Well, the second time.
Photo by Gustavo Fling
The first time I was checked for cancer it was a horror show. They needed a vaginal biopsy to screen for cervical cancer. Fuck. That. Shit.
The second time wasn't as traumatic. I'd been having some health irregularities. My period was as erratic as my bipolar ex-roommate and, unlike her, I thought it best if I see a doctor about it. A chemical imbalance led to my biopsy back in 2012, and an ill-advised WedMd search prompted me to believe I may have the cancers.
Because of the soul and wallet sucking year of 2020, I did not have health insurance so I went to Planned Parenthood for my "wellness exam." (Still, I made just enough money for it to not be free--cheaper than Kaiser or any nearby hospital.)
I'm sitting there in the exam room, wearing nothing but my socks, the papery exam robe, and a mask. (The pandemic porn look.) The doctor comes in and we exchanged pleasantries. I don't know about y'all, but the longer the small talk goes, the more awkward it is. "I know what you're here to do; you know what you're here to do, so let's get it over with." Finally, I climb into the stirrups and, let me say, if you want to teach consent, have a gynie run that class. The doctor's like, "My hands are, now they're here, and they're here--I'm going to put one inside you"--even though I'm lying on my back with a prime view of the porous, industrial ceiling, I knew at every moment where this woman's hands were.
She does the exam, swabs me--then we move to the breast exam. She's thirty seconds in and asks, "Does that hurt?"
What an odd question--why would it hurt? It would only hurt if something's wrong and she would only think something is wrong if--
I don't freak out. Maybe it's nothing. But I know where this is going.
I tell her, "No."
She continues, "How about here?"
I know she's found something and so I tell her as much. Now she's the one freaking out because she thinks that I'm about to lose my shit. "We'll it could be nothing"--yadda-yadda. She started backtracking so fast I thought we were about to do the exam all over again.
We get to the end and she suggests that I get tested. The ultrasound, which they could do there, is one recommended test. The other, a mammogram, costs a whole lot of fucking money, and that's the one she thought I needed most.
Because I didn't have insurance, she told me I could qualify for the Every Woman First program--which would allow me to get the ultrasound and mammogram done for free.
I drive home in a haze as the weight of it all sinks in. 2020 had already been shit-tastic--this was the fucking icing.
First thing I do when I get home is call, make sure I qualify, and make the appointment. Because it is 2020, I get a fucking automated machine that I only assume was created by a man. Tell a woman she might have cancer (to which she has no health insurance to deal with) and then make her wait on the line with a goddamn robot for a fucking half-hour--not to make an appointment, but to find out where she can make an appointment.
I pen down the list of clinics near me. The first two I have no luck with. The third can schedule me three weeks from now. Yes, that's right, three-fucking-weeks. I make the damn appointment and then I wait.
It's hard to deal with the idea of having cancer when you don't know if you have fucking cancer. There were quite a few showers where I looked at my breasts and said, "You fucking bastards." And sex--every time my partner touched them all I thought of was cancer. I was obsessed because I just wanted to know already.
Three weeks pass and I go for my appointment--in the ghetto. I shit you not, this was as low income as it gets. I'd say this place has seen better days but I don't know--I think it was always kind of fucked. Growing up, I was a bit of a germaphobe--not as bad as I once was but I'm still a tad (a lot) neurotic. I sanitise my hands after I touch anything--like the clipboard they got from Kaiser. The nurse who checked me might as well be in a hazmat suit: face shield, mask, plastic robe, gloves, shoe coverings, hair net. The receptionist is behind one inch plexiglass that was haphazardly put up. I understand that the state of this place is a result of the bias healthcare system. You poor, you get to go to the poor clinic.
After forty minutes, I finally get to head into the exam room that is about the size of a prison cell. I strip down--paper robe and all that jazz--and wait for the only doctor on staff to come in, followed by the nurse. He does the exam: "So you're here to get the lump in your left breast checked, and the two in your right?"
Excuse me? The "two in my right"? I have THREE lumps?
The doc gives me a referral to St. Joseph's for my ultrasound and mammogram. I was referred to someone who had the authority to refer me to get the actual tests done. I go home, still knowing nothing except how convoluted the health care system is, and make my appointment...two weeks from now.
The day comes. Finally. St. Joseph's has the money. Their cancer testing centre looks like a day spa. I was given a locker to store my thinks while I waited to be tested. They offered coffee and filtered water. I didn't wear a paper robe but a cotton blend one.
You could also have the nurse who has to perform the mammogram to teach consent. While my face was smooshed up against the plastic screen as my breast was pancaked between the paddle and the film-screen, I always knew where her hands were.
A mammogram isn't as uncomfortable as a biopsy, but it ain't pleasant. You have to press your body up against a clear pane of plexiglass while your breasts are stretched onto a paddle and then smooshed down onto the a screen for filming. Contortionists don't have this kind of flexibility. (By the way, mammogram machine designed by a man.)
I haven't had this many people see my breasts since high school, but it was worth it. In the end, it turned out that I didn't have cancer and I came out with some peace of mind.
- - -
If you don't have health insurance, you may qualify for a free yearly "wellness exam" at Planned Parenthood (or least for a reduced cost.) And, as convoluted a process it was, I did not have to pay for my second exam or the cancer testing.
Stay healthy, everyone.