How I Was Crowned The Prom Queen of WTF World

Part 1: Our Intrepid Heroine Receives An October Surprise of Her Very Own.

October 3, 2016. My plan for the day: routine annual mammogram, lunch with a friend, then bra shopping. Two chores bookending some incentive. I’d neglected the much-needed new bras for far too long, so I was muscling myself into a day of purposeful self-care, since theoretically life is definitely too short for uncomfortable foundation garments. In reality, single parenthood had been shoving me around according to its whims, with little consideration given to my own comfort. But enough was enough. There was a certain satisfying symmetry to Boob-Lunch-Boob. So be it.

I’d scheduled the mammogram after receiving the second of two letters from the hospital nudging me. The first letter had apparently been sent in May, reminding me it was time for a six-month follow-up to the previous six-month follow-up to a diagnostic mammogram from the previous June. Confused? So was I. The radiologist had told me the cyst they’d been following had gotten smaller, confirming how benign it was, and I should just wait until I could jump back into my annual screening cycle that Fall. So I’d tossed the letter in the trash.

But then the second reminder letter came. With an internal Oh All Right, I called and scheduled the damn thing, making sure to clarify this was just a regular annual. Obviously they hadn’t gotten the memo on a number of things about me: I’d been following the radiologist’s instructions. It was just a cyst. I wasn’t in the least bit concerned.

And I was entirely, completely, thoroughly sick of anything to do with cancer.

Usually, there was a palpable warmth in the center for women’s health, or The Boob Lounge, as I liked to call it. With a wink I’d joke that it was the way medical care should be. You know, the personal locker for your clothes, the mauve robes, the comfy waiting room with good magazines and rocking chairs. The technicians who took their time and made eye contact. All hat tips to the fact that this part of women’s health care can be fraught with anxiety. These were the little details that added up to a compassionate understanding of the rather sensitive nature of whipping your tits out, clinically speaking.

Funnily enough, for the first time I didn’t really take to the mammography technician. She seemed forced and procedural. A little cold. Whatever, I don’t expect a soul connection with my dental hygienist either. I just wanted to get it over with.

Clearly passionate about her work, she proceeded to squish my boobs into the vice grip of the 3-D mammography machine so tightly I could not breathe for the pain. That’s different, I thought, my eyes watering. I’d been having mammograms for ten years and it had always puzzled me when I heard other women complain about the pain.

Ok, I clenched. I get it now. Jesus.

I made it through the first side lightheaded but still coping. But since you have to hold your breath for a bit as the machine does its stuff, it does not bode well for the employ of any relaxation techniques dependent upon focusing on one’s breath. Time to switch to humor. During the transition to the next side, I commented that, um, this had actually never been so uncomfortable. It inspired me to think of a new moniker for the machine. Or maybe it could be the namesake of the one on the game show, “Beat The Crusher.” That’s a show where contestants wager their own vehicles in an attempt to win a new one…and if they lose they have to watch their car get smashed in this big modified mobile car compactor.

Crickets. Not even a chuckle. She said absolutely nothing.

Ok, tough crowd. I spent the rest of the screening with a stung ego fueling my burgeoning suspicion that the level of pain I was in was definitely not typical. Afterward, dizzy and all out of charm, I stood there embarrassed, offended, and mentally composing feedback for someone else I could speak to in Mammography like a supervisor? while semi-listening to her clipped delivery of the standard instructions on how to find my results online or by phone if I didn’t want to wait — that they would call me if the results were abnormal, etc…

Her parting shot snapped me out of my indignant reverie, as she breezed past. Tossed over her shoulder, her words pricked me with their brittle undertones as surely as if I was standing too close to a cactus on a dry, windy day.

“Good luck with your results!” she called as she left the room.


“I mean, who wishes someone ‘Good Luck’ after a mammogram?” I said to my friend Kristen at lunch. “Could she sense my deeply competitive need to win ‘Breasts of The Day’?”

I felt….off. I was sure it was the tech. Little details, like how she’d corrected my memory of the year the hospital had upgraded to 3-D mammography, surely weren’t injurious but felt too pointed, like a slight.

Kristen and I compared notes on what an awkward enterprise the whole mammogram thing was, how fraught with emotional peril no matter how often or how routine. She commented on how often she got called back for a second look, due to her breasts being naturally lumpy. I quipped, interjecting, that she might as well be on a first-name basis with the techs. They should go out for drinks afterwards. Good times.

We laughingly agreed: it makes no difference how often the results are normal. It’s scary.

“But the good magazines are totally worth it, right?” I added.


Lunch was fun. But I decided to wait on the bras. My boobs suddenly did not feel like being out in public anymore that day. Neither did I.

One challenge in being an Intuitive is that even when a metric crapton of completely reasonable explanations exists for why I might find myself suddenly rattled, psychically sniffing the air, so to speak — deeply unsettled feelings won’t resolve until my spidey senses are confirmed. If there is a disturbance in the Force, it remains strong with me until I receive clarification.

This does not preclude common sense, however. I teach my students that they are to listen to whichever is stronger, their intuitive feelings or what logic and experience would dictate. Many times these coincide. Sometimes common sense is stronger. Sometimes intuition is. But here’s the thing. When what we are feeling defies what we expected to feel, that’s cause for deep listening.

When my husband was ill, I was constantly beset by these shifts, by changes in tone and energy from people I was talking to, or even from out of nowhere. I exhausted myself picking through layers of meaning, scurrying around trying to get confirmation from the doctors that they could not give me.

Later that afternoon when the call came that they wanted me back for a second-look mammogram and ultrasound, due to “changes in breast tissue,” I went from being rattled to BEING RATTLED. What freaked me out immediately was how suddenly deeply calm I was. I felt perfectly still and placid as a deep cold pond on a hot summer day. Not such a good sign because that meant the intel I was receiving was legit. I was even a little relieved — Huh. I knew this.— and then upset all over again because — Knew what?? —then relieved, then upset, and then finally I collapsed into….Crap.

Because if I was finally able to take a deep breath, and I was, then something was up. As the thin cover of vagueness gently pulled away, I realized I’d been uncomfortable since the technician wished me luck. But hadn’t Kristen said this exact thing had happened to her many times — and nothing ever was wrong? Wasn’t that exactly what we were talking about?

Obviously, I thought, this is just me and my very human reaction to the trauma my family had just gone through. It had to be. I was simply tangled up in a common phenomenon experienced by families that endure a loved one’s death from cancer. Never does the check of a funny mole, or a bad cough, or a persistent headache, seem casual or “routine” again.

This is how cancer flips the bird at one’s future and becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

Cue the well-worn slide show of all my family members and in-laws who’d had cancer, rotating through my mind’s eye yet again, annotated with the types of cancer they’d had and when:

Lung, 2001

Testicular, 2002

Lymphoma, 2004

Breast, 2005

Breast, 2015….

Finishing with the last slide. My husband’s. Gastric, 2014.

His was the only death, in August 2015. Fourteen months earlier.

I snapped to, chiding myself. Get a grip, Susan. I was the one who wouldn’t get it, who couldn’t get it, remember? I was the statistical lucky charm! The person who eats at Jack In The Box right after the E-coli scare! The person flying the day after a bad plane crash!

I’m the one to bear witness, is what I’d always thought.

That poor scheduler on the other end of the phone. I asked too many questions about nothing she could tell me. Patiently she explained the second look was so perfunctory and so common, in fact, that they normally wouldn’t even be able to get me in so quickly. But they could this week, so I was in luck! Something had opened up two days away.

“Ok thank you, I’ll be in at 3 on Wednesday,” I heard myself say. I certainly didn’t feel lucky.

Briefly my ego made a faint last stand, whispering at me to remember to complain about that awful tech. But I felt, even if I didn’t understand yet, that I’d been irked by her for other reasons. Much later I’d get it. I’d been picking up on something else from her, in her voice, in her energy, that I hadn’t liked. It wasn’t the tech herself. It was what she was seeing as she scanned me.

The idea that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer the year after my husband died of cancer was clearly ridiculous. I mean, that was impossible. Who does that even happen to? What were the odds?

Turns out they were the kind of odds that made my decision to postpone bra shopping pure fucking genius.

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