Seven weeks ago I had what I refer to as a “plum sauce” itch. I call it a “plum sauce” itch because of a story my brother tells about when he was in a Chinese restaurant many years ago. His waitress, a Caucasian, gum chewing, pencil in her tussled up-do kind of gal, brought him his egg rolls. My brother asked for some plum sauce. The waitress turned her head to look at the surrounding tables, itched her boob and said, as she smacked her gum, “We ain’t got no plum sauce.”
So, seven weeks ago, I have a plum sauce itch and I feel a lump. Yes, a lump.
It’s funny how the mind handles certain information. It can freak out. It can get on-line and research. Or, as in my case, it can pretend the whole plum sauce itch never happened. Until the next morning with my first cup of coffee. Did I feel a lump last night? The whole itch felt like a long forgotten dream. I tentatively put my hand on my breast, applied pressure and, sure enough, there it was. As big as a garbanzo bean. Or as small as a garbanzo bean. But for my size A cup, it felt big.
In an effort to minimize, I didn’t tell my husband. Instead I “went to the store.” Well, that was my excuse to get out of the house and bee line it up to the Diagnostic Imaging Center where they do mammograms. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me that they would be open on Saturdays for emergencies, like a walk-in clinic. I was fully prepared to march up to the receptionist and demand a mammogram. Stat.
My stomach fell when I drove into an empty parking lot. It was Memorial Day weekend and I’d have to wait until Tuesday morning to get my mammogram. I decided it was time to tell my husband. And we worried together, quietly, all weekend. As I lay in bed on my side with my breast falling downward, I could feel deeper into my breast. I swore I felt a second, smaller pea-sized lump next to the garbanzo bean.
I did get into the Imaging Center on Tuesday morning. I called my gynecologist at 8:00 am and she got me in by 10:00 am. First I had a mammogram. When I was told me they wanted to do an ultrasound, I knew it wasn’t good. But I’m a girl with a lot of cysts. In a desperate attempt to not be a drama queen I kept telling myself these were just more cysts. After ten minutes of gliding the ultrasound wand over my breast with the warm gel (thank you - great invention!), the radiologist said, “Yep, this looks like cancer.”
I shot up to a sitting position and looked at the screen. As he pointed to the images and explained the characteristics of cancer, all I could see was a sea monster. All the tissue in the background of the image, the connective tissue in my breast, looked like roiling waves on a stormy sea. The two lumps on the foreground looked like big eyes bulging out of the sea staring at me. Not in a menacing way. In a “get me outta here” kind of way.
Now I’m a pacifist at heart and I knew immediately, when I looked cancer in the eye, that I was not going to battle this creature inside me. This was not going to be the fight of my life. I knew that I was going to confront it. I was going to see what cancer had to teach me and bring me. I was going to see how cancer would enhance my life.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the loss of my leg, it’s that when I embrace the difficult parts of life, they usually turn into something positive. Teachable. Sometimes even beautiful.
When I saw the surgeon for the first time, she commended me on finding the lumps. “Good for you for doing your monthly exams.”
I corrected her. “I wasn’t doing a self exam. I had an itch.”
I loved her response. “Funny how our bodies talk to us, isn’t it?”
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have Stage 1 cancer. I just had my lumpectomy and once I’m done with a six week round of radiation, I will be okay. I am not looking death in the face. I do get to stick around for the most important part of my life: I get to see my kids grow up.
I truly think my body wanted me to find that cancer. I think my cancer was just itchin’ to be found.