I have a bucket list of fears I’m looking to empty. I don’t have room for them all right now. I probably wasn’t meant to use the bucket this way, but it is my bucket. One of the fears that up until recently lay glowing at the bottom of the pile, was radiation. Hypochondriacs should never work on radiation protocol taskforces. I barely know what millisieverts are and I’m worried about them.
I’m at Mt Sinai Breast Imaging Centre for a routine mammogram (nothing feels routine any more), worrying that the pain in my right breast is another kind of cancer. As far as I know, when one cancer arrives, especially a lazy one, it doesn’t protect its turf, doesn’t stand up and say Fuck-you I’m already here. There’s only room for one.
When the receptionist called the other day I asked if it was possible that I had both Lymphoma and breast cancer, because receptionists know those things.
“Well, let’s hope that’s not the case,” she said. What the hell was she going to say? I mean she hadn’t even seen my scans.
I went on to ask if she thought I needed both the CT scheduled for Monday, and this mammogram.
“They’re very different scans,” she said gently although she could have said are you really fucking asking me these questions?
I tell myself that radiation is the least of my worries right now. And anyway, I don’t fly that often, and flying causes more radiation than CTs, and walking down the street you get radiation. But the circular we-need-to-radiate-you-to-see-if-you–have-cancer-and-we-might-cause-cancer-by radiating-you upsets me.
I always make a stink at the dentist.
I suspect two CTs, a mammogram and a chest x-ray will leave me over-cooked. I was annoyed when I asked last week’s good-news resident, what they had learned from my chest x-ray and he said “Oh they’re not very clear. We can’t tell much from those.”
So that was just practice?
I’ve had mamos before, so I’m familiar with the drill. After pancakes you are left in the hall, naked from the waist up in your hospital gown, designed by an exhibitionist, waiting to hear you can go, or the scan wasn’t clear and needs to be redone, or follow-up (God forbid) is required. This usually takes about 10 minutes.
I’m waiting. Women are coming and going. 25, 30, 35 minutes pass, during which time I develop breast cancer. When they tell the tiny Asian woman who arrived 40 minutes after me, that she’s free to go, I break into sobs. I was already leaky. My threshold for anxiety is so low right now. What have they found? Why am I still here? The woman beside me reaches over and puts her hand on my shoulder.
I stumble to the desk.
“Oh dear. It’s so busy they sometimes forget to tell people they can leave.” I follow the receptionist down the hall.
“Can I tell her she can leave?” I hear her ask.
“Tell her she can leave.”
“You can leave.”
In the change room I collapse on the floor - my go-to place these days. I have spent almost an hour at the brink. I go there regularly now. But like with exercise or break-ups, what's important is the recovery rate. Not something I want to get good at. But I will.
By the time I get next door to the purple chemo suite at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre to visit my friend Kath, I’ve shrunk the breast tumour to almost nothing.
A cute volunteer tells us that in 10th grade geography he learned most camels in the middle east are so domesticated they never have sex. We discuss Kath’s plan to make a wig out of her own hair by gluing it to a bathing cap.
Maybe I’ll leave radiation alone for a while and move on to other carcinogens. I’m thinking sugar and aspartame.