I am sitting in a too small hospital gown thinking about Schrodinger’s cat. There are two possibilities before me. Empirically, only one is true, but at this moment of unknowing both are alive in my head.
I’ve been here before.
Job/no job. Scholarship/no scholarship. Pregnant/not pregnant. Broken/not broken. Like the cat in the famous box, each time the verdict was already decided; I just didn’t know it yet.
When I say I’ve been here before, I really have. I know the mammogram drill. With a mother as a breast cancer survivor, I don’t fool around. Yearly check-ups. Seven initial years of suspicious call backs for a second series of images, followed by three years of one painful smoosh visit each and done. As mammogram imaging improved and with my previous records to compare, the chances of false positives were drastically reduced.
The seven previous times I came back for a second, more thorough diagnostic mammogram ended with the technician popping back in the room to deliver the verdict: “You can get dressed. The radiologist reviewed the new images and says it’s light refraction/dense tissue/a blur on the original —there’s nothing to worry about. We’ll send the results to your doctor. See you in a year.”
I always nodded and thanked her and got dressed after she left. I learned early not to wear buttons. Too hard to fasten when your hands are shaking.
In the early years I asked, “What happens if it’s really something?”
“We do an ultra sound, then a needle biopsy.”
She sighed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?”
I don’t ask anymore.
This year, after three years of passes, I’m back for a second diagnostic mammogram. Before we begin, the technician shows me the images. “See this? That’s what we’re going to take more images of. You can see it in this view and that one, but not this one.”
In the middle of mother roundness is a hard little white spot on the screen. “It’s about here?” I point to an area near my nipple.
“Yes,” she says. “It could be a refraction. But I wanted you to see.”
Seeing it makes it real.
She looks at me and pats my shoulder. “I’ll have the radiologist check the images as soon as we’re done. I’m not letting you go home without an answer.”
I nod and we start.
She’s gentle, but the machines hurt. She pauses after the usual three shots and says, “I want to take a couple more.”
This is new.
“You think the radiologist will want another view,” I say.
“Yes,” she says.
“Better now than later,” I say. When I am already dressed and waiting, I don’t say.
“It’s quicker if I have it when he asks,” she says. “Besides, why not if I can?”
No one takes more images than they need. She’s seen something.
“Let’s do it,” I say. This time tissue is rolled and twisted before flattening. I suck air through clenched teeth and try not to think. What I wish is to not feel.
“Be right back.”
The cat is in the box. It has been since before I climbed into my car to drive to the hospital.
How many times can you beat the odds? The average woman’s lifetime risk is one in eight, and I am not average. I count friends, family, and acquaintances in multiples of eight. The math tells me the odds are not good.
I also know that these odds don’t matter. At the individual level, it’s zero or one hundred.
I remind myself that I am crap at statistics. It’s voodoo mathematics.
I look at my wedding and engagement rings and wonder if I should leave them to my son for his someday bride and give my diamond solitaire earrings to my daughter. But what if my future daughter-in-law prefers her own ring instead of one weighted with a mother’s love? Maybe I should give my daughter my ring, too, and leave my daughter-in-law one of my gold bracelets. Granddaughters! I need to figure out which heirlooms to reserve for them. I guess I could have each pick her favorite on their sixteenth birthdays. Sounds complicated, but fair. I better leave a note with the jewelry in the safe.
I have tons of photos and scrapbook memorabilia stashed away in drawers and folders, none of it organized and waiting for the day when I finally get my act together to create books for each of my kids. I calculate how many good vs. bad chemo days there are in the coming months and realize I need to get cracking. No one, not even a future loving stepmother will do this job the way I will. I hold the memories, after all.
Closets. Dejunk and de-clutter. No one should have to deal with those messes. Empty the downstairs freezer.
In the box the cat both paces and lies dead. My eyes flicker from the closed door to the images left up on the screen.
The air conditioning’s a little cold. I clutch the ends of the gown closer, forcing them to meet.
When the door swooshes open, the technician thrusts her thumbs up. “We’re good,” she says.
I remember to breathe.
“Come see,” she says. She shows me the new images, how in one the spot appears, but in the titty-twister, it doesn’t. “The radiologist says it’s a milk gland. Nothing to worry about.”
Seeing makes it real.
“You can get dressed. I’ll see you in a year.”
I thank her as she heads out the door. I zip up my shirt. The cat jumps out of the box.