For me, the worst day of the year isn’t tax day. It isn’t when my mother-in-law visits. (She’s a lovely woman…really.) It isn’t even the day after Election Day when a total asshat gets voted into office. As a breast cancer survivor, the worst day of the year is when I go for my mammogram. True, nobody actually likes mammos, but I’ve been bitten by one.
Walking to the train on shaky legs for my annual squishing, I realized that I have a bunch of coping strategies. For starters…
I gird my loins.
Literally. I surround myself with meaningful objects given to me by people I love. I think of it as my armor, my shield. I wrap the beautiful silk scarf my friend Laxmi brought me from India around my neck. Twice. I slip the silver coins that read “Faith,” “Hope," and “Courage” into my pocket, a present from my friend, Joni. If it’s raining, I carry the umbrella my friend Elaine gave me. And guess what? I feel cradled, cuddled, cherished, protected.
I color myself happy.
Just in case the loin-girding doesn’t work, I draw strength from my favorite color. My undies, socks, shirt and anything else I can muster is blue. My fave shade and my mom’s, too. For some reason, it makes me feel strong, so I’ll take it.
I find the humor.
Yes, there’s even a funny side to abject fear. Your job — find it! I tell myself that with only one boob, it will take half the time. And my chances of something being wrong are 50%. (Not really, but it helps.)
I create a diversion.
Something. Anything. Exchanging niceties with a stranger on the street. Admiring the beautiful cherry blossom tree blooming on the sidewalk. (Which echoes the cherry blossom tattoo I have across my mastectomy scar.) Talking with a kind stranger about said cherry blossom tree. Whatever I can do to bamboozle myself into not fretting about the mammo-jammo, I do.
Sometimes Bad Cathy is stubborn and doesn’t want to listen. Sometimes she seems to enjoy feeling bad. Sometimes I just have to ask Bad Cathy nicely, and just like that, the still, small voice that asks, “What if” is quiet. I switch off the imaginary audio of me telling my husband, “They found something…” Because they didn’t. Not yet. Not this time. Hopefully.
I make it “social.”
Instead of acting like my feelings are a dirty, little secret, I post them on social media. I tweet. And hey, Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” in my homepage’s rectangle. So, I tell them. And people — sometimes even people I don’t know — come to the rescue. They post words of encouragement which warm my heart.
I try good old-fashioned Catholic voodoo.
I’m not even religious but I practice foxhole faith by taking my cross out of the cobwebs and hanging it around my neck. In a kneejerk reaction, I make the sign of the cross before I take the elevator up to the imaging office. I even say a silent prayer. Hey, maybe I am religious… because it’s a comfort.
I do fun stuff, before and after.
I treat myself to lunch out. A mani/pedi. A CD/shirt/bracelet. Coffee with a good buddy. Or all of the above. And guilt-free. Because with all that worry, I deserve it, damn it.
But the reality is nothing really works when you’re sitting in the waiting area, swaddled in that ugly, beige wrap (open to the front, please). I have to remind myself to breathe and choke back the frightened tears. I’ve been down this road before and once it didn’t work out so well for me. But I’m here. I’m still here. I fought. I endured chemo. Infections. I kicked cancer’s butt. Once.
If I had to, I could do it again.
I don’t tell all of this to the two women sitting in the waiting room with me. I hope they don’t notice that I don’t have a breast on the left side. I don’t tell them because they’re both here for follow-up mammograms and they’re scared. Probably more scared than I am. I just wish them luck.
And in the end, it’s fine. The technician doesn’t ask for a retake. In fact, she tells me that she likes my tattoo, that I’m a rock star.