Time stands still in the radiology waiting room. You sit, half-dressed, torso lightly covered in a wrap that still leaves you shivering in the artificial cold of the medical building. Fake lighting, bland colors, and non-description artwork illustrate the scene, as though somehow the artificiality will make it better. When you emerge into bright daylight, blinking and groping for sunglasses, the myriad of nature’s colors overwhelm and remind you that the visit was something not real.
The exam itself is like something from a bad science fiction film. Machines that gently hum move with ornate precision at the touch of foot pedals. They take pictures in seconds that used to take minutes or longer to develop, but just because the picture emerges so soon doesn’t mean that its meaning is so rapidly evident. You sit. And you wait. And then you wait some more.
If you’re lucky, the tech comes back quickly to inform you that you can get dressed and go on with your day. If you’re less lucky, they want more pictures. Maybe it will mean more time with the mean machine that treats breasts like they’re made of silly putty, squishing them into awkward shapes in some vain attempt to remove one dimension from your form. Maybe it will mean that you need an ultrasound instead – a rendezvous with a microphone-shaped paddle and goo that feels like otherworldly slime. You never understand the pictures presented on the screen. We aren’t meant to see inside ourselves so literally unless something is wrong, and even then what is opaque seems clear – yet remains opaque on many levels.
Today, I had an epic wait after my first set of pictures. Someone was less lucky than I; they had a biopsy and the radiologist looked over those images at length. I’m sad and tired and annoyed, but I’m not the person who was biopsied, so I count my blessings and hold my tongue. The tech doing my second set of pictures manhandles me more but the machine hurts less. I can’t explain it. I’m just sadness and anxiety. She tries to reassure me that the pictures are just additional details, but I still just want to run away.
When family members have had breast cancer, it makes you want to know whether you will get it, but – at the same time – you don’t want to know.
Today, I’m lucky. I escape without an ultrasound. I escape with the order to come back in six months, hopefully to be back on an annual cycle again. I’m sent away with the words “You are stable”. That’s not the same as “You’re clean”. That’s “no additional growth at this time” or “we will keep an eye on things”.
I walk to my car, almost 2-1/2 hours after I arrived. I know I’ll be back in six months. I hope my results are no worse. For a child of a survivor, for the niece of a two-time survivor (who ultimately succumbed to lung cancer), “no worse” is a victory.
But I will try to spend tonight by myself, secluding myself from family and friends, because even with “no worse” results, I’m emotionally spent. I’m wrung out like a washcloth. And I have to preserve my strength for six months from now.