Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sorry, can't talk. On my way to a cancer appointment.

Yesterday, I started reading S. L. Wisenberg's The Adventures of Cancer Bitch, a book based on the author's blog about her experience with breast cancer. Last December, I had pitched the editor of Rain Taxi a review of the book, and he accepted. I received an advance of the book in February, but I've been too terrified of it to pick it up until now; the deadline is now looming, but I can't even begin to imagine how I can read it, let alone review it without some part of what I'm going through being reflected in my reception and assessment of it. (And I'll probably ruminate more on that in a later post). But enough for now. The point is, I was reading this book about cancer on the bus to my genetic counseling appointment. This information is important if you want to understand what happened next.

So after arriving downtown following a harrowing journey from Hyde Park (a car hit the 6 and we all had to get out an wait for another bus, even though the bus didn't seem to be affected nearly as much as that poor woman's car), I am accosted by one of those very jaunty, very theatrical solicitors in windbreakers who make eye contact with you despite your best efforts to avoid it, who chirped, "Hello! Do you have a minute for..." and if I had let him finish he would have said "the children" or "the environment" or whatever organization he was collecting money for (I would like to interrupt this already very long sentence to say that I'm at once sensitive and skeptical of these people; when G. first moved to the city, he collected money for an environmental group in this manner and from what he tells me, it's a horrible way to humiliate yourself and a shady operation, to boot) but I was trying to catch another bus so instead of just mumbling "Sorry" and staring at my feet, I blurted out, without really having any conscious control of my words (though Wisenberg's were almost certainly still being processed by my brain), "I'm on my way to a cancer appointment." And he said, "Cancer?" loudly and incredulously. And then, mercifully, the bus arrived, and I boarded.

It wasn't until I sat down that I really registered what I had said. I had wanted to say something to get him to leave me alone, but instead I said something that meant absolutely nothing. What does that even mean, I'm on my way to a cancer appointment? That I made an appointment with cancer, like I do the dentist, and the receptionist will call me from the waiting room, "The cancer will see you now"? I was not, in any meaning of the word, on my way to a cancer appointment. I was on my way to a counseling session with someone who would refer me to a lab where my blood would be drawn and sent off to a processing facility where technicians would analyze its genetic contents to find out if I had a genetic mutation that may predispose me to certain kinds of cancer. (But, in my defense, that's a little wordy to bark at a dude in a windbreaker on Michigan Avenue.) Then, I felt guilty. On the Curb Your Enthusiasm rerun G. and I watched the night before, Larry kept using his mother's death as an excuse to get our of things--dinner parties, bat mitzvahs, small talk--he didn't want to do. And I realized I'd totally pulled a Larry, but I had no ammo. At least none yet.

So I picked back up Wisenberg's book and read some more about her treatment at what she calls "Fancy Hospital" because "the first floor looks like a hotel lobby" and then get off the bus and walk through a revolving door and suddenly am standing in a hospital that very much looks like a hotel. And I realize, I'm standing in the same lobby she did. And it suddenly felt more like I was on my way to a cancer appointment.

The counseling session went well. My counselor was compassionate, thorough, and professional, and the information she presented was helpful, if not terrifying. In all my fervor for my breasts, I'd completely forgot that, if I have the mutation, I have a much higher risk of getting ovarian cancer, as well. Oh, and don't forget melanoma, stomach, and pancreatic cancers, too. The only difference is with those last three is you can't prevent them with prophylactic surgery (walking around without skin would be drafty). We discussed what I might expect if I'm found to have the mutation, and how I might go about "treating" it. Then I got my blood drawn, and it was out of my hands. Well, it always has been of course. If I'm positive in two weeks, when I get the results, I'm positive now. But now I'm one step closer to knowing.

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