They are, after all, only boobs. Behind and beyond the painful adolescence, the sexual pleasure, and the miracle of mother's milk, lies the simple fact of biological life.
"The envelope" arrived for me today from Memorial Hospital. If you have ever had a mammogram, you will know this letter. It has pink paper showing through the cellophane address window, and your results are held within. I have always hated the color pink. Ever since I watched my mother survive with and die from breast cancer, I have despised it.
About two weeks ago I went for my annual mammogram. I arrived, I filled out the form, I read an AARP magazine. All was just dandy until I was walking down the hall toward the waiting room and read a sign that said "Mammography Seating". I'm not sure what happened next, but my chest tightened and the tears welled. I felt my breasts tingle and became painfully aware of them, almost like the "let down" feeling of milk coming in. Suddenly, everywhere I looked there were breasts. I noticed the old ones and the young ones. I watched the soap operas on TV, and couldn't follow the story because I was so busy staring at their breasts! Magazines, too. Boobs were everywhere! I felt like I was going insane.
Suddenly, I realized that this must be what it feels like to be a man. And I got it. I really, really got it.
The actual mammogram was uneventful, if you consider having your tender breasts squished to within an inch of their lives in between two pieces of plastic while holding your breath uneventful. And I never know where to look. At the wall? Down at my squished boob? At the other one hanging out in space? At the machine?
Anyway, it really was fine, even with all the manipulating and squishing and holding breath and making small talk with the tech.
It's just that while I'm there I want to rant and whine to somebody, anybody who will listen:
"You know what? My mom survived breast cancer for five years, and this is my first mammogram since she died, and I'm terrified about the results, and what do you think about genetic testing, and doesn't cancer just SUCK!?!"
But I don't say any of those things. I just stare down at my naked torso in the dressing room after it's all over, cup my breasts in my hands, and murmur gently to them, "Please don't betray me. Just don't. Not now. Not ever. Please."
Today at the Chinese Buffet, my fortune cookie read, "Don't be afraid of fear". But how can I not live in fear of my mother's fate? It is not death I fear, not even an early one. It is the long slow cancerous journey to get there that terrifies me, filled with smocks and needles and smiling nurses and greeting cards from my friends and worst of all, having to embrace the color pink. I mean, can you really be a breast cancer survivor and fucking HATE the color pink?!
While sitting at the registration desk, a pink-cheeked, pink-collared old lady smiled knowingly at me from across the registration area. I smiled back, but what I really wanted to do was scream at her, "I will never, ever be YOU!"
But I might.
Only time will tell.
Today, the pink letter from Memorial Hospital informed me that my mammogram showed no signs of cancer. And so today, I love my breasts. They nursed my first baby for 14 months and my second one for just over two years. For that, I am most grateful. They are the perfect size proportionally for my body. They still make my husband want me when he glances at them.
And yet they hold this deep, dark, terrifying secret. This potential poison. Knowing that I could lose them, knowing that they could betray my love at any moment, knowing that they could one day end up killing me......
Well, it's a love/hate relationship of the purest kind.