Saturday, January 08, 2005

My left (and right) breast

Meet my breasts: Patty on the left and Selma on the right. But that’s from my perspective; if you’re facing me, simply reverse the order and you’ll have an accurate handle on the thing. Not that I’d let you handle them – they’ve been handled plenty just recently and I’d like to take them out of circulation and just let them be for a bit.
Funny, breasts. I mean, there they are and always have been –as ubiquitous to the female frame as any other lady-designated bit or piece, designed for babies, usurped by men – and still they cause so much comment… excitement… horror, fear, longing and loathing. Too big, too small, too funny shaped, too differently shaped, too lop-sided, too… whatever. So few of them resembling the images in the pages of Playboy or FHM, all giant Pamela Anderson and Tara Reid-ish, impossibly round and melony. Cartoonish, but seemingly standard issue these days. (If you’ve never, check out one of those websites that show extremely non-sexy type photos of the various typical sizes and shapes; even I was surprised by the extremely wide, non magazine-like range of boobs. All perfectly normal, though en masse, somewhat surprising.)
But just to be contrary, I’ve always been fine with mine – and I’ve experienced them little and large as a result of birth control pills – but for all the play breasts get in the media (and elsewhere) I don’t think mine have ever been a particularly big draw. For whatever reason, the kind of men that are attracted to me don’t seem to be breast fanatics. It’s a waste really, but honestly? I really don’t think about them too much. They’re just there. Fine.
Until I had my first mammogram the other day. Way later than I shoulda – my mother died of breast cancer some 23 years ago – but in the no-news-is-good-news vein, I’d been dodging and weaving around the issue since the subject first came up about 5 years ago. Here’s the trick: you just don’t do it. Your doctor’s far too busy to check up on you and if you wait long enough, and studiously put it out of your mind long enough, she’ll likely forget too.
Not that the rest of the world ever will.
Breasts. Bosoms. Boobs. Tits. Hooters, Knockers. Melons. Rack. Headlights. Shirt puppies. Ta-ta’s. (Also Bodacious ta-ta’s.) The twins. Seal pups. Cans (Cans? I really don’t get this one… see also: bazookas, bazongas, gazongas and guns.) Bumpy Bits. Bristols. Baps. Airbags. “Hey my eyes are up here’s”. Jubblies. Funbags. (Hate that one.) Sin cushions. Dirty pillows. (Ditto and ditto.) Cupcakes. Duelling banjos. Floaters. Flotation devices. Fog lights. Hand warmers. Warheads. Woofers. Tweeters. Chi-chi’s. Back stage passes. The things I like to squeeze. The Grand Tetons. Mosquito bites. My 2 best friends. The girls. My home girls. Teets. Jigglers. Two midgets. Tig old bitties.
If you’re Christian, there’s a whole other list you can refer to:
Chest trays. NFRU (Not for Recreational Use). Pastor Baiters. Mounds of shame. Heavenly canteens. Hooteronomies. The daughters of Lactiticus. Racks of Lambs of God. Communion woofers. First and second Mammalians. Beelzeboobs.
Like mine, there are of course more personalized type names – Thelma and Louise. Abbott and Costello. Bert and Ernie. Archie and Jughead. Lenny and Squiggy. The list goes on, limited solely by imagination and level of silliness tolerance. It’s sweet though; or sweet more often than not – the notion of giving The Girls names – giving each a separate identity (iden-titty?) they generally don’t experience, being, as it were, pretty much always conceived and considered as a matched set.
But sweetness and silliness weren’t the emotions I was experiencing as I waited for my turn in the radiologist’s office. Bone deep fear and an inability to catch my breath were pretty much the order of the day. After all, I’d been putting it off for years, had only recently had an overall physical (also long-delayed, but hey – if it’s not broke, right?) with the attendant ubiquitous feel-up and nipple squeeze, and thought I was home free when she (the doctor) commented on the density of my breasts.
“Your mother died at 52, right?” Dr V. asked. I nodded. “Your grandmother of breast cancer too, right? Have they always been this dense?” she asked, going round for a second time. (It had after all been several years since she’d had the pleasure.)
“Yeeeessss,” I replied slowly, trying to decide if this was the right answer. As ever in such situations, I am prepared to flat out lie if it will get me out of a professional’s office with an ‘Inspected and passed’ sticker firmly slapped on my haunch. But actually, an answer wasn’t what she was looking for: in moments she was skidding halfway across the room on her little stool on wheels, writing me up for a visit to the radiology clinic, wickedly easy to get to and park around, offering precisely no excuses for off-putting any longer.
Quite suddenly, I was extremely frightened.
For the next few days, I could barely keep my hands off them. I was like a teenage boy, endlessly exploring their contours and dimensions, feeling I knew not what; just feeling (like a teenage boy) it was only a matter of time before I got caught.
So I arrived and was ushered into the first exam room with a speed one doesn’t normally associate with the medical profession. Was it something my doctor had written on the order form? Some secret doctory lingo I missed? Was it my breasts themselves? Did they look – even still dressed, under wraps – ready to explode?
Patty was called up first, and the woman whose job it was to position her properly in place for her photographic debut deserves an A for endless effort in placing the old 34 C’s at just the right angle for optimal radiographic viewing. She was tireless. Exacting. Over and over. And over again.
The woman stood me up and pushed me in and lifted and separated and held and pulled (pulled!) and squeezed and said “relax” (in a voice that suggested I was letting her down relaxation-wise) for a good three minutes before she was satisfied that Patty was following orders. The giant clamp descended into place making two stops (tight – ooh, eek – tighter!) before the woman stepped behind the screen and snapped the picture. A second later she was releasing me and eyeing up Selma, who, cowed by her authoritative manner, meekly presented herself for pulling and positioning and squeezing duties, but twice slipping out of frame only to be hauled back with a cupping and stretching sort of action that made me wonder if I was actually going to be lifted and separated from my right breast permanently. Clamp – squeeze… SQUEEZE – and we were back to Patty for her profile.
And so it went. For longer than I imagined, but not nearly as painfully as I’d feared (though uncomfortable as all hell) and with the female radiologist manipulating the girls in a highly professional manner, weirdly personal, yet also totally removed.
Strange the indignities and intimacies we experience with complete strangers. I’d felt like crying a little from fear and cold, but her impersonal professionalism stopped those tears in their tracks. I was grateful to her.
With little ado, I was sent on for my next bout of exams, feeling like a topless stripper at a two-part interview as I waited in the badly lit, inadequately magazine-ed waiting area, eyeing the other two women also between bouts (all of us unable to focus on anything save each other’s barely draped breasts) until the three of us were startled by an unearthly keening sound: it was yet another woman, in some spare little cubicle around the corner – one who wasn’t here for tests, but rather results; results that clearly weren’t good.
Three strangers, we exchanged horrified glances, then just as quickly, dipped our eyes back down to our out of date Chatelaines; hear no evil, that’s the ticket.
In my head I started singing “Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go… but then have the feeling that you wanted to stay?” That’s how it felt; in my bubble between exams, the bubble where no knowledge – good or bad – was accessible, I was torn between wanting passionately to sit there forever reading recipes for low fat hummus and avocado dips, and wanting desperately to get into another booth with another stranger and GET THIS THING OVER WITH. But of course, it wasn’t my choice to make.
Part two was the ultrasound. The part I’d originally been less nervous of; after all, passing the wand over my breasts while capturing candid snaps was likely uncomfortable only for the coldness of the jelly they squeeze all over you beforehand. Wrong. They press the device very firmly into you, paying particular attention to the nipple area, an area I discovered doesn’t like to be pressed firmly over and over. Gritting my teeth and trying not to wince (I didn’t want the radiologist to get mad and find cancer just to spite me) I focused on the silent, though occasionally (and worryingly) grimacing technician’s necklace.
“How beautiful,” I remarked. “Your necklace – it’s absolutely lovely.”
Remember them – those are magic words. Quite suddenly, the atmosphere in the dark little torture chamber changed; it was as if the sun had come out. The woman smiled widely and looked at my face for the first time, crinkling the corners around her eyes and giving her head a little toss, as if to throw off sparks from the shiny amethyst hanging from the chain.
“It was a gift from the doctor,” she said. “For Christmas. No one else has even noticed.”
“Well, it’s terrific,” I affirmed. “And how kind of the boss to give you such a wonderful gift. You must be very special around here.”
And after that, there was no stopping her. She chattered away, smiling and gracious, asking me questions about myself and how I felt – was I worried, was I frightened – did I want a warm towel to mop up the viscous goo now spread from armpit to sternum and from collar bone to diaphragm? And how about if she scooped up these captures and those of the mammogram and nipped athletically into the doctor’s office so I could find out now how I’d fared – unorthodox, unheard of – instead of waiting for days until Doctor V summoned me in, no news on the phone, just something she needed to talk to me about.
Did I? “Did you ever have the feeling…”
On balance I did.
Ten minutes later the news was good. Very good. Nothing to worry about.
Farrah (for now I knew her name) gave me a hug and a playful swat on the bum as she ushered me out of her dark little lair. A lair I now recall with fondness and warm familiarity. (There wasn’t a square inch of the miniscule, impersonal space I hadn’t examined in excruciating detail during those ten… minutes… waiting...)
I wanted to skip and to grin and to kiss each of the startled staff on my way out of the exam rooms and further, to hug all of the bored and weary reception-type people out front and all the patients nervously waiting their turn to be stripped and scrutinized and grimaced over.
But of course I didn’t. Not everyone there was having a great day, nor receiving good news, nor looking for a hug from a (still) slightly sticky stranger.
I just came home and took off my sweater and stared at my breasts in the mirror.
I’m not just fine with them now. Now I love them.

1 comment:

whatupthen said...

Pastor Baiters??

Wow! I never imagined the stress, fear and apprehension of a doctor's visit but then leading to sheer joy. Maybe buy Patty and Selma a gift for taking all that abuse yet coming through for you in the end?