I step into the elevator and push the down button to take me to the basement of the medical building. Just as the doors are closing, a man jumps into the elevator with me, only to realize that it is going down, not up.
“Were you going up?” I ask him.
“Yes, but it’s fine,” he replies, smiling, “I can go along for the ride.”
Awkward silence. Time for elevator small talk.
“So, what’s in the basement anyway?” he asks.
“Cancer Treatment and Mammography,” I reply.
More awkward silence. The elevator doors open and I exit, leaving the man to make his escape to the upper floors.
I check in at the reception desk and wait for my name to be called. I was just here a week ago. The nurse had called and asked me to come back for a second look at “something suspicious” on the left side -- not words you want to hear in reference to any part of your body.
In the changing room, the technician hands me a thin cape and tells me to undress from the waist up. As I take a seat in the waiting area, a cool breeze flows over my naked upper torso from all directions. I immediately wish I had ignored instructions and put on the pink robe that ties at the waist instead.
Two other women and I sit silently in the waiting room. One woman is looking at her phone while the other one thumbs through a magazine. I sit staring blankly ahead, reminding myself that 90% of all 2nd mammograms turn out to be nothing. The woman with the phone shares with us a recipe she just found online for something called “Grilled Cheese Salad”. The other woman and I make some comments in reply, but the last thing on our minds is food.
Another woman comes out of a small room, and we hear the nurse tell her that her results looked good, and she doesn’t need to come back until next year.
“Just the words we all want to hear,” comments the lady with the phone. The magazine lady and I both nod in agreement.
After a few minutes, the magazine lady’s name is called. She is directed to a small room and is told the doctor will be right in. I glance over at the phone lady, silently hoping she has come across another interesting recipe to share, but she isn’t talking anymore.
Another few minutes pass, and the magazine lady comes out of the room, wiping tears from her eyes. It must not have been good news for her, and I find myself wishing for words or a gesture to comfort her in some small way. But she ducks into the changing room and is gone within a few moments.
Finally my name is called and I go with the technician into the small mammography room. I am instructed to remove my flimsy cape and step up to the machine. As I embrace the giant apparatus, the tech manipulates my breast and flattens it between a layer of metal and plastic. It’s not painful, and not even as horrible and embarrassing as I had initially thought it would be. More than anything, I just feel vulnerable. Exposed. A few more views are taken as the tech tugs, pulls, and shifts me into position, and then it is on with the cape once again and back out to the waiting room.
The phone lady has disappeared, and I wait in the room alone. While I wait, I attempt to make a mental list of everything else I need to do that day, but it’s hard to concentrate. The “what ifs” are hard to ignore, and I can’t help but imagine what I will do, who I will call first, and if I will cry if the news is not good. Words like “biopsy”, “mastectomy”, and “cancer” are floating around in my head. I think of the women I have known who have faced this diagnosis with courage and fortitude. Would I be able to do the same if I were to walk in their shoes?
The wait is soon over, my name is called, and I go into the little room with the technician.
“Nothing to worry about,” she tells me. “Everything looks good. We’ll see you in a year.”
I leave the medical building feeling grateful for my life, for my health, and for an unspoken bond between women. Whether we are family, friends or just strangers in a waiting room, it unites and strengthens us in good times and bad. Yes, there are some mean girls out there. But mostly, as women, we’re all rooting for each other, and that’s a beautiful thing.