Monday, October 1, 2012

October's Child

“He is outside of everything, and alien everywhere. He is an aesthetic solitary. His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the autumn evening just brushes the dusky window.” - Henry James 
 That's the way October makes me feel. The air yields a crisp bite like that from a juicy apple, and the golden light of evening becomes at once more beautiful and more ephemeral. Life, full life, presses itself against your senses and threatens to vanish if you move too quickly.

Compounding this sense of fragility is the designation of October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I come from a family of breast cancer survivors, so efforts to battle this disease strike particularly close to home, and it feels right that I should do my part not only to raise awareness, but also to model prevention in my own life.

Perhaps for that reason, it seems appropriate that I marked October 1 by getting my first screening mammogram. By most standards, I'm too young for this procedure, but my doctor recommended that I establish a baseline scan now because my family history renders me "at risk". So, on a drizzly, rainy Monday, I made my way to the Comprehensive Cancer Center at my local hospital.

The hospital is a labyrinth of parking decks, hallways, and long, sterile corridors with frosted glass windows and purple-tinted trashcans. I am at least twenty years younger than everyone else in the fourth-floor waiting room, and I feel out-of-place immediately. I'm sitting next to a hardy plant, distinguished from a fake only by the browning scars where anxious fingernails have scratched or pinched off the tips of the leaves. It's better than biting your fingernails, right?

The news murmurs in the background, but my head is buzzing louder. Remember: you parked in lot B, green level. Take a left. Ride the elevator from the hallway on the purple level (marked "M" in the elevator) to the green level (marked "B").

Who is here because they are dying? What an absurd but natural question to be thinking right here, right now. Who here is in pain? I am the only one not wearing tennis shoes.

The outside of the hospital is under construction, and it's an eery sound. I don't want to mistake those machines for the ones inside. I'm glad I know a little bit about what to expect. Thank you, private web browsing and a phone call to Mom. Why is it so difficult to talk about a clump of cells that have been gone for twenty-five years?

"Have a seat at the second desk on the right." It's like taking a standardized test, only not. No cell phones. Put your pencils down. But here they Scantron your body, not your paper, looking for bubbles that shouldn't be filled with cells.

It's been thirty minutes now. I think about the GRE again, showing ID and being shown to a locker. But now, "Keep your personal belongings, leave your clothes."



One hour and forty-five minutes have passed, but the test itself took only fifteen. I should have used the waiting time to cram my brain full of medical terminology, so I could understand what the technician was saying.

"No cause for concern."  I understood that much, at least. I'm free to go?

Lot B; Green Level.

Green is good. Green means "Go."

And yet, I'm one of the lucky ones. For so many women (and some men), October is full of yellows and reds. 

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