Over the past few months I’ve done some intermittent soul searching about why I keep trying to pick up heavier and heavier things. Continuing trouble with Mr. Back Squat, along with glacial progress on the other major lifts and an insufficient commitment to transcending Elastigirl, have caused me to consider taking up fartlek, yoga, or even origami. Why keep doing something at which I will never truly excel?
I got my answer last Wednesday afternoon.
The previous week, I’d had my first-ever mammogram. I’d stood topless in a darkened room while a friendly technician had flattened my ta-tas between plastic plates and photographed their innards. Not my favorite use of fifteen minutes, but also no big deal. With no family history of breast cancer, and unremarkable chest puppies, I wasn’t worried.
Until the next day, when the friendly tech called to say I needed additional imaging because the results of my mammogram were “abnormal.”
“Abnormal?” I cleared my throat. “What does that mean?”
“There are some areas of interest we’d like to explore further. It’s probably nothing.” I’m sure she meant to sound reassuring, but she came across as furtive.
“Areas of interest?”
“We just need to follow up.”
So I made an appointment for the following Wednesday at the mac daddy breast health center inside my city’s premier hospital. Meanwhile, I had six days to stew, Google “double mastectomy,” and — oh yeah — do my second powerlifting meet. I didn’t get much sleep.
My follow-up appointment was at 12:15 p.m., a time slot that caused my food-fixated self to burn many minutes puzzling over what and when I should eat beforehand. All for naught; I was too twitchy for anything but the lightest of fare that morning. Mr. 5, sweet man, insisted upon meeting me at the hospital, and we huddled together in the waiting room as I filled out forms asking soothing questions such as, “Do you have a living will?”
Finally I was summoned alone to a smaller waiting room, given a fuschia gown, and told to sit with a handful of other women awaiting mammary scrutiny. I poured a cup of institutional coffee from the metal urn in the corner and tried to get lost in my suspense novel. Soon enough, I was led to the mammogram lab, divested of my gown, and squeezed into the hooter cam. After snapping several shots of both breasts, the technician escorted me back to the lounge.
“Can I put my clothes on now?” I asked.
Smiling faintly, she shook her head. “The doctor might want more images.”
And indeed she did. I was X-rayed again and again, then returned to the holding pen, where I began texting my husband.
Me: More tit pix. Sooo hungry. Can u smuggle a T-bone in here?
Him: Cafeteria closed until 4. Sorry.
Me: If I devour my book, wld that be eating my words?
Him: Yes. No. Hang in there.
At 3:30, the technician announced that the doctor wanted a sonogram of my right breast. Famished and mute, I followed her to yet another waiting room, where a woman about my age sobbed softly in the corner. Five of her friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer within the past year, she said, and she was petrified of becoming number six. I tried to read, but kept imagining how great my chest would look after the reconstructive surgery. Good-bye bee stings, hello rack.
The ultrasound was interminable: dim room, stony nurse, bared bosom, gooey wand. My right arm, splayed above my head in a centerfold pose, fell asleep. The black and white images flickering across the sonogram screen were visual white noise, so I closed my eyes and thought about mussels in rich broth with crusty bread and cold chardonnay. After ten minutes or ten years, the technician left to consult the doctor, then returned for more wand work.
I knew she wouldn’t tell me anything, but I had to ask. “Does the fact that you’re taking so long mean that you’re finding cancer everywhere, or that you’re finding it nowhere?”
The wand paused over my nipple. “Don’t assume it’s bad. We have to be thorough.”
A while later, she checked with the doctor again, then returned and announced, “You’re okay. Come back in six months.”
Oh no. After all that, somebody had some ‘splainin’ to do. I gently insisted upon speaking personally with the doctor, who parked herself in front of a computer in the room and clicked a tab on the screen that called up my new collection of jug shots.
“See here?” She pointed. “This whitish area in the middle of the gray?”
I squinted. “Sorry, but it all looks the same to me. Sort of like a newspaper taking a shower.”
“Well, the distribution of fatty versus non-fatty tissue in your breasts does not follow typical patterns, so we had to get images from many different angles.”
“But I don’t have breast cancer?”
“Almost certainly not.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “Just weird boobs.”
She gave a startled laugh. “I wouldn’t put it that way.”
Later, doing the post-mortem with Mr. 5 in the hospital cafeteria over a snack that included neither mussels nor a T-bone, I pondered what to do next. Return to work? Catch a quick pre-dinner nap? Finish the novel I’d refrained from eating? Knock back some cocktails? Nope. I was shaky and bone-tired, but more than anything else, I wanted to fire up my spent muscles and sinews and pit them against the barbell as a reminder that my body is strong, unbowed, and — most of all — alive. The only place I wanted to be right then was the gym.
Which is very often the case.
And that is why I keep picking up heavy things.