View from the Hill
LOS ANGELES—The waterfall behind the receptionist’s desk at the Breast Clinic is supposed to be comforting. If you close your eyes, you can pretend you’re on the beach and listening to waves pounding against the shore.
Unfortunately, the rush of water and moistened drops glistening off the mirrors didn’t encourage me to relax. Upon entering the clinic, I immediately felt a) nervous and b) an urge to use the ladies room.
I did not have time beforehand for either event.
When they first scheduled my biopsy two months away, I told the appointment setter to let me know if anyone canceled.
“I can even come in the same day,” I said.
All the time thinking, who cancels a biopsy?
Turns out, someone canceled.
They called the following Thursday, asking me to come in the next day. Thank goodness for family and a flexible work schedule. I rushed to get everything done and didn’t think about the procedure itself until I walked into the clinic and sat down near a fountain like Niagara Falls.
As I leaned over the side, my hair got wet.
“What are you doing?” a young girl asked.
“I just wanted to see if there were coins in the bottom, like fountains at the mall.”
“Sure is loud,” she said. “Can’t they mute that thing?”
After a well-deserved potty break, I walked back to the waiting room and sat next to an older woman who fell asleep in her chair. At least the rushing water worked for someone.
I jumped. She sounded like my mother. I narrowed my eyes and noticed a rather large woman waving her arms about a half-mile down the hall under a sign that read: Check-In.
“You guys don’t have microphones or speaker systems?” I asked Check-In Lady after my heartbeat returned to normal.
“Most of us have kids,” she said with a smile. “We don’t mind shouting. Have a seat.”
I looked over at another woman checking in. Bald, with a bright pink scarf covering her head; she laughed a lot. I looked at a poem on the desk about all the things cancer cannot destroy: hope, good will, courage and love.
I looked at Check-In Lady again and wondered if she ever felt depressed, dealing with either scared women waiting to find out if they had cancer or women who already knew.
She didn’t seem depressed. She laughed a lot, too. Her happy mood seemed genuine. I wondered if the woman with the scarf on her head wanted to be a role model. She’d probably prefer to be at home with her kids or lunching with friends – I know I did. I would have preferred spending the day anywhere but at a biopsy.
If that’s how she felt, she didn’t let on. She seemed brave.
They made me feel better almost immediately.
Later in my private stall, I took off my bra and shirt as directed. The pink drape slid over my torso and tied in front. I looked at myself in the mirror.
“Mom was wrong,” I said while I adjusted the toga so I wouldn’t flash anyone. “There is something less attractive than shoulder pads.”
A tech walked me into the room with the giant needle, and I noticed X-ray films on display.
“Is that it?” I tapped the screen where a shadow sat in the middle of my breast’s silhouette. It looked like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
“Yes,” she said, “but the image is magnified. Yours isn’t that big.”
“How big is it?”
“About 9mm.” She pointed out the size of a small jelly bean on a handy chart she kept in her pocket.
I keep a chart in my purse, too. One that helps me calculate proper tips.
My chart is a lot less depressing.
The doctor came into the room. She seemed to be about my age, with long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her calm and measured tone put me at ease. She introduced me to a few more student doctors who were going to stare at my naked chest for a while in the interest of a “learning experience.”
“If I had a dollar for every time I heard that line,” I said.
Her tech drew on my breast with a marker. It tickled.
“Ever been to Mardi Gras?” I asked.
“We’re marking the spot where your lump lives.”
The tech took a paintbrush and covered my right breast with Betadine.
“Ever been to Key West?” I asked.
The doctor adjusted the equipment and warned me that I would feel a slight stinging sensation.
“Feels like a tattoo,” I said. “Ever been to Venice Beach?”
When they were finished, they left a tiny chip in my breast, formed to look like a breast cancer ribbon, so future radiologists will know that they weren’t my first. After a kinder, gentler mammogram and a few ice packs, I went home.
I passed by the Niagara Falls fountain and looked in the bottom one more time. Too bad there weren’t any coins. I know exactly what I…what we all… would have wished for.
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