As much as I do this for the love of telling stories, once a day or so my kids get all demandy about wanting food and very few supermarkets will take a story at checkout. One of my favorite side jobs (though I’m not sure exactly which of my jobs is the front one) is my Off the Clock column for RVA News. It’s fun to write, and I hear it’s fun to read. But only you can be the judge. Well, you and the people who pay me to do it.
We all like our stuffs, but how much do we depend on it for happiness? Come check out how I unwillingly gave it all up, and gained a whole lot of happiness. Don’t worry, I won’t make you feel guilty about your iPhone. We all know that’s necessary to live and junk.
“This month’s budget was thin, so I had to choose between cable and food.”
“Mom, please tell me you chose cable.”
Things are tight in the Fuck Yeah household, but not any tighter than usual.
Due to the fact that I’m crap with money, the cable/internet is off for a week or so, which has lead to two sullen teens. “I’m bored” and, consequently, “I’m hungry” are heard echoing through our apartment, making this place sound like the orphanage in a modern day version of Annie. The kids discuss all the wonderful shows they’ll watch (Which have magically transformed into the best things ever, due to their unattainable nature. “Remember Hannah Montana? The ‘Cheese Jerky’ song is a work of genius!”) and computer games they’ll play, when our bill is paid.
But the pouting doesn’t last long. We all know we’re on this ship together and, if we don’t work as a team, we are headed straight for that iceberg.
We go to the grocery store and the girl, who is pragmatic above all else, says “Okay, how much do we have and how many days do we need to shop for?” She then pulls out two carts, pushes one at the boy, and instructs him as to where he should start. We roam the aisles, looking for bargains, careful about “specials” that really aren’t and recipes that require too many ingredients. We always use our store discount card at the end, so we can see how much we’ve saved.
When we come home, he pulls out his guitar, and she the ukulele full of barf (She’s cleaned the strings and says “Who the heck is going to look inside my ukulele or smell it, anyway?”) and they say “Let’s play” and we pick out a few tunes very slowly (He’s a true virtuoso, as are she and I. But only in our own minds.) and discuss names for this new supergroup which has coalesced seemingly by the hand of god and also the hand of poverty. She says “Let’s make our own show! Turn on your webcam!” and we film the opening sequence to the smash hit new series “The Dog and Cat and Girl and Lady Show”, complete with theme song, written and played by us. We laugh until we are exhausted.
I wish it weren’t necessary, but the truth is, we’re good at being poor. When the going gets tough, we get going. We could, all three of us, teach classes in how to make a penny seem like a dollar and how to make a dollar seem like fifty. Even when it’s a hard knock life, we still believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. Especially if tomorrow is when “The Dog and Cat and Girl and Lady Show” premiers. That thing is a phenomenon waiting to happen.
“I’m sorry I’m not wearing any pants,” I said, for the third time already, today.
“It’s okay,” said the technician, because what else are you going to say to that sort of thing?
I had my first mammogram.
It all started a few weeks ago, when I went to the doctor for a desperate case of WTF, Period Edition — Mood swings that typically left me in a heap of tears and self-loathing, cramps like a kick in the gut from an angry robot (robots are strong, guys), blood that flowed like boxed wine at a bunco party.
She did the usual poking around, and when she got to my breasts, she poked a little more deliberately. Turned out I had a lump and would need to have it checked.
But there was no “booby” talk this time. No murmurs of reassurance. No promises of fixing what was broken. It was all business. Serious medical business. There was a job to do, and it was getting done.
I had initially wanted to go to the appointment alone, so that I could deal with any news I got in whatever way felt right, without worrying about whomever was escorting me. But a friend convinced me that wasn’t a good idea, and my teen daughter was not about to let me out of her sight, anyway. I dressed in some finery, convincing myself that bravery wore lipstick, popped some painkiller on the advice of twitter, and we headed out to the local hospital.
The waiting room was filled with elderly women, escorted by slightly less elderly women, and I thought it concrete proof that women live longer than men, but it’s not necessarily a comfortable or worry-free 5-10 years. I was called back rather quickly, which is the beauty of being the first appointment of the morning, and shown to a small dressing room, not unlike the ones in a department store where voices whisperlie that those ultra low cut jeans look fabulous on you and you should ignore the giant tsunami of fat rolling over the top, because all the cool kids have it. I was handed an extremely short gown, and a robe that was even shorter, wondered if Hugh Hefner weren’t going to pop out and deem me unfit for the grotto, in a new reality show “Who Wants Legionnaire’s Disease?” I was told I could keep everything on from the waist down.
“Um, I’m not wearing pants,” I said, gesturing down to my dress in a way that was embarrassingly obvious.
“Oh, well, that’s okay,” the nurse said, “I’m sure we’ve seen worse.”
I was shown back to a small room with a big machine. There was no question what it was for.
“This is Theresa, she’ll be performing your mammogram, then you’ll have an ultrasound to examine your lump.”
“Hi, Theresa. I’m not wearing pants.”
Theresa took a series of pictures of my breasts. I slipped first my left arm out of my gown and robe, while they hung off my right, then switched. My girls were kneaded, prodded, and pulled across a flat plate, then another plate came down and sandwiched them in a way that I didn’t know was possible. The pain was something akin to Mike Tyson punching me square in the tit, and then throwing in his infamous bite/tear. No joke, it was horrible.
When it was all, um, grammed, I was told a doctor would look at the scans and while I waited. I was shown to a room with a large table full of magazines, a television blaring a Meredith Viera-heavy segment of the Today show, and a single cup coffee maker. Two women, also in shorty robes, but wisely wearing pants, sat, flipping through magazines. No one spoke.
“Does anyone know where the bathroom is?” I asked, “I’m pretty sure that Theresa just squeezed the pee out of me. Anatomy lesson, your bladder is in your right breast!”
Both looked up, one pointed to a door down the hall.
I started to worry about trusting these people with my extremely vulnerable parts.
When I returned to the waiting room, a third medical person was standing there, waiting to talk to me. She said that the pictures from my breasts showed some abnormalities and I would need another set, to see if maybe it was a problem with the scans.
I was a fool for not heeding the obvious red flag in the restroom.
“I’m Diane. Theresa is busy, but it’s good to get different people to do them, anyway, because we all have different techniques.”
I don’t need technique. I don’t need style. I need a clean mammogram so I can get on with my life.
I had the second set of pictures, after apologizing to Diane for not wearing pants.
“I just didn’t know you could, you know?”
The second set of pics were unclear, as well. Theresa, who had finished with her patient, was called back into the room to see if she could figure out how to capture my apparently rogue breasts. The two women pored over the scans on a monitor in the corner of the room, and spoke as if I weren’t just feet away, about how the concerning spots appeared in some, but not others.
“Sorry!” I wanted to shout over to them. “Sorry about my breasts!”
Another set of pictures were taken, with both women working together to “roll the breast” and “position the lump, properly”. They were politely frustrated.
I was shown back to the waiting room, where two different women in robes — again, pants — were sitting quietly. One woman and I spoke about how she was here for her bi-yearly recheck, having defeated breast cancer a few years before. The other woman chimed in with the story of how her mother and grandmother had both died from breast cancer, and she got checked every six months, just in case.
I got nervous.
Diane came back in, and said they needed another picture or two. By this time, Mike Tyson had punched my tits numb, and I just wanted to get it over with.
After the last set, I was shown to an ultrasound room. I sighed and told Kim, the tech, my pants story, but it had lost some of its whimsy and I was over being embarrassed.
The ultrasound was just like the ones I had when I was pregnant with my children, but a little higher, and decidedly more grim. This was not the room where they saw a penis, or lack of, and told excited parents whether the bun in their oven was an Apple or a Moses. The good news that came from here was “life”.
After the unsexy, goop-assisted breast massage, sans happy ending, but while I was still lying flat on my back, pantsless, a man in a white coat came in and introduced himself as the doctor who had been looking at my scans, behind the scenes. I didn’t even bother with the pants apology. It was obvious I wasn’t wearing them, and he didn’t seem fazed.
He told me that the spots in my breasts were inconsistent, from mammogram to mammogram, meaning they were probably in my skin and that’s why they jumped around so much. He saw my confusion and assured me that was good. He also said I would need to come back in six months, just to make sure that was the case.
I was sent back to the dressing room, where I finally put some clothes on, four hours after donning the gown and robe, and stopped by the receptionist’s desk to schedule an October appointment.
Guess what somebody is getting for her 40th birthday? Titty punches!
“Hi. I’d like to make an appointment.”
“Okay. What test did you need?”
“Fine. Let me get some information from you.”
She asked all the pertinent stuff — Name, Phone Number, Insurance Info. She asked if she could have my social security number or would I rather not. Stuff like that doesn’t freak me out in the least. Please, if someone were to steal my identity, they could only improve it.
“I’d rather not,” I said, surprising myself.
When she asked my date of birth, she automatically assumed.
“So, routine screening, then?”
“No, ma’am. Diagnostic.”
I have a lump in my breast.
I went to the doctor, yesterday, for a myriad of reasons. The breast lump was not one of them. I was, in fact, aware of its existence, but it had slipped my mind. I was more worried about the extreme PMS I was having. PMS so bad that, every month, I think, “I’d rather die than go through this again.” And it was only getting worse.
A few days ago, I had reached my breaking point. I was at work, doing the usual Monday stuff, when tears came. I wasn’t crying, per se, just tearing. Madly. I put down the cards I was organizing and marched over to my boss.
“I need to go to the doctor.”
He seemed confused. To be fair, while he is an idiot, it was confusing. We had spoken just a few minutes before and I was holding it together just fine.
“I’ll call you,” I said,on my way out the door.
I showed up at the local clinic and waited two hours to be called to the back. Then two more hours before seeing a doctor. I didn’t care. I couldn’t afford four hours off of work, but I also couldn’t afford the breakdown I was having.
The clinic doctor seemed worried. She called and got me a GYN appointment for the next morning, something almost unheard of, especially for the upscale practice she scored it with.
“Go home and rest,” she said, “Help is coming.”
I called my boss and told him I’d not be back in. Also, that I was going to be late the next day, because I had to see a specialist. He didn’t even ask.
The next morning, I showed up to the “Women’s Center”, located in a local hospital. I was wearing a cute babydollish top, and was asked twice when I was due. I wasn’t mad, I am fat and the place was packed with pregnant ladies. Besides, I got to say “Me? Oh, I’m barren” twice, which is my favorite.
I was made to undress, gown open in the front, and sit on the white paper. I didn’t really feel like checking twitter or reading any of the lady mags (did you know Women’s Day is still in business?), so I stared at an oil painting hanging on the wall. The subject was a field of red flowers. Really red. The paint stood out in peaks, impossibly thick, dark red.
“Note to self,” I thought, “Ask if art was painted with menstrual blood. That will lighten the mood and, also, I need to know.”
A young, unfairly beautiful Nurse Practitioner came in and ruined my cool with the sympathetic look on her face.
“I got the notes from your doctor. I’m so sorry. Let’s help you.”
We went through the routine. We chatted about pregnancies and birth control and my horrible periods and other body stuff. She asked why it had been six years since I had seen a Gynecologist and I answered truthfully.
“It didn’t seem important.”
She came up next to me and went straight to second base but it didn’t seem like a big deal because she was about to have me scooch down and hit a home run with nothing but a latex glove and a speculum.
She stopped her movement and felt around a little more intently. She felt around a little more, and her mouth made the tiniest frown movement. Tiny, but not imperceivable.
I scooched, and she hit her home run.
“Everything looks good down there,” she said, after I had sat up, “but I want to talk to you about your boobies.”
Normally, I would roll my eyes at her use of such a childish term for what were obviously bangin’ tits, but I let it go, as my memory had flooded with the fact that the last few (dozen) times I had, uh, pleasured myself, I felt something that struck me as not right.
“Oh. The right one?”
“Yes. There is a lump in there that we need to get checked out.”
Her voice had changed. Her bedside manner was spot on, but she had gone from girlfriendy to doctory, just like that.
We also discussed my mood swings and depression associated, apparently, with hormone fluctuations. Turns out it was beyond PMS, into something called PMDD and it was real and I wasn’t even making it up or being dramatic, at all.
She also handed me a pamphlet about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
“I’m going to schedule an ultrasound. I suspect they will find this, so I just want you to have the information.”
A syndrome now? This was too much.
She prescribed me a mild antidepressant, scheduled the ultrasound, and handed me a paper with a crude drawing of my breasts, a circle right in the same spot I had felt the lump, and some phone numbers on it. She held on to that paper just a second longer than she needed to.
“You have to schedule the mammogram yourself, but I need you to do it right away, okay?”
I nodded, having suddenly developed an extreme case of brain fog.
I headed to the lab to have some blood drawn, clutching the pile of paperwork that said I was right to see a doctor, but making me wish I hadn’t. I was sure I was going to this appointment to be dismissed with “Nothing’s wrong” and “Lose weight, fatty”, but I wasn’t. I was taken seriously, about serious issues.
The NP emailed me today, with my bloodwork results. I’ve gone, in the span of 24 hours, from being someone who prided herself on taking no medications to someone who is taking five pills a day. Someone with follow up appointments. Someone who is suddenly uncomfortable in her own body. Feeling betrayed. Seeing it as unreliable.
I want, more than anything, to go back to not knowing.
I’m going to need those antidepressants.
Today I had to make an unexpected trip to see the doctor. On my way out the door, I threw on my only clean clothes, which just happened to be too big jeans and fancy, satiny black panties. I arrived, sans appointment, and proceeded to wait for two hours to be called back. When the nurse finally came out to the waiting room and called my name, I was dozing in the chair and popped up, half in an attempt to look like I hadn’t been napping and half because I was startled. Standing up so quickly disturbed the delicate balancing act and uneasy truce I had with the big pants, plus there was no friction in my favor, because of the slippery underpants, and the jeans and I both fell victim to gravity. I stood, face to face, with a woman in scrubs, pants halfway down to my knees, shrugged, and pulled them up. I’d love to have lived a life where I could pull out this story at parties as “the most embarrassing thing, ever”, but I haven’t. I haven’t lived that life, at all. In fact, I don’t know that it was the most embarrassing thing to happen to me, today.
Still. Damn you, laws of physics.
In other news, my last two columns are awaiting your peepers. This week’s is about the police with pepper spray vs 8 year old Colorado boy and last week’s examines the world’s fascination with Suri Cruise.