By Heather Millar
The woman burst out of the door to the mammography suites and procedure rooms. She whisked past me. She held a light blanket around her shoulders. Paper towels and padding bulged out of her hospital gown, over her right breast. Her eyes were red, her shoulders slumped and defeated.
No doubt about it, I thought to myself: She was either about to go to surgery, unlikely in the late afternoon, or she’d just had a biopsy of her right breast. I remember coming out of those suites myself a couple years ago, with the same blanket and cold pack padding, needles and wires sticking out of the area where I was about to have surgery.
The woman quickly got her clothes out of her locker, and slammed the door to a dressing room. Then I heard weeping, snuffling sounds.
I was at the USCF Breast Care Center yesterday afternoon for my every-six-months oncology check-up: Get squeezed by a mammography tech; chat with my oncology nurse practitioner; wave at my high-powered oncologist who spends her days zooming from emergency to emergency. It was all good news for me yesterday. Thankfully, I don’t merit huge time from my oncologist right now. I’m stable, no evidence of disease, no impossible side effects from the hormone therapy I need to have for four more years.
But as I sat in my hospital gown, flipping absentmindedly through trashy celebrity magazines, the woman weeping in the dressing room brought me right back to square one. She reminded me of the beginning of my cancer story: how terrified I was, how confused, how overwhelmed by the need to become an instant expert in my particular cancer. My heart went out to her.
I wished I could help her, but all I managed to do was whisper to a nurse that the woman who’d just had the procedure was crying in her dressing room.
“Oh, she’s just had a biopsy. I’ll check on her,” the nurse said.
I’ll never see the weeping woman again. I’ll never know if her biopsy came out positive or negative. But I want to thank her: She reminded me of how much I’ve survived. She also reminded me that we all live on a knife’s edge: Any day, any moment, we might fall from stability into crisis. That’s true of everyone, really, not just cancer patients. And that’s why it’s so, so important to celebrate the ordinary days, the days when you feel mostly well, the days when you’re not going through some icky procedure, the days when cancer fades to the background for a while.
So thanks, weeping lady. I hope you have many ordinary days ahead of you.