I Don't Have Cancer

I'm going to be thirty-five this summer.  I have nine grey hairs – three from surviving a year of colic with my son, three from my first semester of graduate school this winter, and three are more recent still.  I was showering last month, sometime during the insanity of running a business and finishing my term paper, and I felt a lump in my left breast.  Those last few grey hairs showed up the following morning.

Now, I know that my grey hair doesn't have all that much to do with stress.  I know how unlikely it is that those hairs actually grew overnight.  But finding them in the mirror after laying awake all night trying to figure out how to tell my husband....  Well, they just seemed so appropriate, you know?

Cancer is the monster under the bed, in my family.  It's the Alien, and the Sith, and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park.  It's the Fog seeping innocuous under doors and through keyholes, invading our bodies and draining our souls.  It's Dracula sifting over the windowframe to make Mina a monster like him.  It took both of my grandmothers, both of my great-grandparents, my grandfather, two aunties and one cousin.  All of my mother's five sisters have fought it, in their breasts, or their lungs, their thyroids, their ovaries, their cervixes, their bladders or their brains.  Four of them won.  And so that lump, for me, wasn't a surprise so much as a given.  At no time in my adult life did I ever think I would not have to fight that fight.

My doctor is a calm, no-nonsense woman who has known me since I was mumbling an embarrassed request for birth control, fourteen years ago.  She ordered the mammogram, sent the referral for genetic testing, and then held onto both of my hands.

"Not every lump is cancer, Desi.  Breast tissue changes are normal."

My grandmother had her first mastectomy at thirty-six.  She was diagnosed early in her pregnancy with my mother, refused treatment until after Mum was born, and then died of throat cancer fourteen years later.  I never met her – I was born three years too late – but she is legend to my mum.  I don't ever want my kids to have to see their mother fight to live, the way my mother did.  If this beast is coming for me, I want to face it early when it's weak, when I have wooden stakes and garlic chains and firethrowers at the ready.

It never occurred to me that I might not actually need them.

The lump in my breast is getting smaller, suggesting it really is just another way my body is showing its age.  And since I'm only about a third of the way into the life I've got planned, I may as well get used to it.  I'm good with my nine grey hairs.  I earned them.  These last three are less about struggle now, than hope.

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