Archive for March, 2011

Lady Lumps

March 19, 2011

I’ve been holding this one in for a while.

When I first felt the lump, it really didn’t register. Denial began immediately. I have lumpy breasts. It’s nothing.

But there it was. A palpable something. A something the size of a robin’s egg. It wasn’t nothing. It was something. Something I had to get checked out.

Life has a funny way of not giving a shit about your drama. I never had time to dwell on it. There were deals going on at work. At home, we were facing high school admissions decisions for my 14-year-old daughter. One of my brothers was briefly hospitalized.

I had work to do, family to care for, blogs to write for. I didn’t have time to think about what IT might be.

Yet IT was there, waiting. In the quiet of night, when everyone was sleeping, I would feel IT. In the morning, in the shower, I would feel IT. I noticed all the sensations in, near, and around IT – discomfort, pain, irritation.

As with my babies, I began to assign feelings to IT. IT doesn’t like when I touch it like that, or that. Unlike my babies growing inside me, though, I felt no warmth or tenderness towards IT. IT was an intruder. IT didn’t belong.

During those quiet moments at night, I remembered the description of cancer in Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The cancer was described as pearls covering Lacks’ organs. I thought of pearls inside my body, a deadly bedazzling.

I thought of my kids, of their mostly-absent father who neither would nor could take care of them if I were gone.

And as always, I thought of my mother.

I wondered if we, her six children, had been her motivation for staying well as long as she did. I would get so irritated with my mother when she would say, listening to me complain about the latest babysitter,

“Hmph. I never thought anybody could take care of my kids as well as I could.”

I wondered if one day, she looked at us, all grown and independent and no longer needing her, the oldest of her children already grandparents, and said, “Good. I did my job. I did the best I could do. Now I can rest.”

My babies are 14 and 9. I can’t leave them yet. They don’t have anybody else.

I prayed a lot in those quiet moments.

I went to see my doctor. She felt IT, too. My previous mammogram was just four months ago. It was perfectly normal.

My doctor ordered me to have a repeat mammogram.

I waited for the appointment.

Then, the wait ended.

There was no history of breast cancer in my family. People in my family died of complications from the usual black folks’ diseases, heart disease and high blood pressure and diabetes. Not that having a family history was a pre-requisite to getting breast cancer.

Still. No family history. Normal mammograms. I clung to those thoughts as I stepped into the imaging room.

It hurt.

I’ve been having mammograms since age 35, annually since I turned 40. I have large, dense breasts. It has never felt great. But it has always been tolerable.

This hurt.

Because I had a specific complaint, the technician had to focus in on one spot. She tightened the plates – the vise, as I always think of it – until I winced. And then she tightened them some more.

I sucked in my breath.

“Don’t move! Don’t breathe!”

The fuck, lady! I yelled in my head. You’ve got clamps on my right tit. I can’t fucking move. If I breathe, I’ll scream.

I was a good girl. Did as I was told. I kept my swear words in my head and didn’t unleash any at the technician.

“Ok, now we want to do an ultrasound,” the technician said.

This is normal, I reminded myself. Routine. I’ve had mammograms rechecked with sonograms before. It’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything bad.

But I started feeling scared.

The ultrasound tech had me show her the area. She put the goop on the wand and began moving it across my breast. The keyboard clacked as she took measurements.

I wanted to ask, “What do you see? Do you see anything?” But I didn’t. I knew she wouldn’t tell me.

“The doctor will be in to take a look,” the technician told me.

I thought about my breasts. I’ve been pretty happy with them for most of my adult life. They are a good size. They look nice in my clothes. Even after nursing two babies and losing a bunch of weight, they don’t sag. Much.

I never thought of them as particularly sensitive. I found breast-centered foreplay mostly annoying. My motto? Keep your mouth moving south.

But recently, I discovered I how much I enjoy having them kissed. And caressed. Especially the right one, the one with the lump. If I had to lose one, I would get over it, but it would not be trivial.

I prayed some more.

The doctor came in. More goop on the wand. More sliding and probing. Then, finally:

“We don’t think it’s really anything. Probably just some fatty tissue that clumped together. It does that sometimes. But we’re going to order a biopsy, just to be sure.”

I breathed.

So now, I wait some more. The biopsy is in a couple of weeks. I’m not in the clear yet. But the news could have been much, much worse.

I said a prayer of gratitude on my way out.

Women, please continue to do your monthly breast self-examinations. If you feel anything, get it checked out.

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A Friend’s Pain

March 7, 2011

Michele Grant aka @TheOneChele, novelist and creator of the Black ‘n Bougie blog, recently posted a series about a friend who caught her husband kissing another woman. The initial question posed was whether hubby’s claim that “a kiss isn’t cheating” was plausible. In a subsequent post, Grant informed her readers that her friend had chosen to forgive her husband and forget what she saw. Readers were asked whether or not the wife made the right decision.

Is a kiss cheating? It’s certainly not benign. If I caught my man kissing another woman, I would be deeply hurt. Could I forgive him? It depends. 

But it was this line from Grant’s post that gave me pause:

“If she’s happy, all I can do is be happy for her.”

I’ve uttered those words after watching girlfriends cry about lying, cheating, abusive partners, convincing everyone but themselves that they deserve better. And then stay in the dysfunctional relationship.

I said it because I felt that’s what I had to say to be a good friend. To show my friend that I wasn’t judging her. That I recognized her autonomy as an adult woman to make her own choices, and not to impose my beliefs on her.

That I had to love and support her choices, no matter what, because that’s what friends do.

I no longer feel that way.

Before I filed for divorce. I would cry to my friends about how miserably unhappy I was. I’d chronicle every fight, every dumb and offensive thing he said, every moment of feeling unappreciated and unloved.

My friends never told me I was crazy for staying. They never said, “Girl, get out!” The closest any of them came was to ask me, gently and politely, what I planned to do about being unhappy.

My mother gave me that much-needed kick. My parents never divorced, but theirs was a brutally unhappy marriage. When my mother told me I was describing her own marriage, I knew it was time to do something, to stop the cycle, because the last thing I wanted was to repeat the words, “you’re describing my marriage” to my own daughter.

After I filed for divorce, my friends spilled their guts in relief that I’d finally chosen to get out. They told me how hard it was to hear me repeat the same story, over and over and over again, across the years, but do nothing to free myself. They told me how hard it was to watch me self-destruct by overeating and no longer doing the things I used to love to do.

They told me I’d become barely recognizable and that they were glad to see “me” back.

But they said none of this in the eight years I was with my ex.

I asked them, “If that’s how you felt, why didn’t you say anything?”

“It wasn’t my place,” they responded.

Bullshit.

I am not blaming my friends for not telling me to leave my marriage. Staying was my choice. Leaving was also my choice. I stayed until I was ready to leave, and I left when I was ready to go.

We don’t live in our friends’ relationships. We don’t know when there’s still hope for someone else’s marriage, and when it’s time to get out and move on. Only the two people in the relationship can answer that question.

We can and do, however, form opinions based on what we observe and what we’re told. And when you see a friend drowning in misery, it’s dishonest to pretend to be happy and supportive of her decision to remain in the relationship that’s causing her so much pain.

You think she’s hurting herself by not leaving, which hurts you. But you know there’s only so much you can do to help her. You have your own life, maybe even your own dysfunctional relationship to deal with. 

So you cringe when she calls you. You side-eye her husband when she brings him to your events and you see her playing one-half of a happy couple. You begin to dislike him to the point that even the way he asks for a glass of water irritates you.

Your continued silence is damaging. You keep quiet because you’re afraid your friend will take offense. You keep your mouth shut to preserve the friendship. But instead, your true feelings become this big huge secret that drives a wedge between you.

So to all of you silently watching a friend suffer in a bad relationship: if she is truly a friend – if you really, truly care – speak up. Tell her how you feel. Maybe your worst fears will be realized, and she will cut you off. But maybe she’ll hear what you’re saying. Maybe your words will help empower her to take action – even if it’s not the action you think she should take. And maybe your friendship can recover.

The friendship may not, however, recover from your silence.