Elisabeth R. Finch
told her about my mother. I told her about the first time, and now
this time, and how there isn't going to be a this time or next time
for me, not if I can help it. One blood test would tell me if I
had the mutated gene: BRCA1 or 2. I'd done the research. My insurance
wouldn't cover it and I didn't give a shit. The test for the breast
cancer gene was imperfect, but out there, and I wanted it. She looked
at me like she was thinking of herself, like she had Issues, the
way her eyebrows furrowed and she nodded too much.
I was, I thought I had time. I thought I could take it. I didn't
want to be wrong.
the test would be peace of mind, I assured her.
always," she said, and waited for me to ask her to expound
upon that pithy nugget of vagueness.
ask her to. I'd memorized every paragraph in every available article
from NCI to Sloan-Kettering to Susan Komen. Test positive, you run
the risk of being a poster child for fatalism. Test negative, Survivor
Guilt so thick you can't see straight.
I already knew that feeling all too well. The year my mom first
got her "all clear," two close friends lost their mothers
to cancer. The next year, when my duties as a Hollywood assistant
unexpectedly included cancer research, I stayed late, put together
packets and primers, and bought wig stands for people I barely knew.
With everything I knew, I was powerless, helpless, and, ultimately,
guilt isn't getting good test results," I told the nurse, unable
to look her in the eye. "It's still having my mom when a two-year-old
up. She went back into the hall, spoke with the doctor in hushed
tones. And she came back with three empty vials and a needle that
I swear she just threw in out of spite.
weeks later, I stared into the doctor's fat, hairy face. I couldn't
stop counting the pores on his nose.
not a life sentence," he tried to assure me. I knew that. "You
have options." I knew that, too.
women in my family are already well versed in the modern definition
of Women's Preventative Medicine. Two of my cousins had their kids
by age 30 and cut out their uteruses on account of their mom. And
aunt. Mom will take five years of tamoxifen, again, after her cancer
suddenly a percentile, a positive on a chart. Up to 87% chance I'll
develop breast cancer and up to 44% chance for ovarian cancer in
my lifetime. My mother's history is my present: Ashkenazi Jew, daughter
of a woman with breast cancer, Hormone Replacement Therapy and fertility
drugs that were pumped through her and possibly into me. I am my
fat doctor, I could tell, wanted me to cry. But I didn't. Not even
after he told me I could consider having children soon, then opt
for preventative bilateral mastectomy and oophorectomy before 35.
One clear way to reduce the risk of getting "women's cancer"
is to remove that which biologically (and socially) defines me as
to ask my doctor how fast he thought they'd come up with a pill
or something if the only way to prevent prostate cancer was to cut
off his penis. Instead, I smiled, I gave Nurse with Issues my co-pay,
and I waited to say every curse word I could think of in every combination
imaginable once I got into my car. (Windows rolled up.)
rest of the day I spend driving around Los Angeles with nowhere
to go. For fifteen minutes I let myself say the words "time"
and "mastectomy" out loud. I let myself think about having
children and not having children, and imagine scars, and picture
a lame cartoon rain cloud looming over my head. And then I tell
myself to shut the hell up, quit whining, and keep driving.
errands for my boss that can wait, and when he looks at me and asks
me if I'm okay, and I say yes, he knows I'm lying and he lets me.
I call automated tellers and pay my gas bill, my phone bill, my
overdue credit card bill. I call the airline to settle frequent
flyer mile issues. I call my friends and make dinner plans. I do
not call my mother.
driving. I hear every CD I have in my car, then I stop at the CD
store, pick up Bob Dylan's "Oh Mercy," and blast songs
about Love Gone Wrong.
heading off the freeway, five minutes from my apartment, when I'm
hit head on.
car makes the same sound I did when I was six and pulled out my
mom's old violin and started jack-rabbiting away on it. It takes
me a minute to get my bearings. Stupid Dylan, I think, making me
do something stupid. I get out of the car and check to see if I
did anything wrong. The guy in front of me stumbles out of his Chevy
pickup. He's drunk, pock-faced, and completely unaware he's just
driven the wrong way onto a freeway off-ramp. He takes one look
at my face, looks at my totaled car, gets in his truck, tosses two
empty beer cans out of the window, and bolts away.
at my phone for a minute or four. I don't call my mother. I don't
call my boss for help. I don't call anyone to pick me up. I call
Frank tells me to cut my losses. People die from things like this
all the time. It's the drunk guy's fault, sure, but there's no one
to really blame.
occurs to me that's exactly what I've been driving around for 12
hours looking for. And even now, I'm empty handed.
he rides off, I dial my mom.
accident. Head on, drunk driver, no insurance, I tell her. I can
hear her breathing on the other line, a little thin. She sounds
like she always does, about two minutes before the Cytoxan gets
to her and she needs to excuse herself to vomit.
you not just hear me, Mom? Car is completely totaled."
me call you right back." I wait three minutes on the side of
the freeway, then call myself a cab. My phone rings again.
back. Call waiting." I know she's lying, and she knows I know,
too. "Are you in the hospital?"
you have every limb you woke up with this morning still attached?"
you on the phone with your mother speaking in full sentences?"
Mom, I am."
day. Go get yourself a nice sandwich."
her about Officer Frank, the pock-marked evil man with beer cans
at his feet, the new Dylan album I picked up in the clearance bin.
I don't say a word about options or Nurses with Issues or test results.
I don't cry to her about time. We have it. We take it.
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