It was like a grain of sand, or a sliver just under the skin, maybe something magical I thought I was feeling. It was elusive at first, rolling away from the pressure of a fingertip. Over weeks, possibly months it grew. Then it seemed as if something was truly there, a tiny bump. An ingrown hair? A lymph node? Eh, it’s nothing.
It became a little secret that I put away for later, later. But then in bed at night I asked my boyfriend, Can you feel this? Is this something? With the touch of his finger, what I’d believed was in my imagination was confirmed with a sleepy Umm hmm.
The doctor’s room was cold, I had on a tiny gown tied awkwardly around my side. As I readjusted myself I noticed my legs were sticking to the paper spread across the examination table. Every time I shifted the paper stuck to my legs. There was a two-year old Sports Illustrated in the magazine rack and a few pamphlets about STDs.
It’s a cyst, the doctor declared, washing his hands with his back to me. So I don’t have to do anything about it? I confirmed. No, it’ll probably just go away in time, nothing to worry about, he said, leaning his back against the sink with his arms crossed against his belly.
So my cyst and I went on our way, on the subway back to my office, back to joking around with coworkers, back on the subway uptown to the tiny apartment I shared with my boyfriend turned fiance.
Every night as I read before bed I’d unconsciously find my hand covering the spot that seemed to me to be getting bigger. It’s getting bigger, isn’t it? I asked my fiance. I think so, yeah, he said, maybe you should get it checked again?
This time I reminded my doctor that my mom had breast cancer. Breast cancer that had returned. You know my grandmother and my mother had breast cancer, right? Again he assured me that it was a cyst. It would just leave an ugly scar if he took it out. Nothing to worry about.
My fiance and I went to my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Minnesota. The cyst was uncomfortable. Rubbing against my dress, interfering with my bra. I pulled one of my cousins, an E.R. doctor, to a private spot. Can you look at this? I asked. Looks like a benign fatty tumor, he said, but you should have it taken out.
The next week I went back to my doctor. Look, I said, I’m getting married in a couple of months and this thing is getting big. When I’m wearing my wedding gown and lift my arm you can see the lump. Can you please take it out? The doctor said it was too big to take out in his office. He referred me to a dermatologist. That doctor would take it out. No problem.
Can I see it? I asked the dermatologist after he and the resident had removed the lump in his office. It was in a small vial floating innocently enough: white, solid. Not what I imagined a cyst to look like. I made small talk with the doctor, joked around as I always do. He didn’t say much. That night I was in pain. I called the on-call doctor and said that Advil wasn’t cutting it. You really shouldn’t be in this much pain she said.
A week later I hadn’t heard from the dermatologist’s office. Wedding plans overwhelming me. Flowers, music, the Rabbi and Cantor, where were out-of-town guests staying? I called the dermatologist’s office. We had to send it to a different lab for more testing, the doctor said, I’ll call you.
A week later a phone call at work. The doctor would like to see you in his office as soon as possible. My stomach dropped. I tried to put it out of my mind. But something wasn’t right. My fiance met me at the doctor’s office.
We were escorted to the back of the office, to a dark paneled room with medical encyclopedias and family photos. My fiance and I held hands, my knee bounced up and down, up and down. The small staccato of my knee was the only sound.
Soon the doctor came in, sat down behind his desk, and said I got the pathology back and unfortunately what we took out was malignant. It is cancer.
I have cancer? I looked at my fiance, soon to be my husband, and said FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK.
Read PART 2 here