April 14th, 2019

[tarkovskiy] river

lose yourself, you'll fall away fast

i wonder how long it will be until i’ve surrendered my weight in diagnostic materials.

in summary, the results of my breast biopsy were negative. thank you to everyone who reached out to me in any and every way during that mind fuck of a week after several weeks of mind fucks.

cancer is a goddamn mind fuck. so you know. in case you didn't. as if you couldn't. goddamnit.

april first, we went to my hospital’s breast care center. in the waiting room, they gathered preliminaries. had me sign the day’s latest stack of releases. do i want to name a spokesperson? for the sixteenth time since 2012, i name ben as a spokesperson. they called me in and showed me, as a patient, and ben, as my spokesperson, to my first exam room.

to the clinic, i wore mock surplus utility pants from the target men's department, stable on my hips but not continually in meaningful contact with the flesh of my legs. these are currently my favorite pants, you see; they are some twelve years old, you see; they are falling apart, you see; i do not know what i will do when they become unwearable. they might be unwearable now? i try not to wear them outside too much, if only to prolong their dwindling lifespan. it’s a challenging discipline, as these pants are ideal for walks. my phone fits easily in the side pockets. the fit is loose so it doesn't look weird when i carry my phone, and i can also stow my keys. wearing these pants, i do not need the flagship gender identifier of a purse - in fact, i don’t need any variation of carrying sack to slow me down or strain my shoulders. what i need to carry goes right in my pockets. i have a place for tissues, and they're less likely to get all tangled up in a tight opening so that i only realize tissues have been sticking awkwardly out of my sides halfway through an appointment for which i care about things like snotty tissues sticking out of my pants. for the appointment i'd stashed my lotus seed mala, figuring i might want breathe a cycle in an in-between place. i didn't, but it was good to know it was there. on a hunch that i was not going to like pulling a fitted crewneck shirt over my head immediately after the procedure (also: for a week and a half afterward), i chose a black button down from my chain retail days: i was right about the shirt, wrong about my hair. there’s always something. i’ve been pinning my hair up with these miniature butterfly-style clips since my trip to canada. they do not make for good exam table hair. braided elastic would have been better.

strip to the waist, the clinician told me in my first exam room. take off everything, including your bra, and change into this. she handed me a teal smock i'm convinced she picked special for me. the color looked downright smashing in contrast with my fresh blood hair. were it not a front-opening radiology smock i had to vigilantly clutch shut with my hand, i might have asked where i could get one for myself. still, these smocks were my favorites. at some point i developed a relatively strong opinion about which radiology clinic has the best smocks. i don’t know what that means, but it clearly means something.

in my first exam room, the clinician took my blood pressure, then walked me out to the hallway and stood me on the scale. why isn’t anyone saying anything about my current relationship with the scale and how, in recent months, i have occasionally regarded information gathered from one with mild alarm? shouldn't i be chastised? wouldn’t i be chastised if the numbers were going the opposite way? labeled, at least, the big chart penalty, i suspect at least as fun as how the first page of all my paperwork autofilled by the clinic for two of my major fields of concern will eyefull you with the sexy words "cancerous" and "goiter?" the weight loss, i'm not sure what to do it about it. i'm struggling with feelings of guilt and persecution. i feel like i have to make excuses for it, and it is happening because i am suffering.

also, yeah. so i’m also kind of

hot. right?

so, confession: this is not a comfortable situation for me. i can’t even say i’m not occasionally pulling on a camisole, skin tight jeans and indulging the random “look at me now, asshole” fantasy, nor can't i say that some of my invented scenarios are elaborate, at least to scale with some of my wounds, but hey, it's for the exclusive benefit of the full length mirror. i could never emerge from my apartment so prideful and exposed. my body is not a weapon or a rate of exchange and i will not reduce her to such. in reality, i wear mostly men's clothing in front of other people, and i wear it mostly at minimum one size too big. i wear mostly men's clothing because i do not trust women's clothing, which is frequently expensive, flimsy, and, in my experience, poorly engineered to provide the types of services clothing should provide, such as: a reasonable place to put my house key and smart phone, which is roughly the size of a small notebook. sometimes it's nice to carry around a small notebook and pen, as well or instead, and i can reasonably do that. women's clothing is unpredictable; all of a sudden the cool kids could be teasing you about some feature that you latched on to (or that happened to be trending during some long ago time when you had money to splurge on trendy clothes) when it was "fashionable," like how assholes started shaming boot cut jeans on the exact fucking day i found boot cut jeans that looked damn good on me and i know, envy, envy, it is the devourer of souls, the annihilator of dungarees.

put it blunt: sure, i like dressing up like a girl from time to time, but most of the time when in women’s clothes i'm just biding my time until i can get home, put on something warm and sturdy and feel like myself again. in part i wear men's clothing as a method of working on my ability to trust men, in part i wear it because it is more cost effective. primarily, i believe wearing it helps me hide from men. men have noticed i was slender before, you see. quite a number of times that did not go very well for me.

facebook update from 2013: “whenever someone uses an unfamiliar word to describe an item of women's clothing, i just assume it means 'ugly pants.’”

up on the three computer screens in the exam room, my look book of worrisome imaging. there it all is, just up there on the screen. for the first time, really, i can look at all of it: the pictures from march, the pictures from september and august. pictures from a few years earlier than that. i wouldn't look at first. angry, scared, something. powerless. ashamed. hours earlier i'd lain awake in bed trying to not deliberate between my options at a positive result that privileged options: if i'd get a lumpectomy, if i'd consider a mastectomy, if i'd do only do the affected one or if i'd do both, if i'd get reconstructive surgery. maybe i’ll get genetic testing to decide about a mastectomy, i thought, and then oh my god, stop. i didn't sleep very much. this is where i am, not where i could be. not where i'm going or where i have been. this is the moment i am in. this is the moment i am in. in that moment, i looked at the profile of dense tissue surrounding the finding in my mammogram. it struck me, how much it looked like nebula. my vision blurred over. i thought about sitting on the floor.

then the nurse came into the room and did three things a healthcare professional has never done before:

1) walked me through the basics of how to read a mammogram,
2) asked me detailed questions about my mother’s cancer: what happened? what do you know about her diagnosis? how was she treated? how has she been since? has anyone in your family had genetic testing?
3) she verified my self-exam technique, talked to me about genuinely productive frequency (“once a month is a good measure, but some of my patients go a little longer than that - every two months is better for some women. it is possible to do it too much,” she said. “you want to find a good balance. if you overdo it you might not be able to track a significant change.” then she tried to teach me how to detect the finding with touch; i couldn’t find it, but it made me feel something, something i’ve never felt with regard to this issue:


this is mine. this belongs to me. over the course of explaining what she felt was going on, it became apparent that she doesn't entirely agree with those conclusions reached by the previous clinic. she told me she would be comfortable scaling back to a less invasive approach. six-month sonogram check-ins. i’d been doing that. i’ve done that before. the primary factors here: my family history and the 4mm of growth.

there is a tentacle of this story i am not telling, and it involves the appointment i had at another clinic in march. a clinic to which i will not be returning, in fact. the appointment that scared me so bad that fear fueled me right through to this moment, where i look down at my shoes, i sport new balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path and think about what she is saying: and i really fucking think about what she is saying: and aspects of that appointment pile up and emotional detritus from the last eight months have been leaching into the soil and i want to walk away, but the appointment is made, the tools are ready, and the thing is?

i need my life back from this specific question.

i need to do it. not knowing has gone too far. some of it goes back to distortion from the haze of fear that wouldn’t start to disperse until a few hours after i’ve received a negative result; some of it is something bigger, something propelling me forward, something i need to know. that i can do. that i am able to do. that i am able to confront, at last.

i said goodbye for the moment to ben. the nurse walked me to a private waiting area where i stuff my shirt and bra at the bottom of a composite board locker and wait through two other patient waiting room interactions and several minutes besides. i answer questions about jewelry and bathrooms. yeah, you’re going to want to take that off for a mammogram, but maybe don't leave it in the locker, maybe put it in your purse. they want you to bring in your purse. down the hall, turn right and look up, the sign will guide you from there. (i hope. confession: i am terrible at giving directions. of course i am, i can’t tell left from right.) i read a four page article in a stinky rifled cosmopolitan about women traumatized by the love waits movement. i turn a page to discover a tutorial you can (helpfully, passive-aggressively?) give to your man about cunnilingus. it is heavy on ikea-style illustration and not, in my estimation, particularly helpful. the perfume samples start making me nauseous so i drop the magazine back on the table. i fan out the other magazines behind it. i arrange the magazines like an escalator. i line up all their corners in a neat simple stack. i wish i’d brought a book. in the waiting room alone, sitting on an otherwise empty couch, i stare at the empty couch in front of me and wait, clutching closed my smock.

to a degree, until last night, i was still fidgeting with magazines in the waiting room. to a degree, until last night, i wasn’t acknowledging the gravity of what i’d done. what i’d decided to do. what i did.

i do a little purification rite when i'm getting ready to shower. i grab my jar of sage from under the altar, pull out a single leaf and put it in the clay flower pot saucer i use for smudging. i ignite the sage and wave the smoke around myself, trying to direct it where and how it is needed. if i’m in need of an especially thorough purification and really feeling on the ball, i’ll augment with karma moffett’s ocean bowls or a good field recording of rain, but ben was listening to bowery electric in the next room and that felt right, in the moment. as the sage winked out i sat there blinking, realizing something, understanding it in a new way.

i did it.

i did one of the things i was most afraid of, regarding an issue that has repeatedly, several times over the last six years, dropped me into healthcare-flavored emotional paralysis.

i did it even when i had a reasonable out.

i did what i needed to do to reclaim my body from cancer’s goddamn mind fuck.

from healthcare’s goddamn mind fuck.

from the goddamn mind fuck of my own fear.

for the time being, this one time, i did it.

so can it gently fade into the background, now, for a few months at least?