Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Two years ago, I went to the doctor and she stuck her hand into my vagina and frowned. Doctors frowning is a big red flag. We all get up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes, but generally speaking, when a doctor does something like examine a mole, or look at test results, or stick a hand in someone's underpants area and then frown, there's no reason to pop the champagne cork.

My champagne cork? Unpopped.

Two years ago, I went to the doctor and got some shaky news: a lump. My family has a history of shaky news, shared at weird times. My younger sister called me on the phone to say she had The Big C, and my mom has mentioned offhand that she's had a few scares over the past few years, in the same tone of voice that one might say, "I once chugged a litre of carrot juice." I have no real memory of how I told anyone what was up. I turned the doctor's appointment story into an uncomfortable-funny anecdote to tell two drinks over the Good Taste Line at cocktail parties, but in the there-and-now, I don't really know what I said, and to whom, and when. My doctor referred me to a gynaecologist, who was very blase about the whole deal and schedule no-big-deal surgery to remove the lump for six months down the road.

Like with anyone's medical misfortune, there's a cycle to testing and results that has become part of the wilderness of my emotional landscape. Every February (which is, as we all know, the lousiest time of year [except for August heat waves]), I trundle off to the doctor's office and ask that they test me for disease and malformities. It's a nerve-wracking visit in the best of times: in my, uh, sluttier years, I would pray that no unpleasant virus of bacteria was making a waterpark of my lady bits, and now that I'm on the other side of a no-big-deal surgery, it's become a serious question of exactly how viable all my parts remain.

I get an annual ultrasound, because the "no-big-deal" surgery captured one of my ovaries, leaving me with one single worker on the baby-factory floor. If anything should happen to the other one, through trauma or disease, I'll be officially spayed. That leaves the door open for all kinds of things - anxiety every time the mittelschmerz kicks in, worries that I won't be able to have kids, and, if the other one does develop any weirdo tendencies and needs to be removed, the fear that I'll be celebrating my next birthday with a lack-of-estrogen moustache.

The annual test is fairly straightforward. Chug a litre of water an hour before the ultrasound. Sit in the waiting room with my best friend. Every five minutes, complain about needing to pee. Look around at all the old people, and all the pregnant women. Wonder if anyone thinks I'm pregnant. Think about losing five pounds. Realize that, when I pee, I probably will.

Put on the gown, lie on the table, and make insanely fake-sounding chitchat with the Russian technician, who smears ice-cold ultrasound jelly on my stomach and then sadistically presses down on my swollen bladder. Crane my neck and try to see the screen. When I come back from peeing, she's prepping the ultrasound wand, which looks like a sex toy designed by robots, and which will poke me in the cervix and make me bleed. The room is dark. It almost feel like a visit to the spa, except not at all.

Afterwards, my friend and I ate burgers topped with fried eggs and brie, and oatmeal-peach pancakes, and assiduously avoided talking about anything serious. My test results will come back in a week.

Living in the moments between test and result is sort of a dreamy blur. I oscillate between knowing, in my bones, that I have cancer of the everything, and understanding that, in all likelihood, things are probably mostly fine. Statistically, I'm at a higher risk for developing another cyst, which is why ultrasounds are now part of my healthy-living routine. The ultrasound makes me feel both safer and more unhinged about my health. My sister, who now lives cancer-free, has a similar emotional cycle of semi-annual tests and waiting for results. She's learning to ignore the fear in the pit of her stomach. She has more practice.

Last year's test results came back while I was at work. Calling my doctor during business hours had me pale and shaky for hours. I whispered furiously into the phone, desperate to avoid anyone who might overhear my frantic pleading for information. I finally nabbed some nurse practitioner who explained that, while I had developed a fibroid the size of a pea, there were no no-big-deal lumps.

But now? Now I wait.

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