Mind Over Mammo
Are you there, readers? It's me, Mrs. Tittle-Tattle. You won't be able to hide those extra winter pounds under your Moncler coats for long.
It's time to start thinking about getting in shape for summer. If you wait until May rolls around, your January thighs will also be rolling around, chafing against your jeans, begging for mercy. You need to drag yourself to the gym and Zumba your life away until you're sure that you won't scare anyone when you put on your tankini at the Field Club. And before you know it, you'll be loading up on bronzers, pedicures, waxes, and keratin treatments, and it's all just going to be a maintenance nightmare. No woman would ever have written that immortal lyric, "Summertime, and the livin" is easy."
But while we ladies are constantly bitching about how arduous it is to maintain our good looks, it can't compare to real health maintenance issues like breast cancer screenings. There is almost nothing a woman dreads more than having her
breast tissue squeezed into a vise while someone takes a picture of it.
However, that kind of brush with mortality is exactly what requires the greatest dose of humor. My own experience with mammograms started off when I got a "baseline" screening when I was 35, thinking it would be nothing, and winding up a week later undergoing a fine needle biopsy. I resorted to Joan Rivers-esque joking with the doctors, like saying how completely unfair it would be for God to give me such small breasts and then riddle them with disease. But then again, if I lost my boobs, I bantered on, I really wasn't losing that much, compared to having to get a chunk of my butt cut out if I had a tumor in my ass, which would
seriously deform my best feature.
Luckily, so far Mrs. Tittle-Tattle's "tittles" have been okay, but I always approach those medical visits with an arsenal of nervous repartee. And for my most recent mammo and sonogram at Columbia Presbyterian, I especially needed it, because I had cancer on my mind. It began while I was food shopping at Grace's Market that same week. I was getting antsy as an elderly lady held up the bakery line. Another woman standing next to me said, "I used to be impatient like you, but since I got cancer, I learned to slow down and relax." Okay then! I felt bad and I knew she was trying to help, but I was also kind of pissed. "Thanks for making me think I'm going to get cancer because I don't like waiting in lines, and basically all I do in New York is wait in lines," I responded. "Now I'm sure my mammogram will be positive because I was in a hurry to get my rainbow cookies. Thanks so much!"
She really had struck a nerve, because I think everyone is a little paranoid that type-A people (i.e., most New Yorkers) are more prone to disease because we are constantly stressed out, no matter how much yoga and meditation we do. We can "ohm" and strike a lotus all we like, but we are always rushing around, let's face it, even to get to that yoga class, because there are no freakin' cabs or someone is holding up the elevator, or whatever. There's always that fear and guilt that we are causing our own cellular breakdown because we can't chill out or think positively. I reminded myself not to explode at the Food Emporium manager next time there is only one cashier and 10 people waiting in line.
But the phobia continued the next day, when I had subscription tickets to see the Broadway play Wit, about a woman with stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. The main character endures unbearable pain and suffering, and dies at the end of the show. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to see the night before your mammogram. While in the hospital waiting room the next day, I saw a New York Times story about two breast cancer survivors who went to see that play. Was this a sign? Sitting next to me was another Upper East Side woman who had just finished chemo for breast cancer. I really regretted being impatient about the rainbow cookies. The woman was very engaging. She told me how a stranger who had admired her short hairdo (post-chemo) asked her where she got it cut. She responded, "Columbia Presbyterian Oncology Department."
As I was shuttled between mammo and sono, I kept thinking, "If I get out of here today without a diagnosis, I'm going to do Woody Allen's joyous dance from Hannah and Her Sisters when he finds out he doesn't actually have a brain tumor."
Well, I was able to do the happy dance out of the hospital and felt thankful as I made it home. But I really am going to try to stop and smell the roses and be patient with all the idiots I'm surrounded by-just as soon as I finish yelling at my cab driver for making a wrong turn. [HS]