I wish I kept a journal. I want so badly to remember the last normal day I had.
Ten days ago, everything was normal. I felt great. In fact, I felt better than I had felt since I was a teenager. I had lost 30 pounds. I had taken up running. I felt healthy and strong. The only problem was this itch.
On the very last day that everything was normal, I called my doctor at Kaiser Permanente. I told her about the itch. At first it was merely annoying because I could neither identify or isolate the itch. It was all over and it was nowhere. It was possibly a bite from the biggest mosquito in the world. It wasn’t even constant. It was intermittent and started at random, inconvenient moments.
One day late in January, it wasn’t itchy anymore. It burned. The only thing I can compare it to was the sensation I sometimes felt during breastfeeding, but it wasn’t even similar to that. It hurt more. It didn’t go away, either. At one point, I took an Advil and lay down. It wasn’t painful, but it was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. The Advil started to work, I got up, and forgot about it. Until it came back.
And again, that’s the thing about not keeping a journal. I don’t know when it came back. I can barely remember on a day-to-day basis what I’ve eaten for breakfast during any given week, so my sense of time is not reliable. Ten days? I guess. We’ll say ten days. Ten days later, the burning came back, accompanied by the infernal itching. It was driving me crazy this time. It was so annoying and distracting I locked myself in my room, removed my top and decided to just finally look at the damn thing and see if I could find any kind of superficial evidence of the bite inflicted on me by some unseen rabid animal.
I felt a hard spot. Not on the surface, but way under the skin. Kind of flat, with definite edges. Weird.
I do self-exams all the time. Don’t I? Of course. There’s no way I could have missed that. I was so sure it hadn’t been there a few days ago. Right? Right?
Maybe it had been there. Maybe it hadn’t. But right then, I couldn’t deny it. There was something in my breast.
Later that day, I asked my husband about it.
My husband thinks I’m a hypochondriac. And maybe I am. Every month or so, I ask him if something looks infected or if I have a fever. The answer is always “no”, followed by a snort. It’s so predictable. I become convinced I have pneumonia or something, he tells me to walk it off, we laugh; sometimes I come down with a cold and sometimes my toe really is sprained, but always, I’m ultimately fine. Better than fine.
When he touched the hard thing in my breast, he got a look in his eye I’d never seen before. He felt it too. It wasn’t in my imagination and it wasn’t nothing. He then did something he can’t even do for himself–he made me promise to call a doctor.
I felt ridiculous. I was about to tell a stranger about my itchy boob. I empathize with the people who answer phones at doctor’s offices. I think they maybe have the suckiest, most awkward, most infuriating job in the world. I heard myself telling this poor lady about my itchy boob and I knew I sounded like a prank caller. There was no way I was wasting this lady’s time telling her about my itchy boob. I told her about the hard spot, too. She said she’d have a nurse call me back in a few minutes. I knew what would happen. The lady on the other end would give the nurse the referral and they’d have a good laugh at my expense and the nurse would call me back.
Right away, the nurse sounded worried. She said I needed to have the doctor look at it. I agreed. My doctor wasn’t in the office that day. Neither was my husband’s. I was shuffled back and forth in between departments for a few minutes. I spent some time on hold, jamming out to smooth jazz.
It’s always the little details you want to remember, too. I’ll always remember all the big things about my wedding day. I’ll remember how my mother-in-law bought me a bouquet and how Ryan was dressed; but I’ll never remember the tiny details. I won’t remember the conversations between my friends; I won’t remember the food we ate at the reception afterward. All the little details count. And the detail I’ll remember from that day was the smooth jazz hold music.
The nurse came back on and gave me a time and day. I still felt silly. I still had to pay a co-pay to have a doctor examine my itchy boob. I’d still have to find parking; I still had stuff to do before and after my appointment, and it still took up time I could be spending in other ways. I hate wasting time. And moreover, I didn’t even know the doctor I was seeing, since my doctor was still unavailable. The whole thing was annoying.
Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting to hear the words “mammogram” and “ultrasound” that day. The prospect of a mammogram intrigued me, because I knew I was at the age when I would have to consider getting one anyway. Might as well find out what it’s like so I know what to expect, right? Knowledge is good. My mammogram and ultrasound were scheduled for Friday, only a few days away.
The mammogram was as unpleasant as I figured. The ultrasound was worse. My mammogram technician was excruciatingly cheerful and polite. My ultrasound technician was the model of efficiency, but had little time for chit chat. Not that I wanted chit chat; but any kind of small talk may have helped distract me from the fact that he saw something. I knew he saw something, and his silence shouted that it wasn’t good.
The little details. That day’s special little detail was the pink sheet of paper they handed me on my way out of the office. I don’t know where that pink sheet of paper is now, but I wish I could find it. It might be the least helpful piece of paper ever, but when I was handed that sheet of paper, I think I knew. The box for “you’re fine!” wasn’t checked; nor was the “we need more tests” box. On my paper, at that moment, the box stating “call your doctor for follow up” was checked. I had no freaking idea what that meant; but I knew exactly what that meant.
I needed a biopsy.
I’d heard people use the word. I knew it involved needles and pain and probably not really good news. The actual mechanics of a biopsy were a mystery. And, quite frankly, they still are, because my eyes were closed for the entire thing. As I walked in, I saw a terrifying contraption of the table next to the hospital bed where I had the procedure. I made awkward small talk with a nurse for a few minutes while we waited for the doctor.
I pretty much instantly disliked the doctor even before I met him. The room was freezing and I was terrified. I needed to get this over with and he was taking his sweet time. I was impatient. When he did come in, he said very little, not even waiting for questions from me.
A biopsy requires local anesthetic, usually injected. I might have been impatient, but Dr. Personality was even more impatient. I wasn’t numb when he started the biopsy. It was painful; more painful than anything I’d experienced in a very long time. Everything I’d read made biopsies seem like no big deal. This was a big deal. It was invasive and it hurt. It was necessary, but I felt unprepared. I sought out information online and even that didn’t help.
I’ll probably never forget that day. I think every detail will stick in my mind. How after it was over, Ryan took me to get coffee. How we got lunch. The torrential rains that fell that day. I may remember that day very clearly for a long, long time; maybe even more clearly than I remember my wedding or any of my kids’ births. I felt fear and uncertainty, but on that day, I also felt very close to Ryan. We spent the day together, hand in hand, and even on the day when I was the most unsure of my future, I also felt safe.