My yearly, gentle reminder of our collective mortality
Ever since I turned in the pages for my book just a little over a month ago I have been trying to fit in all of the shit that I
purposefully sort of let fall off the edge of the earth while in the thick of it: eye exams, dentist and orthodontist appointments, more orthodontist appointments, yet even more orthodontist appointments, and oh. Yeah. A mammogram. That minor thing. The thing I have specifically urged others not to put off, I put off. Now, why would anyone ever listen to a word I have to say if I won’t listen to a word I have to say? Heather, do you know whose website you’re writing? OF COURSE you put off your annual mammogram. That is your brand.
I finally scheduled it for last week and tried to find a time that wouldn’t completely disrupt my day like those goddamn orthodontist appointments wherein I have to to pick up The Daughter from school, drive 25 minutes to the person inserting medieval equipment into her mouth, drive 25 minutes back to drop off The Daughter at school, and then look at the gaping two hours I spent not getting the things done that will pay for all that medieval equipment. Do y’all have any idea how expensive that shit is? Every month when I see that payment head off to the orthodontist from my bank account I try really hard not to think about how I could instead be saving that cash for their college funds or for my retirement or for some Corn Nuts and an accompanying blow job.
So I headed to the Imaging Department at a hospital not too far from Marlo’s school right after dropping her off. SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT TANGENT: I don’t think that I have reported here that Marlo started walking herself into school late last fall, and while it was a heartbreaking and bittersweet milestone that we’ve been working on reaching for almost four whole goddamn years, the first time she did it I shook my head to clear it and make sure that I was, in fact, awake and not dreaming the entire thing, and then I looked around my car to see if there was anyone there who wanted to do shots. I preferably wanted to do one and then lick salt off of the taught belly of a tan graduate student on spring break in South Padre Island. Her name should be Stacie. Who can make this happen?
Anyway, LIFE CHANGER. I no longer have to park my car and walk my child to her classroom. Thanks, $12,000 in therapy bills!
That morning both girls had asked if I was nervous about the mammogram, and that’s when I remembered that I needed to rid them of the notion that they should be fearing this exam as if it were exactly like being eaten alive by a T-Rex. Because that’s what I did my entire life and then when I got one for the first time, I was like GIVE ME ALL OF THOSE YEARS BACK, ELDERS. Yes, for some it can be extremely uncomfortable and downright painful. But for some like me getting a mammogram is a lovely, leisurely break from email, math homework, piano practice, and driving back and forth from Whichever Activity is Planned For This Night of the Week and it just happens to include a stranger gently smooshing my boobs.
Smooshing. That’s how I described it to them. And then I said to Leta, “Remember a few days ago when Marlo got mad at you and smacked you on your right boob and I told her that under no circumstances was that acceptable behavior? Yeah, that probably hurt worse than a mammogram.”
Now. Giving birth without medication? That’s a different topic altogether. Let’s wait until you get your heart broken in half for the first time so that I can use some metaphors you’ll understand.
Also, I remember tweeting something when I turned 40 about how I was really happy about that specific birthday and not at all depressed like a lot of people told me I’d be, and then I got the letter from my doctor telling me that I needed to schedule a mammogram and suddenly I was like HOLY SHIT WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE ONE DAY.
(I had a few extra minutes after dropping off Marlo and getting the exam so I drove to the Utah State Capitol Building nearby because it seemed appropriate. Boob.)
This mammogram, however, felt a bit more chilling than previous ones for a few reasons. I mean, in the last year I have heard of several cases of women who are my age or younger being diagnosed with breast cancer. And as I sat there in the hospital gown that opens in the front so that they can fondle your boobs and answered the list of questions they always ask before beginning the procedure, the radiologist hesitated a little longer than I was expecting her to. As if she were about to tell me that the tooth fairy wasn’t real or that children never learn how to fix mama a hot dog.
Any history of breast cancer in my family? Well, yeah. My mother and my aunt. But both were diagnosed with the kind that is not genetic, and maybe because I didn’t know the technical term for that kind of cancer she looked over at me and furrowed her brow.
“The sister of your mother? Or your father’s sister?” she asked.
“My mother’s sister,” I answered.
“Oh dear… hmm… you do know,” she said as she walked over to put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, “that your daughters will never attempt to cook you a hot dog, right? Has anyone ever explained this to you?”
I started weeping, and through my tears I said, “But I don’t smoke and I walk four miles a day and eat a shit ton of arugula. What more do they want from me?”
Yesterday I got a notice from my primary care physician that they’d received the results and, luckily, all is good. Phew for now! I’ll need to follow up again next year, preferably when they send me the reminder and not three months after the reminder. FINE. I will violate my brand guidelines but only for the sake of my tits.