Breast cancer journey: A new lump
October 14th, 2010
09:09 AM ET

Breast cancer journey: A new lump

This week, Amanda Enayati shares the milestones of a life-altering journey that began the day she learned she had late-stage breast cancer more than three years ago.

A few weeks later, I went back to Stanford to get an ultrasound on the lump that my oncologist had found—now officially known as “eight inches from the left nipple at one o’clock.”

I arrived at 1:30 and waited about a half-hour until I was ushered into a tiny waiting area and told to go into a closet of a dressing room to change out of my shirt and bra, and into the hospital gown. I opened my mouth to protest the gown but decided to pick my battles. I stepped in and changed into a forlorn white cotton shirt-thing with a smattering of tiny pink and green flowers and a handful of bedraggled white strings hanging off of it. Does anyone truly know how to tie these things? And is it really necessary for them to be so hideous? I felt like the indignity of having to wait around like cattle only to go in to get your boob squished for the better part of an hour was bad enough without having to don a costume that makes you look like a refugee from Camp Fashion Faux-pas, Class of 1974.

I changed into the gown, scowled at my reflection in the mirror and walked back out. The waiting area, barely the size of a bathroom, was crammed with six or seven chairs with women sitting in all but one of them. I took the empty seat and pulled out my collection of 2008 O. Henry award-winning short stories. Except I couldn’t focus and so I began checking out the competition out of the corner of my eyes. Youngish—every last one—and this one woman, who was just straight up young, no “ish” about it. All of them there because someone somewhere felt something suspicious in their breasts. I thought to myself that this was all kinds of vile.

My natural-born instinct in any given circumstance is to start a conversation with one or more people. I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut. I know it’s genetic because my aunt from Holland—who seems in many ways like my older alter ego—is exactly the same way. But sometimes, like when people are stressed and tense, they may want to just be left alone with their thoughts. I like to think that I’m sensitive to this and so on the ride over I had expressly forbidden myself from saying a word to anyone in the waiting room.

A thought bubbled up. I opened my mouth to express it and then I thought: “Zip it!”

But it was so profound and maybe … “Zip it!”

And this one woman had a mighty interesting leather satchel … “Zip!” I commanded myself.

I bit down hard on my lower lip and tried to get back into the first short story by writer Ha Jin—something about an Asian composer and his Indian actress girlfriend and a parakeet. It seemed like I was reading the same paragraph over and over again. And then all of a sudden I was half a page down and I had no idea what just happened in the story. I gave up and shut the book.

I looked at my phone. I had been waiting an hour. It was now 2:30 and I would have to leave no later than 3:15 or 3:30 to go pick up my boy at his preschool.

The pace with which they were calling the women began to pick up. At one point, a dark-haired woman in a lab coat came out and separately asked two of the waiting women to step into the examination room so she could give them an “update on their scans.” As each woman got up to follow her into the room which was maybe 10 feet away, I felt my heart speeding up as I remembered the day I got that news by telephone.

I wondered what Lab Coat was telling each of these two women.

Were they going to go home back to their routines, to make dinner, watch TV and go to bed—this being just another medical test they took one day and then moved on with the rest of their lives?

Or would one of their lives be irrevocably changed as of this minute, this second, and never ever again be the way that it was. Would this moment be the instant of this woman’s rebirth as a person who was diagnosed with or faced or battled or survived or succumbed to cancer? Would this woman be mourned? Or would she be hailed as a hero, a survivor?

I couldn’t stand it anymore and so the next time Lab Coat came to get another person for her appointment, I complained that I had been waiting too long. She promised that I had not been forgotten. That I was next on the list. That she would go check to see what was happening.

Sure enough, a woman called out my name in less than five minutes. It was the radiology specialist who had seen me the last time—more than a year ago. Back then, she knewthat I had refused to take another mammogram and that insurance companies won’t pay for diagnostic ultrasounds. And so she stood there with that wand in hand and rooted around my breast for a long time, covering every last millimeter, to make sure there was nothing suspicious. Doing an illicit diagnostic ultrasound, a small act of rebellion—the insurance company be damned.

I loved this woman. And she clearly remembered me from a year ago.

We hugged like long-lost friends. We went into the darkened room. She asked me what I had been up to. I told her and then asked her the same question. She said she had started a course of study and was considering a new career in health and fitness. She was excited about it. I was happy for her. She was such a people person. You will be fantastic in whatever you do, I said, but why the career change?

She shrugged. “I’m tired of it. I’m tired of rooting around 10 to 12 hours a day looking for cancer. And finding it.”

I didn’t know what to say and so I just nodded. She went on:

“I can’t keep my emotions out of it and it’s breaking my heart. Every week I get emotionally invested in another person. So many of them so young. I had a 26-year old-on the table last week with her 11-month-old baby waiting for her at home. The mass was huge. It was obscene. And the lymph nodes, they looked messed up. I just couldn’t take it. I have to do something else. Something where I’m actually trying to lead people in a healthy direction. The opposite of this. You know?”

I nodded again. I felt myself going numb. It was too much, all this.

She ran the wand back and forth for a long time as we continued to chat. It was painful at times but I ignored the discomfort and focused on her and our conversation.

“Maybe there was something there when you saw your doctor. But not now. There’s nothing there. I can’t see a thing,” she said to me as she wiped down the wand with some sanitizer.

And I replied: “I didn’t think there would be.”

Amanda Enayati’s work has appeared in Salon, the Washington Post, Detroit News, and "Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora" (University of Arkansas Press). You can follow her on Twitter @AmandaEnayati or her daily blog, practicalmagicforbeginners.com.

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Filed under: Cancer

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. C.G.

    Can't really say I got much from reading this article. I've had my share of these exams and the last thing on my mind was the lack of s fashion statement regarding the dressing gown? Not sure what point was attempting to be made here. That women are showing lumps at an earlier age? That one radiologist was unhappy with her job? ???

    October 14, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • N.

      Have you been reading the entire series? It's not an article. It's part of a series. Read the third one. It was my favorite.

      October 14, 2010 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • Shonti

      She was not making a "fashion statement." It's just an interpretation of the distress one feels in that situation. The crappy looking gowns are symbolic of being sick. Been there, done that...

      October 14, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse |
    • m. e.

      You're obviously missing the larger point here. The gowns and reading material and small talk with her doc are examples of the little digressions we search for when we're dealing with far more serious problems.

      October 14, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse |
    • Celida

      wow, you fail subtlety 101...not every message is handed to you in a 25 word header on a silver platter.....read it again just to read it and try EMPATHIZING....moron...

      October 16, 2010 at 02:31 | Report abuse |
  2. Linda Varano

    I totally agree with CG I'm a survivor of Stage 3 breast cancer and when I go every 6 months to get checked out I could
    care less what they gave me to put on.

    October 14, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Celida

      I'm astounded you ladies in particular missed the whole point of this "story"

      October 16, 2010 at 02:33 | Report abuse |
  3. barbara

    Wow – we are upset about what we put on – guess I have a different set of values -who cares? I too have spent alot of time waiting in Dr offices this year – with being diagnosed with breast cancer. And here is my take on that – I bring a book and patiently wait ... and I am not a patient person. However, I want the Dr, or who ever I am meeting with to take the time to talk to me and answer my questions. I have spent considerable time in a question and answer mode this year with my health care professionals, so I know that I have used up much of thier time. I am willing to wait, so that others can have thier due time as well.

    October 14, 2010 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Anne

    And it's totally inaccurate that an ultrasound tech or a mammogram tech or any radiologist tech would give you feedback during the test. They are not allowed to, even if you ask or beg with your eyes for some sign that all is well. You still have to wait for the radiologist to review and report to your physician. The inevitable phone call. The anxiety of waiting is one of the worst parts of cancer treatment.

    October 14, 2010 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Been there

      Not true- I got feedback directly from the radiologist during my sonogram. It just depends on where you go and how they do business.

      October 14, 2010 at 17:38 | Report abuse |
  5. Jane

    I think the author's point was the human inclination to transfer our focus to anything (the gown the book, the other patients, the life of the ultrasonographer) other than the main point of anxiety, the cancer. I'd behave in exactly the same way. (And I DO think it is important to complain when the waiting time is excessive. It points to the low priority given to health care resources. That needs to change and noise needs to be made about it, even if that only noise is a point of care complaint).

    October 14, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. JEAN

    What disturbs me about this article is such a young woman getting cancer. I was in my 50's and was diagnosed with stage 3. After chemo, I had it in the other breast(Ttmors were small)Iand I had had another mastectomy. We are all potential victims of this disease,
    P. S. I have no family history.

    October 14, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Thurston Murray

    Jean, you are right about age. I was 36 when I was diagnosed with Stage 11 , Grade3, Invasive Male Breast Cancer. There are o nly about 2,000 of us males that will be diagnosed this year. As I mentioned in an earlier Post that II did not have the BRACA Gene problem–I was tested about 1 year ago, in 1983, we never heard of Gene Mutations! I have enjoyed this series, and I wish all short term and long term survivers the absoulte best and a good life. I have been cancer free for 28 years now, and am still counting my blessings.

    October 14, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. C.A

    I think its great that author can focus on other issues but the cancer when in the hospital. My mum was diagonised, received all the required treatment and after 4 years it still took her. I was with her during the last year and everytime we went to the hospital i had to help her think of anything but the cancer. I really commend the writer for her courage . With this one case in my family, I have still not been able to summon up the courage to do a mamogram.

    October 14, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Anne L

    I agree with Jane as I think some of you are being too literal in your response to the artcile. To each his own though... Also, you might be surprised by what a doctor will do for you (even if it is out of their protocol)... After my treatment, I found another lump and my surgeon new it was probably scar tissue but she also new I had a lot of anxiety about it so she performed the tests that I requested and gave me some piece of mind.

    October 14, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Cindy

    You who have not been there think you know how you would react, what you would focus on, but until you have been through what the author has been through and I have been through, you really don't know. And yes, I have had ultrasound techs tell me it looks good and it was good. I think they have to feel so helpless. I actually feel for the doctors and techs and nurses who deal with cancer patients. It can even harder to watch people go through it than to go through it yourself and yes, I have been there, too.

    October 14, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Cindy

    C.A. DO GET YOUR MAMMOGRAM...it may save you from your mother's fate. Please for all of us survivors and those who didn't make it...get the test.

    October 14, 2010 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. WRITER

    This is very well written. I could actually relate to the writer's voice! Sounded like my own though processes in such situations. I hope to see a book? 🙂

    October 14, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mark Butler

    Far better to prevent breast cancer than ever need the treatment. Research shows that large doses of Vitamin D helps prevent breast cancer and other types as well including colon cancer. Please check out:

    And it helps you live longer too!

    October 14, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. erica1112

    Seriously, let's not take this article literally. When I was called back to the hospital two days after my last mamm-gram, I noticed everything in that waiting room. The coffee, the irresponsible use of Styrofoam, the wet, soggy, umbrellas that were dripping on the floor. So I get why the tattered hospital gown was ridiculous. My favorite in the hospital was the undersea life painting on the ceiling of ultrasound room. What pretty fishies! If you have been "there", then you'll get it too. We would rather think about dog poop than the possibility of breast cancer. My heartfelt wishes to every single person out there who are battling this disease. Soldier on!

    October 14, 2010 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. JEAN

    We were all frustrated with mamograms, sonographers,nurses,techs etc. I am a nurse and am alarmed by what I see. Some are so young. I believe the author is venting her frustrations.
    Thurston, It is so important to realize that men can suffer from this dreaded disease. Many go ignored. We are in this fight togethe.The whole thread seems to be saying,'I have been through all thesese tests and had cancer". Why not just unite!. Perhaps our family members will never have to go through this ordeal.
    Personally, i went through biopsies every year, including mamograms and sonograms and stilll got cancer. I truly understand frustration. Three months after chemo stopped, I got it in the other brest. I know frustration well.

    October 14, 2010 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. BCW

    The search is for compassion, kindness, caring in what is a dehumanizing and frightening process. The entire approach needs to be assessed for all cancer warriors. For the most part, It is a pretty sterile and stark reality. Adding touches of humanity be it a decent dressing gown, access to a well-thought out refreshment area, availability of current resource materials, sensitivity training for the staff, etc. How can this hurt anyone? The goal here is healing. I am lucky enough to be at a well-run comprehensive cancer center where there is attention to what the patient experience is and should be, not always a seamless experience but they try. There is always a cheerful set of greeters at the entrance ready to assist you if you need any help. Each floor has peaceful elegant decor, comfortable chairs, a refreshment center with espresso, varietal teas snacks, juices, etc. with concierge, access to wifi, current newspapers, magazines, spotless restrooms and a terrific, well-trained supportive staff. Yes, the wait can be long, but it comes with the territory. This is no country club, but you feel the patient comes first.

    October 14, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. bluebird71

    My thing while waiting to meet my oncologist was noticing this giant tree of life mounted on the wall. Each bronze leaf was enscribed with the name of a donor to the cancer center and in many cases "in memory of...". A sweet gesture, but it felt like i was staring at a cemetary, right there in the waiting room. It was horrible. I was fortunate to find another cancer center that didn't display the names of all the patients they had lost on the wall for patients to look at and wonder if they're name would be among them.

    October 14, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. P Hickman

    Just waite till our helthcare changes. You will be in a longer line, waiting longer for treatment, and the gown will be less desirable. We are headed for government controled healthe care and your complaint will be on deaf ears.

    October 14, 2010 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. b.m.b

    This series of essays is very inspiring. Some of you are missing the point all together. I think her values should not be called into question, I have never had cancer, but can relate to her story. I read her daily blog and there is more to her than just this part of her life. This woman is a worrior, and I applaud her. I enjoy reading her work. I can't wait to see more of her work. Go Amanda!!!

    October 15, 2010 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. kay

    Wait a minute – isn't she going to explain why she didn't think they'd find anything during the examination she posted about yesterday? Her oncologist told her she felt a lump, was she wrong or lying or something?

    October 15, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Julie in Austin

    Thanks for giving me a laugh - I lost my mother to cancer 9 years ago and the best consolation I get about losing her is reading the stories of survivors. They often remind me of my mother's sense of humour and indefatigable spirit. Your writing is a breath of fresh air. Please keep it up - I look forward to reading many more articles from you!

    October 15, 2010 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. catcrab

    Приветствую Предлагаю обмен ссылками (постовыми) вашего блога pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com с моим.
    Заранее благодарен за ответ.
    С уважением, Александр.

    October 15, 2010 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. amber

    What an idiot. "An indignity of a hospital gown"?......... Well, then, sit at home, in your fancy clothes and with your fucking tumor and do not bother us with it!!!!!!

    October 16, 2010 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. amber

    She is the one who posted her "thief catching jorney". There she wrote that she is "more twisted" than a thief because she left Iran (big deal), had cancer ( like 99% of people) and was without family for 5 years ( try 20 years). What a self absorbed ignorant woman. She is "twisted"????? What if Jonnie Boi learns about your giving him up and will come back packing after his jail term is up?

    October 16, 2010 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Debbie

    I also had a suspicious mass which was benign, deja vu, I have another, having a test Thursday, I know exactly how she feels and how stressful it is, with the last one I remember while waiting for results, it was as if I heard birds singing for the first time in my life, I got angry and screamed silently to myself, I don't want to never be able to hear the birds again!! Seems silly now, but that's just what your mind does, it can't take in the gravity of the situation, so it gets angry over something else.Just hope you critics never realize what I mean.

    October 18, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Debbie

    oh and pHickman because of the way healthcare is now, ER's are tied up with the uninsured and overwhelmed, pray you don't need to visit one and be seen quickly.

    October 18, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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