Abreast of Breath

Angelina Jolie‘s preventive double mastectomy has been worldwide front page news.  Opinions, comments and compliments are now flying everywhere.  It is quite a shocker, but the fact that she lost her mother from breast cancer at merely 56, and carries a similar risk to develop cancer at a young age, I can appreciate why she would do it.  She’s choosing her life above all else, and that’s commendable.   (Also, imagine the kind of new super-human bionic-boobies that only Jolie/Pitt kind of money could buy).


Last summer, I discovered a thick band of lumps alongside the curve of my left breast.  It was like this long stretch of a congested highway, and one lump was so sizable, it was like the accident site holding up the rapidly growing traffic jam.   I showed my husband, who is possibly more familiar with the territory than I; and his lips pursed in concern.  After another day or two, I showed my mother, who did a similar lip purse, before suggesting that I get to their family doctor.

After the appointment, sitting on the examination table, resisting the urge to swing my legs like a child while  the doctor draws black circles on cartoon breasts.  I mean, he wasn’t ignoring me while absentmindedly doodling breasts on a prescription pad, it was meant to be sent to the hospital.  But they were a seriously decent artist’s rendition, full and round, they are the kind I would go for if I had a choice, (minus the black dots).

Of course, I had to wait about one hundred years before my appointment at the hospital.  It was a crisp fall day when we arrived at the hospital.  First I was meant to have an ultrasound, then if there was further cause for concern, then I’d  immediately pass go, and head in for an exploratory mammogram.  I kept thinking, please don’t pass go, please don’t pass go.  After the ultrasound, the technician left the room, and Ben and I did not speak from holding our breath.  When she returned, she explained that I was to have the mammogram.  I inhaled sharply, my damp eyes, immediately seeking my husband’s face.

Sitting in the mammogram waiting room; it is a cramped space, middle aged women, myself and my 6’9” husband, clinging to “Beautiful British Columbia“, the only magazine in the room .  Everyone else is wearing outfits; whereas mine is in a hospital issued plastic bag.  I’m still in my hospital gown, with my pashmina wrapped around my neck.  (“Are you cold? A nurse asks me.  “No, I just want to look fabulous”, I answer).  I have a baseball sized lump in my throat, and am staring straight ahead at the generic painting on the wall.  One woman in the room is nervously jabbering on, her voice teetering on frantic, desperate for some back-and-forth. Normally, that is my kind of thing, I think nothing of striking up conversations in grocery store aisles and cinema queues, and really, there is no better place to have a laugh but in the hospital waiting rooms.  But not today.

Though something inside of me, in this moment,  wishes I had said something to her.  I’m sorry that you felt alone.

When my name was called, Ben squeezed my knee before I rose out of my seat.  I went into the room, where there was not just a mammogram machine–but a MEGA mammogram machine.  My jaw dropped and the …mammogramologist… (is that a word? it is now!), looks at the machine and back at me.  “Have you had this done before?”  “No…but I heard something about pancakes”.  She chuckled, “It’s something like that”.  “Sadly mine will be more silver dollar pancakes”.  And the technician has a good ole laugh, and I relax slightly.

When this machine was invented, there was little consideration for short women with underwhelming breasts; there was no delicate way to discover whether something deadly was slipped into my A-cup.   I had to mount the machine like a graceless whale humping the shoreline before my little silver dollars could be minted.  After the test, the technician left the room, to show the results to another doctor.  I waited, making a big sweaty mess of the hospital gown, the fear suddenly catching up with me, and the thought of this once laughing woman coming back into the room with a grave expression.

She comes back in, “You are good to go”, and I let my breath go like air being let out a balloon.  And maybe I cried a little.  “It’s okay…were you that worried?”  Who’s not worried when you are sentenced to a mammogram?  No one thinks to themselves, ‘What to do with my day off–massage or mammogram?’  Or “I hope the results are utterly terrifying!”  The technician gives me a warm squeeze on my shoulder, “Take it from me, if you feel a cancerous lump, it will take your breath away”.

Take my breath away? Like in “Top Gun“?


Sadly, Not like ‘Top Gun’.  But if that day were to come that something in side me that made me feel the way that was foretold, I’d like to think I could pull an Angelina Jolie, wrench the danger from my body, and fight tooth and nail to live another day, before my breath was taken away.

2 thoughts on “Abreast of Breath

  1. I had a similar experience – I had really bad mastitis in one breast after the birth of my first son, which lingered for weeks until I eventually had to get an ultra sound to see exactly what was happening. I thought it would be fine, but then the specialist disappeared from the room to go and get her superior, at which point my heart started pounding and I imagined the worst! Oh my god, what if it’s cancer, I’ll never get to see my kids grow up, I’m going to die … When she came back with the supervisor it was to give the all clear. But don’t they realise that they are leaving us alone with our imaginations to think the worst – surely a little line like “it looks good to me, but I’ll just get my boss to check” would make a huge difference!

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