It started with a pretty severe pain in her right breast. It had been a mild pain before December 19, but it decided to kick up a notch that day. So she didn't work out with me, because the jumping around in a Jillian Michaels workout was going to be too much to handle.
And the pain continued. Which meant no working out with me for a week. At this point there was not really a discernible "lump" exactly. Just the pain and a growing sense of dread.
A few days after the pain began, her parents came over to celebrate Christmas. Her father offered this reassuring thought: "Well, if it's cancer, it's cancer." Meaning she wasn't going to be able to do anything to make it worse, so she might as well carry on with life and work on figuring out what exactly was going on.
At some point in the new year, we discovered what felt an awful lot like those scary lumps they tell you about. But what's also noticeable about breasts in general, and my wife's in particular, is that everything in them can feel like a lump if you're looking for it. Breast tissue, when you dig down around in it, is not always soft and supple. And the lumps aren't always so discernible from the rest of the shit surrounding them. So there was a lot of, "You feel that?"
"Yeah, but I feel like I can sort of feel the same thing in the other one."
"Wait, where did it go? Nevermind. I lost it again."
For many people in this country, this wouldn't be such a big deal because you'd look at each other and say, "Hey, let's go to the doctor." But we don't have health insurance. And we only have dental insurance right now because it will somewhat reduce the $3,000 the dentist quoted me for the 12 cavities I need filled in the coming months.
We discussed the possibility of purchasing health insurance for her, then waiting until February 1 until it could kick in. But we can barely afford the lowest plan, at $134 per month, which has a $10,000 deductible. It's a "catastrophic" plan, built for, I guess, exactly this sort of problem. But was it worth getting if there were days when we couldn't even tell the lump was there? Or would it be better to just shell out the dough to get it checked out, because surely it wouldn't be anything?
Ultimately, we decided to opt for the latter. And being the good little liberals that we are, we called up Planned Parenthood yesterday. It was nine a.m. They had a 10:10 appointment. We took it.
Merritt and I dropped Katie off at the appointment, then headed for playgroup at the gym. We had literally been separated from her for 30 seconds when Merritt said, "I miss Momma." And of course my morbid mind just kept hoping that I wouldn't have to be hearing him say that at some point when we wouldn't be seeing her again in just a few hours. A point when we wouldn't see her again, period.
The appointment took several hours. A couple of women groped my wife's breasts. Let the world be put on notice here: this is the only situation in which this sort of behavior is acceptable. The "student clinician" and the nurse practitioner both seemed to think Katie just had some "irregular fibrous tissue," but referred her for a mammogram and possible ultrasound.
That appointment was today. Once again, I stayed with Merritt while Katie went to deal with this alone. When he got up from his nap and I told him Momma was at the doctor, Merritt said, "I don't want her to go to the doctor anymore." And I hoped we weren't foreshadowing months of him saying just that as she headed off to chemo and/or radiation, lost her hair, blah, blah, blah. The imagination is a terrible thing sometimes.
I'll cut to the chase. After a mammogram of both breasts and then an ultrasound of the right one, several medical professionals agreed that my wife does not have cancer. She just has some weird breast pain that no one can really explain, but it doesn't seem like it's going to kill her. She came home, and we hugged. She complained that some more ladies messed with her breasts today, but reassured me that once that the pain got a little better, I could mess with them, too. You know, in the fun kind of way.
The other night, when our fears over this situation were at their worst, I was pretty upset. And I thought about what it would be like if this actually turned out to be something terrible. Katie was rubbing my head, as she is wont to do, and I thought about how I should be trying my very best to memorize what that felt like. And then I thought about how I shouldn't have to do that, because we're 32 and that's not how this is supposed to work. I wondered if I should take a picture of every inch of her body, so that I wouldn't end up like Sally Field in "Places in the Heart," when her husband is dead and laid out on the dining room table and she looks at some part of him and notes that she's never seen that scar before. I want to remember every bit of it, but I'd much rather just be able to see it every day, live and in front of me.
There is something larger here, which is that the financial consideration should never have been an issue at all. It should not a "luxury" for a person in this country to be able to determine if he/she has cancer or HIV or hemorrhoids. Going to the doctor should not be a privilege extended only to a chosen few who have "earned" it. We are lucky enough to have room on our credit card to finance this sort of thing, even though we will likely be paying off the roughly $1,000 this adventure has cost us for months. Many months, probably. But there are many more out there who don't even have credit cards, or any other method of paying for any sort of ailment. I don't understand how certain people in this country can look at those other people, including me and my wife, and say, "Sorry. You got yourself into this mess." As if cancer or HIV or hemorrhoids or the fucking flu are simply byproducts of our laziness and/or unwillingness to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. It's wrong. If you think otherwise, YOU are wrong. Obamacare is not going to fix everything. It's a start, but the real change needs to happen in people's mindsets. And I have no idea where to begin with that.
Here's what I know: I'm really glad I'm not contemplating changing the name of this blog to "Funerals for Katie."