In the shower Friday morning, I found a lump.
Women have lumps, I’ve been told many times. Everyone gets them. Lumps are common. Lumps are normal. Lumps are almost always benign.
Yes, except: not my lumps.
Every time I’ve found a lump in my breast it’s been cancerous. Every time. Two lumps. Two cancers. Zero false alarms.
Breathing deeply, I tried to keep calm. Statistically, I had to have at least one single lump in my life that wasn’t cancer. How could one person, three weeks after finishing chemo no less, produce that much cancer? I was doing everything a person can do to stop being a cancer-making factory. I had the breast removed. I had chemo. I ate kale by the shovel full. Fruits, vegetables, exercise, treatment…
But there it was, a lump.
I called Kevin into the bathroom to confirm it.
“It’s just a lump,” he started to say. “Everyone –“
“Don’t,” I told him. I called my doctor, my breast surgeon.
I’ve nicknamed my breast surgeon ‘Dr. SPO.’ It’s short for “sharp, pointy objects,” because that is his modus operandi: I see him, he stabs me.
I love him, even though he is undeniably a sexist pig. Need proof? Here are two examples:
* After my mastectomy, he didn’t think I needed Percocet, just codeine. I strenuously objected. Dr. SPO turned to Kevin and said: “Wash her hair. Women as so much happier when you wash their hair.”
* “She looks great,” he told Kevin another time, after my mastectomy. “I don’t even think she needs the reconstruction.” Really? Kevin asks. “Come on! You clearly didn’t marry her for her breasts, am I right?” (Kevin was screwed. He couldn’t agree, and he couldn’t disagree. He deftly changed the subject.)
So Dr. SPO is not without his flaws. But he is so invested in my cure, it’s easy to pat him on his little bald head and overlook them. (I see your sexism and raise you an ageism. Two can play this game!)
Every time I call, he is on the end of the line within minutes. I called this morning, and within an hour, I was sitting in his office, waiting for him to finish one mastectomy, then swing through his office and see me before he went on to perform his next mastectomy.
He discounted the lump as soon as he saw it. Whooshing in still wearing his scrubs, he came, he saw, he brought the SPO’s, and he reassured me. “I don’t even need to send this to the lab. It’s a cyst. It’s not cancer. But I will send it to the lab and I’ll get it back in half an hour. I promise.”
The lab results came back before I’d even finished with all my paperwork at the front desk (they’d postponed the check-in routine until after the visit for expediency). Dr. SPO was still standing next to me, going over some forms, when the lab called him.
“Yep, thanks,” he said into his cell phone. He turned to me: “Normal, like I said.”
I can tolerate a little sexism for service like this.
When he said ‘normal,’ I realized I’d been holding my breath pretty much since I found the lump. I exhaled for the first time in what felt like hours.
“Wow,” I said. “I feel like a normal person now. A woman who just gets cysts. How about that.” I tried this persona on for size. “I am a woman who gets cysts. Just a regular, normal woman.”
“You’re lumpy,” he confirmed. “Congratulations.”
The elapsed time from when I found the lump until it was declared harmless? Four and a half hours. I literally wept with relief, just standing right there. It should have been embarrassing but since I spend a lot of time sitting around shirtless in front of strangers, I don’t embarrass easily anymore.
I hugged him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I repeated. “For seeing me so quickly, for always being there, for everything.”
“Of course,” he said, dismissing my effusion. “You call me Saturday morning, I’ll come in Saturday morning. You call me in the middle of the night, I’ll come running. I will never leave you hanging.”
I think he was afraid I was going to cry again, and to prevent this, he started in on my hair.
“What’s this?” he asked, pointing at my wig. “Strawberry blonde,” I told him. He made a face. “Strawberry blonde? I was told you had purple. Next time, wear the purple.”