions, but the whole lump situation brought up a lot of emotions for me as well. Some were expelled in that poem two posts down. However, the best solution has been telling people about my lump so they can reflect their opinions, both expert and foolish.
My charge to you, ladies (I'm sure the boys stop reading several paragraphs ago), is to cradle your breasts between your finger tips and go lump hunting. It is common for women in their twenties to have a few floating around, but be sure to check them out, know they’re there and monitor growth or shrinkage. There is probably no reason for you to explode in tears every time you put a little pressure on your breast tissue. If you struggle with the scenario, go to a doctor, and perhaps a counselor, and get your issues worked out. Awareness and prevention are the key to longevity when it comes to terminal illnesses.