This is a cautionary warning. If you are offended by crayon drawings of boobs or pudding shaped like boobs, please stop reading now. Also – never pick up a copy of National Geographic again. Sometimes there are real boobs in them.
Note: All of these pictures have been taken with an iPhone This week has been stressful enough that I was not about to even attempt Lightroom or futzing with my camera.
The above shape of my boob was drawn at my request by a young child who I will not identify, so none of you who take yourself too seriously will call CPS on his/her parents. The picture was also not drawn to scale or in any realistic way at all. And I put in the weird areas. Even I’m not twisted enough to have a kid do that.
Last week, I alluded in my post that I was dealing with a scary medical issue. On Thursday afternoon, I will be having a mammographic stereotactic biopsy. This whole process does not seem real. This was supposed to be a a checkbox on a list of things I needed to do (pap smear, vaccines, dealing with other health issues) to be healthy and live a healthy life.
On the 14th, I went in for a screening mammogram. Since I have a family history of breast cancer, a base line mammogram is a good idea. As I get older, these x-rays will be something that will be used to compare later mammograms to.
I come home and work on stuff around the house. Little flutters of anxiety flit in and out of my head. It was like that when I waited for a pap smear test to come back. Around 3:30, I get a call. A very calming, reassuring voice tells me over and over that there’s no reason to be scared, but I need to come back in for a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound.
It’s not until later that evening that a scene clicks into my head. I can see it in my mind like I’m watching a movie. Earlier that day, this beautiful Indian woman and I were brought back to the dressing rooms and given our little tie front robes. I was directed to the waiting room on the right. She was directed to the waiting room on the left. My sign said “screening”. Hers said “diagnostic”. I burst into tears so heavy that I make my t shirt damp. I wish I could have gone back in time and hugged her. She flits in and out of my mind every damn day, and every time I think about her, I ask God to help her, to get her through this, to help her family get through this.
I sat in the diagnostic waiting room with my mom when I went back for a follow up mammogram. My first series of mammograms was fine. I mean, it’s not a breast handling technique I want my husband to learn, but it was more uncomfortable than painful. The very last x-ray done makes me dizzy with the pain. It’s like my boob was a zit that they were trying to pop. These mammograms still show suspicious issues, so an ultrasound is done. There is nothing like having your boobs lubed up and pressed firmly with something that feels like a giant computer mouse for a good time. The food scene from 9 1/2 weeks flashes through my head, and I remember that I was never very turned on by the honey scene even when I was 23 and stupid. I still think of how many ants that would attract and what a mess it would be to clean up. After that, a very nice doctor tells me that I have two areas of concern on my right breast. One is merely suspicious. The other is very suspicious, and I’ll need to have a biopsy where actual tissue is removed using a special tool that will collect larger fragments of tissue and uses a vacuum. In my head, I imagine one of the prize toy claws with a Dyson attached to it.
After this visit, I go home and curl up on my bed for a few hours. I make myself get up, put on a black dress and go to the funeral of my friend’s 46 year old sister who died from complications from Type 1 diabetes. This was a woman who did everything she was supposed to do to manage her diabetes. This was a woman who was deeply loved by her entire family, but especially her brother. I hear a sermon telling everyone not to be sad, that this woman is in a better place. I feel my husband grow rigid beside me because this is the kind of thing that broke his faith for a while – this “be happy” approach without much regard to the grief and the sadness that all of those who loved her will be going through. Yes – they’re all relieved she’s not in pain anymore. But they’re really going to miss her.
I spend the next few days trying to make it through with black humor. I horrify my mom by telling her that I’ve never been felt up by so many different people since my junior year in high school. I tell Marcus that he has to scoop the litter boxes because he should feel guilty that I might have cancer. I find out I might have a titanium marker left in my boob, and I ask my husband if this makes me part Gobot. Someone leaves a bitchy comment on the Facebook page for this blog, and I totally want to reply “Man – you are going to look like such an asshole when you see my post on Tuesday.”
And then I burst into tears and scare the cats.
I worry about my Mom. No one who had to endure the hell she went through with her two battles with cancer should ever have to worry about their daughter going through this. I worry about my dad. He keeps his emotions locked in very tight, but when my mom tells me he stayed up until 11:30 cleaning the night we found out I needed a biopsy, I know he’s trying to wrestle whatever control or solution or approach he can over this situation. Everyone hugs me more and holds me longer.
I worry about my husband. Helpful support from his family is pretty much a pipe dream. He has my family and his friends to lean on, but he’s also been beaten down by life in the last couple of years. He is terrified of losing me. He wants to fix this, to make it better, and he can’t.
I worry about me. The thought of have successive needles stuck into me, so they can vacuum actual tissue out has caused two actual panic attack and brought me to the verge of others several times. Despite a phobia of needles that set in when I was 13, I have gotten much better through the years and have dealt with the last few blood sticks like a boss. I was doing so well. I got a flu shot a few weeks ago and didn’t flinch. The nurse gave me a hug, a sticker and a lollipop. I got a cortisone shot in my back two weeks ago, and while I was nervous, I got through it fine with only one reminder from my mom “Those are really good deep breaths you’re taking. Try taking them slower.” Now I feel terrified and ashamed that this irrational feel has taken control over me again. I made an appointment with a doctor for guidance on how to deal with this on Thursday. Easy answer – I will be gorked out of my mind on Thursday. Marcus is hiding my iPhone so there’s less of a chance I will “drunk” tweet. Sometimes he’s quite the killjoy.
Some quick tips if you have a friend that gets an abnormal mammogram or has to have more extensive testing done. Don’t tell them not to worry, or that they’ll be fine; that lots of other women have had this done and it’s nothing. Seriously - don’t do that, especially if you’ve never had this happen to you. Internet statistics are not what your friend needs. Your friend is scared. Let her be scared. Hug her. Let her cry. Let her rant. By insisting that everything is going to be OK, you minimize her fears and experiences, and you have no right to do that. After they’ve cried and freaked out a bit, then it’s OK to remind them that it is very likely the outcome will be OK, but that you also understand why they’re so scared.
Another tip – you have no idea what a person going through this brings as baggage on this shitty, shitty roller coaster ride. You may have had an abnormal mammogram and a needle biopsy and yours turned out just fine. That’s truly wonderful for you. But for other women it stirs up so much emotion that they feel swept up in a tidal wave of fear and déjà vu. Maybe their mom wasn’t at their wedding day because she died from breast cancer. Maybe they watched a friend fight and fight and fight and eventually had to watch her succumb to the disease. Maybe they’ve had to watch their sister go through chemotherapy and have seen how awful the process was for her.
I have a mom who made it through two occurrences of cancer. The first one almost killed her. The second one was no walk in the park. And the phrase “Hopefully, the chemo kills the cancer faster than you” comes to mind. She has nerve damage and when it’s not causing her pain, she experiences times where she can’t really feel her feet and hands. She’s fallen down and knocked herself out. She’s broken her ankle. Every time I’m with her I make sure to follow her up the stairs and go first down the stairs. I know it annoys her, but I will never not do it.
A friend who was diagnosed with cancer in her early 30s was with us when Marcus and I got engaged. I remember her having to keep her intravenous port above water in the hot tub at the cabin. She read our favorite passage at our wedding. I see pictures from our wedding with her in them, and I cry. She fought cancer. She fought it hard. Cancer won. A couple of weeks ago, my husband got all choked up and said “I really miss April. The world is worse off without her here”.
And then I sit here and think about the state of healthcare in this country, and I am filled with rage. I rarely bring politics onto my blog, but there is something indecent, immoral and un-Christian about a country that lets people die because they don’t have health care. Those of us without healthcare? Very few of us are the lazy bums some people like to think we are. Some of us have tried for years to buy insurance. Some of us have been told that it’s obvious that after seven different agents and applying for the same companies over and over again because our papers keep getting “lost” - that we’re being illegally discriminated against, probably because of familial history. There’s no point in suing because we don’t have the money or teams of lawyers that insurance companies do. Some of us are uninsurable. Some of us don’t have the money to pay for insurance coverage because of the cost, while the insurance companies’ CEOs are being rewarded with millions in salary and millions in bonuses. Please don’t bother arguing with me about this in the comments. You’re entitled to your point of view. I have lived through this, and you will not bring me around to your way of thinking because of a comment left on my blog.
Sure – there are some programs for those who can’t get insurance. Good luck navigating your way through them. It’s taken us two years to be able to get affordable general health care. It’s taken eight cancelled visits to try to access a state program that is supposed to help women with cervical, ovarian & breast healthcare. It took so much time that my mom told me to just go ahead and schedule a mammogram, and she would pay for it. I’m glad I didn’t wait to get the mammogram done through this state program. A very kind woman at the center where I got my mammogram done cuts through the red tape. I have to sit in an office and be told “Now I don’t want to offend you, but God is there with us through every step of the way, and you need to remember everything is a part of God’s plan”. I am Christian. If I had not been, her words would not have brought me to Christ. This woman works in a government office and holds a lot of power over what kind of cancer screening I’ll have access to. I find the fact that she had decided to talk about God with me, when she had no idea what religion I may or may not have been, abhorrent. On the way out, this same woman tells me to look for the silver lining in this black cloud. I’m lucky that if I have breast cancer, I’ll be able to get on TennCare. Other cancers are not covered, and you’re shit out of luck if you have them and don’t have insurance. After subduing the strong urge to punch her in the throat and tell her that I was glad Allah was there to guide me through this journey, I quickly thanked her and left.
Right now I want to take my boobs off, put them in a box for safe keeping and take them out for special occasions, like our wedding anniversary or Marcus’ birthday. It would be even better if I could send them out for repair and maintenance.
I chatted with a friend last night. After she pretended to be aghast with me when I said I just wanted to have a normal, boring life, she put it into perfect perspective. I want to be beige. I want to have a beige life for a while. I’ll still wear fuchsia because I look horrible in beige, but a beige life sounds wonderful right now.
I realize that the outcome from this biopsy has a very good chance of being a good one. But I am 39 years old. I should not be going through this. No one should be going through this. Fuck Cancer.
I have wonderful friends and a wonderful family that have been hard at work keeping me busy and diverting my attention away from Thursday. One of my friends who I have given the alias, SchmArin, brainstormed with me on ways we could make boobs out of food. Cupcakes seemed way overdone and not much of a challenge. Plus a 3 year old frosts cupcakes better than me. I also thought about rice krispy treat boobs, but they seemed to be too lumpy for my comfort. He’s been cooking his way through the pudding section of the The Essential New York Times Cookbook, so we pondered pudding options. He thought blancmange (A sweet dessert commonly made with milk and/or cream and sugar thickened with gelatin) would work best. He had breast shaped bowls, so I planned to go over to his place to make this magic happen. Raspberries seemed like our best bet for nipples.
First, I ran to the closest grocery story and our local food co-op. Neither place had raspberries. I called SchmArin and asked him “Would strawberries work as nipples if we just used the tip?” He told me that was the strangest question he had ever been asked. I told him I was sure it wasn’t the strangest question I had ever asked, but it was up there on the list. We decided to make our blancmange first and then worry about nipples later. SchmArin went off on a weird tangent about doing some kind of raspberry center or drizzle. After a few minutes I was able to convey that while I wanted these puddings to look like my boobs, I wanted them intact and not portrayed as they would be during the biopsy. I have very little shame, but that seemed too much even for me.
Please forgive me for flipping the video the wrong way. I’ve been a little nervous.
We followed the recipe from the cookbook pretty closely. We decided to flavor the blancmange with a little bit of raspberry jelly. I’m pretty pale but not vampire pale. We thought the jelly would be nice with the lemon and would warm up the color a little. We had a very scary grey stage at one point, but the addition of a tiny bit more jelly got us back into flesh colored territory very quickly. We poured them into the bowls. We wanted to make them a little fuller, so we had enough blancmange for 5 1/2 bowls. We threw the boobs into the fridge and went out in search of nipples.
After perusing many fruit options, raspberries still seemed like best idea. I tell you, there’s nothing that makes me feel more like a locavore than buying fresh raspberries in March in East Tennessee.
On Sunday, we unmolded the first halfway filled bowl (stick the bowl gently in hot water until it unsticks a bit from the sides) and plopped it out on a plate. Marcus, SchmArin and I dug in. We all agreed; my boobs were pretty damn tasty. They were a little too see through around the top area. If we ever make boob pudding again, we’ll use more cream for part of the milk (and I made the adjustment in the recipe posted here). For some reason, SchmArin decided to toast some almond bits and add them to the top of the boobs. I think this makes my boobs look dusty, but it made SchmArin happy, so I went with it.
This is the way I cope. The more I can laugh at a problem and the more that I can mock it in a ridiculous fashion, the better I feel about the whole thing. Thankfully, I have a husband, family and friends who indulge me when times get tough. No matter how everything works out, that is one thing that I will always be grateful for.
This is my husband. You should feel sorry for him because this is one of the least embarrassing things I’ve made him do.
New Jersey BlancMange
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook
3 cups whole milk with a layer of cream or use half milk & half cream
5 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
5 teaspoons raspberry jelly
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Optional – toasted almond crumbs and/or fresh raspberries
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk (or half milk, half cream), sugar, gelatin, salt, zest and raspberry jelly. Bring this slowly to a boil, Making sure to whisk so that the sugar and gelatin dissolve. If your jelly seems clumpy, use the whisk to push down on the clump. When bubbles form on the milk, remove from the heat. Strain through a fine seive (the one we used wasn’t fine enough). Stir in the almond extract.
Pour the liquid into six 1/2 to 3/4 cup bowls or ramekins. Chill until firm – that took about 3 hours for us. Dip the bowls in warm water to loosen and unmold onto plates.