On Friday the 8th, I was walking to the third TedX rehearsal when I finally picked up my voicemail.
Now, I am lousy with phones. I don't love them and will ignore mine for ages. I don't stare at it with intention nor play games on it. It is a phone. It lives in my purse.
The whole week had been a clusterfvck. On Monday, instead of taking my antidepressant in the morning I took my sleeping pill. This found me falling asleep at my desk minutes before I was supposed to be in class. I clumsily made apologies in a pitiful, spacey way and absconded back to my bed to sleep for six hours.
On Thursday, I had my yearly physical including mammogram. I got flu shots, blood drawn, and every orifice examined.
It was a long day. On Tuesday's and Thursday's I teach until 6 p.m. With the night coming earlier, it can feel as if I'd been awake for a million years by the time I get home and prep for the following day.
Friday was faculty meeting day and rehearsal 3 of 4.
The phone rang during the faculty meeting. I apologized, startled at the unexpected disruption. I forgot about the call entirely until I was walking across campus to the building in which the rehearsal was being held.
I retrieved my voicemail. It was the hospital calling because they'd seen something on the mammogram and wanted me back in to do a second scan.
It was a strange sensation. I simultaneously felt a wave of panic and fear, coupled with my rational brain shhh'ing the fear. I knew the stats about callbacks for mammograms. I don't have a familial history of breast cancer. I'd never had nightmares about having cancer. Of all my fears - and they are many - this was not one that had rented space in my brain.
My breasts and I have had a 30 year love affair. They have always been a part of my body that I have adored. I've never wished them smaller or larger. I fed a human from them for close onto two years. I have shared them with lovers. They have never been my enemy.
The fleeting idea that my body had betrayed me was the panic. I live so frequently in my brain that the realization that body has much say in most day to day functions can startle me. This is silly, I know, and I work at staying connected and in balance.
Yet, the niggling small voice remained. The voice of "Ah. You knew it would happen eventually. You just didn't expect this" curled around my brainstem.
As in all of life, I find that my instinct to shield Emily from my internal tumult snaps me out of my hazy monologue. She must sense no disturbance, at least not prematurely. There is no place for that worry in her life and my role - as her adult anchor - is to clear all of that shit from her shores. Being 15 is more than enough on her plate, thank you very much Life.
I stand outside of the building on campus and make the call. I am given an appt. for the first thing on Tuesday. I fight the screamy voice in my head that wants to shriek "GET IT OUT OF ME! WHAT EVER YOU SAW, GET IT OUT."
I tell Terrance, who is a hypochondriac on the very best of days. Now I manage his panic and fear while maintaining my umbrella over Emily.
Yet and Still, there is a Ted event to get through Tuesday evening. There are rehearsals and I am not yet pleased with my story. I do what I always do. I focus, with laser intensity, and push the callback from my brain. "Not yet", I whisper to it, "Not yet."
On Tuesday morning, they show me the scans where the solid looking lump is circled in several scans.
"Oh", I murmur. "I can see why you wanted me to come back. I would have been concerned about that too."
The radiology tech is a truly lovely woman. She explains that she is going to try to flatten the hell out of the spot and see if she can't get the lump to disappear in the new scans. If she can't, then I go to ultrasound.
We work as a team. I hold still and tolerate as much as I can while the machine makes my ample bosom as thin as possible. For all my internal fears and blockades, physical pain is something that I can bear like a workhorse. I stay silent, smiling, and tell the tech to do whatever she needs to do to get good pictures.
Your mind goes to odd places in moments like this. I command any lump to flatten. Not for me, but for Emily. It's too soon for her to lose a mother. She needs my base for a couple more years before she will be ready to fly off on her own.
I don't fear death, but I will not abandon my child. Abandonment is my fear. The breasts that fed her will not take me from her. I will not allow it.
The kind tech smiles at me. "I don't see anything, Dawn. I think it was tissue that we flattened out, but I am going to have the doctor look too. He may want more pictures or the ultrasound, but let me go and speak with him."
When the doctor gives me the "all clear", I dress and head back out to the waiting room where men flutter like fall leaves, aimless and uncertain.
Later that night, after my Ted talk, I tell Emily what has happened. I reassure her that I am perfectly fine and she has nothing to fear. Her brow wrinkles as her comprehension touches on the edge of the void which I have concealed from her.
I kiss her forehead.