This morning at 8 am I had my first visit to the Cult of the Breast – a radiology clinic. I was greeted with low lighting and sweet women who chatted easily about, and poked their fingers easily around, my lumpy breast. A week and a half ago I found a lump in my right breast. Pretty squishy, moved around easily – I had every reason to believe it was a cyst. A lumpy, tender mass of nothing-to-worry about stuff.
So I worried about it.
I researched – more than 50 percent of women apparently have cystic breasts. I have no history of cancer on either side of my family – and my aunts smoked themselves neurotically anorexic in the 70s, you’d think someone would’ve had some kind of something. But fortunately no. Alcoholism, rampant. Cancer, none. My dad had prostate cancer last year. But he’s 70 and thinks meat is the foundation of the food pyramid, so that’s pretty normal.
I figured it was some kind of cystic thing, but I called my midwife anyway, who said she couldn’t see me this week – full up with appointments and lots of babies coming in – and recommended I see someone else immediately. So I called my son’s family practice doctor and she said she could see me the next day. She and her intern assistant spent a few minutes poking and prodding and then declared the need for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound – “You’re 44 and you haven’t had one,” she said measuredly with a slight cock in one eyebrow. “Well, even though the guidelines have changed, (I get to have a little smug smile here) I recommend you do this immediately and we’ll get you in.” (smile dissipates)
They had to squeeze my breast – er, that is, appointment, in amongst about 8 other women in the waiting room at the Cult of the Breast. We all dutifully took off our shirts in a pleasant, spa-like dressing room with lockers and keys on little stretchy bright colored key chains you put around your wrist. We donned attractive pink crossover smocks and waited patiently amonst fake fuchia orchids to get our mammary glands squished by the machine.
The first technician was petite, sweet and caring. She kept asking me if it hurt – which it didn’t – and then rearranging my tea cup sized breast, gently stretching it towards the cold metal slab while instructing me to relax my shoulder or tilt my head. “I know this can sometimes be a little painful,” she smiled. “But it doesn’t take long.”
“It’s not really that painful,” I reported. “Just humiliating.” We giggled in agreement.
Afterwards she brought me over to a small, pretty alcove and offered me some coffee. I think I read that coffee was bad for cystic breasts. Oh well.
Then it was time for the ultrasound. The woman was equally sweet although she didn’t introduce herself or talk to me much. She squeezed goo on my breast and then put the ultrasound machine on it and stared at the screen as intently as a teenage boy playing a video game. There was another woman with her whom she talked to about what she was doing. “Are you training,” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” she laughed, “Sorry.”
After 15 minutes of seeing scary red areas highlighted on the ultrasound and surrendering to the idea that I must indeed be afflicted with a most virulent malignant breast tumor, they left and told me they’d be back soon with the doctor. So I meditated for a few minutes in the lovely low lighted, warm room, it was actually pleasant. Well, whatever it is, everything will be all right, I reassured myself.
So the doc came in – very kindly older man with neatly combed white hair and metal-framed square glasses. “Well, this all looks like cysts,” he said. “Just benign cysts. No cancer here,” he said kindly. He didn’t touch me, just placed the ultrasound on the cyst. It’s all about the cancer. Cancer or no cancer. Cut, chemo, radiate, or not. Save the breasts, save the women. Be kind. And they were.
“So why do I suddenly have cystic breasts,” I asked him. “What’s the etiology (a word I picked up studying homeopathy years ago and thought I’d throw in so he would take me seriously)?”
“Well, I am very sure it’s not cancer,” he said dosey do-ing the question nicely. “But well maybe we should keep an eye on that and check it out again in three months.”
“Oh, so it could turn into cancer?” I asked.
“Well, it’s just a cyst,” he pirouetted, “but we should keep an eye on it anyway. So I’d like to see you back again in three months, okay?” And he then sashayed out. Kind, paternal and certain – but not terribly interested in explaining.
Maybe it’s because there are no researched based answers. Maybe they want to create neither alarm nor false hope. Maybe they are not used to visitors questioning (I find that hard to believe – this is Asheville). Maybe we are just a tiny bit over-obsessed with our breasts.
So I am left with questions. Why does someone like me – yoga teacher, meditator, vegetarian, holistic, progressive, vitamin-taking, clean-living, politically correct, acupuncture-getting dirt worshipper have to visit the Cult of the Breast anyway? How could I possibly get cancer? I mean if I can get it, can’t anyone? Isn’t cancer something that happens to unhealthy people? The clueless Wal-mart shopping masses? Why should I spend any time thinking about cancer?
In my ultrasound room meditation I asked those myopic, narcissistic questions to deflect reality. We like to point fingers because it helps us to feel safe. I remember when a friend from my son’s pre-school got breast cancer and had surgery and people from the school were giving her get well gifts. A granola mama whispered to me, “She’s got cancer and they gave her white flour croissants! Can you imagine – white flour! It’s probably what caused it in the first place!”
Diet is important, it’s true, and there certainly is lots of research on blueberries and green tea and tofu and all the wonderful things you can do to avoid cancer, but the bottom line is, we just don’t know. And in my arrogant health nut sort of way, I’d like to trust that I am doing all the right things. But the reality is that we have so much less control over it than we’d like to believe.
According to one of my favorite master yogis, Sri Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita, life is about doing your best – you do what’s right just because it’s the right thing to do, not because it makes you eligible to join the Granola Cult and shun the Cult of the Breast.
The process was scary, but it also helped to expand my heart chakra – with more compassion for those for whom the first visit to the radiology clinic is only the beginning of a long road to radical western medical intervention. And it’s no coincidence that the breasts are located in the area of the heart chakra. I remember one yogic nun telling me after I had my son that breast feeding was good for the child because it opens their heart chakra. While that may be true, my experience was that it opened my heart chakra. My husband, ever the sensitive, kind man that he is, was so envious, he wanted to have that experience so badly because he saw how joyous my son became and how much it softened me.
I certainly don’t want to ideate on it, jinx myself or “create my own reality” by buying into the idea that I could get cancer. But the fact is, anything can happen at any time, and the idea that I can with enough positive intention, or the right talisman or the perfect essential oil, avoid it, is just garbage.
What I can do is live in a state of gratitude and openness to grace. I will do my best to make my life whole and meaningful with integrity and humility. And I will remember that whatever happens to me, I will always walk with the Divine and know with certainty, that I am always being exquisitely and intimately taken care of – even if things don’t always go they way I think they should.
The first thing I did when I got out of there was call my homeopath.