Lump stirs day of panic, life of insight


POSTED: Thursday, April 23, 2009

It happened last year around this time, when the airstreams move in so gusty it's difficult to imagine a wind any windier. My fingers found a lump. I bolted upright ... but my life turned upside down.

My fear has a systematic order to it: First, panic heats up and scalds my insides. I say CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? over and over and aloud.

Next, I sit on the kitchen floor and have myself a good cry.

Then I clean. In a hurry, everything nice and neat. Neurotically neat, as if I can control anything. Ultimately, reality stumbles in and gives way to the facts. At which point, the word cancer enters my life in a whole new way.

I don't recall a thing I saw on the drive to my doctor's. Nor anything I heard. I do recall sitting in the parking lot, paralyzed with fear, knowing I could summon the courage to deal with things. There was just no part of me that wanted to.

Finally, one step at a time, I swung open the door to the waiting room. A pair of flies probed the windowpane, their buzzzz bleak as the freeway I drove to get there. My reaction? Pick up a magazine and swat. I had to or they'd have sunk me too deep into the netherworld of medical confinement.

The waiting wore on. I wiped my nose with the back of my sleeve, gnawed my nails. I thought of my friend Jane, who literally wouldn't hurt a fly and I wondered if I'm too heartless. Too what-the-heck-there's-no-such-thing-as-karma. I decided it didn't matter. I wouldn't be more saintlike anytime soon.

And that's when the cover of the magazine-as-flyswatter came into focus. Cosmo. Utterly perfect breasts! Why was such a magazine anywhere near this room? Somehow it just didn't seem possible.

After that, the most amazing thing about the day, the very thing that was so grounding about the day, were two words anyone who's been through this would agree sound better than, well, anything: Benign cyst.

THERE IS NO relief as the one I instantly felt.

Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with the disease. When I first read this I went still inside. Then I did the math. For one in every intimate group of us a pin-prick sized cell will sneak up from behind like a hit man.

And for those of us caught off guard and then, by some miracle, spared, the question becomes: Am I fated to have lone-breast nightmares for the rest of my life?

My cyst didn't need to be removed like a mole to stave off fate. The only thing cut from me was the ability to take even the smallest thing for granted. This is a feeling I want to last.

The day I found my lump was one of my darkest. Now, in terms of gratitude, one of the brightest. My guess is that some terrors befall us so that we come to things that really matter. The thanks I feel still grows. Stronger through writing this.


Mary Lou Sanelli works as a writer, performer and public speaker. Her recent collection of essays, “;Falling Awake,”; and her latest collection of poetry, “;Small Talk,”; are in bookstores. “;Among Friends: A Memoir,”; is due this year. “;The Goddess Speaks”; is a feature by and about women. Essays of about 500 words may be sent to “;The Goddess Speaks,”; 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)