Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Pink Ribbons on the Wall
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine received a phone call from her doctor during a retirement reception we were both attending. She chose not to answer her phone. The woman calling left her a voicemail. My friend tried to be patient. The call was a follow up to her annual appointment and mammogram. The voicemail was too much to ignore and she quietly borrowed my keys, went up to my office, and returned the call. She was clearly stressed when she came back. “They think they found something,” she said, “and I have to do it again. Again!” I replied with, “okay, no big deal, some technician must have misread the images.” She looked worried. I insisted on going with. This is what we did today.
We left early this morning for her mammogram. Instead of the mammogram clinic, we were sent to a slick medical building, five floors up, carpet, brass, fancy furniture and women’s magazines. The gold lettering on the door read Cancer Center. Suddenly I wondered how this happens. How did we get from an ugly florescent lab with grey walls and green tile to oak doors with beveled glass and plush carpet? We went through the heavy doors and walked up to the receptionist. Her desk was not the typical medical high-countered version I am accustomed to. It was a small, feminine writer’s desk. On top was a list of women’s names – one of which belonged to my friend – a gilded pen holder, and a small bowl of tiny crystal angels. A small pink, hand lettered sign read, “Take one.” The woman at the desk crossed off my friend’s name and wrote 8:19 next to it. We were early. We were directed to a waiting room behind a frosted glass door. We waited for a few moments, then a smiling woman with short cropped hair called my friend’s name. My friend looked back at me, handed me her water bottle and turned to leave. The woman said you can bring your friend and my friend nodded.
We were led through the oak doors with gold lettering, past the elevators through another set of oak doors with gold lettering. These letters read, Breast Care Center. I was directed to a small waiting room to find all the chairs empty, and my friend was sent to a small anteroom with deep purple, numbered lockers, pink robes hanging on a rack and a half dozen changing room doors. She joined me in the waiting room. As we waited, a steady stream of women, all ages, entered the doors, disappeared into dressing rooms, and joined us in the wait.
My friend was called into another room through a heavy door without glass. There were no letters on the door. I worried for her and pulled out my crochet hook and yarn, working my hands repetitively, nervously, until she returned. We chatted for a while, others were called, others joined us, she was called again. Again my hands were busy. She returned, again, and left, again. And, again, and then it changed. She leaned into me and whispered, “They can’t get the image right. They want to do an ultra-sound.” “Today?” I asked. She was called and left. I was too nervous to work the yarn in my hands. The yarn could not easily slide through my damp fingers.
I looked around. This was wrong. There were too many women here. There can’t be this many suspected cases of breast cancer. Can there? I know of and know too many women with breast cancer experiences. A few friends of my mother, an actress I worked with, a mentor – twice, a friend’s sister, mother. This picture was wrong. There was a woman behind me and to my left, she looked 24. A woman directly in front of me was at least 70. The rest were like me. The most common target, I thought. There were pink robes all around. The air conditioning was cool. There were pink ribbons tacked to the wall by the coffee maker. How did we get here?
When she returned, she tossed papers in my lap and her voice was low, husky: “There’s a mass.” She disappeared into a dressing room and returned. We waited. She was called again. I grabbed her sleeve and said, “make it a Tuesday, a Thursday or a Friday.” She nodded. In my mind I told her I will drive, I will be strong for you, I will be your friend. Please be okay.