In the spring of 1977, when I was almost 18, I was watching television after school. A Public Service Announcement about breast cancer came on. I wasn’t really paying attention, until they went from advising women to examine their breasts to showing a woman examining her breast. Right there in our dining room was a boob on the tube. I’d never seen anything like this before (And, frankly haven’t since).
The woman used her index and middle fingers, gently working in a circular pattern outward. I couldn’t help it – I slipped my hand up under my T-shirt and began aping her movements. I was in hysterics.
Until I felt the lump.
It was just on the perimeter of what I quickly came to learn was the areola, the dark tissue surrounding the nipple. It was about the size of a pea and hard. I felt around both my breasts to see how they felt. Other than the lump, I felt nothing odd. But, there was a lump.
I showed it to my mother. She felt it. My father came home and they had a ‘conference’. A doctor’s appointment was made. I was old enough to drive, even had my own car by then, but my father insisted on going with me. We drove there in our mustard-colored Volvo.
The doctor had me remove my shirt and duplicated my examination, carefully drawing the location of the ‘mass’ on a drawing of a breast in my medical chart. He measured it and added the dimensions in millimeters. And then he faced us.
“I want to have the surgeon look at him right away. This might be nothing. But we should have it biopsied as soon as possible to make sure.”
He gave us the name of the surgeon and contact information. I never got the biopsy, but two weeks later the lump was completely gone. Apparently these types of masses can occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is consuming lots of caffeine.
I am very thankful that it wasn’t a tumor, let alone cancer. But I am equally thankful for the experience, because it showed me how much my father cared for me. We had, at times, a problematic relationship. Perhaps it was because we were so much alike – in temperament as much as appearance. He sometimes had a temper and I was a smart ass. But he was one of the things that made me smart.
What I recognize now is the amount of concern he had for me that day. And love. For that I am grateful.
Now, each morning and evening I walk out into my backyard and look up at the peak where his ashes are buried.
And I thank my father for everything he did for me.