When I checked into The Drake Hotel for a staycation, I didn’t expect to check out with a life-changing diagnosis.
As in many boutique hotels, The Drake Hotel’s bathroom walls are almost entirely glass, affording little privacy. The showers stalls are oversized, with large, dark tiles, except for one wall which is mirrored from waist height up.
I was facing the mirror in the shower, pinning up my hair, when I noticed a dimple on the outside of my left breast, around 4:00.
And then I felt it. About the size of a cherry, against my chest wall. And firm.
How long had it been since I’d checked? I couldn’t remember. My family doctor examined my breast at my annual physical about six months earlier, and she always did a thorough job. It wasn’t palpable then. Don’t panic, I told myself. Nine out of 10 lumps are benign. And yet.
It was Friday, March 1, the last night of my staycation. Although some discussion about my discovery was necessary, I wasn’t prepared to let a lump spoil a precious evening at The Drake. “It could be nothing,” he said, trying to make me feel better, but clearly worried himself.
Saturday morning, I was subbing for the cantor during Shabbat services. While leading the congregation in song, I tried to focus on the pronunciation of the Hebrew, a language I do not speak, over the continuous whisper of “lump lump lump” in my head.
The following week I was booked for Jury Duty. As soon as I had a chance on Monday morning, I called my community health centre (CHC) and told the woman who answered, “I found a lump. I need to see someone. Anyone.”
“You found a lump?” she asked.
She didn’t have to ask me where it was.
My family doctor was on vacation for two weeks. “How about tomorrow evening at 6:30? You can see a nurse practitioner.” I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief.
Tuesday: Nghi had recently started working at Queen West CHC. Even though we were meeting for the first time, her warmth and professionalism were comforting. First she asked me to lean forward, then she had me lie down and she felt the lump. “I’m going to give you a referral for a mammogram and an ultrasound.” She didn’t frighten me, or downplay the situation either. She acknowledged my anxiety.
Wednesday: I was at the diagnostic imaging centre on Edward Street, a block from the courthouse, at 7:30 the next morning. They managed to squeeze me in for a mammogram. My first. I was 47. I had no risk factors. I’m active and fit and eat consciously, for pleasure and for health. I practically live on my bicycle. It wouldn’t have occurred to me, or my GP, to have an early mammogram.
When I went back to the courthouse, I returned to the jury pool room, a purgatory without wifi. As if the lump wasn’t enough of a downer, I spent that stressful week in a room the size of a gymnasium that desperately needed a paint job and new carpets. There are many rows of chairs, all uncomfortable, some tables and also a dozen or so workstations. As we sat around and waited to be called for jury selection, I worked on a presentation at one of the tables, but didn’t engage in conversation.
We were allowed to step into the hall outside the pool room to make calls. There were still booths where pay phones used to be installed, and I stepped into one of these for some auditory privacy to call my older brother, Carl, an infectious disease specialist and my soul sib.
“How ya doin’, hon?” is how he opens the conversation, because he knew I wouldn’t be calling him during working hours if it wasn’t important.
“I found a lump.”
“Oh, babe…” and that was the first time I cried since I felt the lump in the shower.
My brother asked some questions, and as I answered, the tears were streaming from my eyes. The court staff are watching me through the open doors, and I just didn’t know where I could hide myself. I slid down against the wall of the ex-phone booth and covered my face with my free hand. “I can come up tomorrow,” he said.
“Up” meaning up to Canada. My family is scattered across the U.S. and abroad.
“No, it’s ok. I’m leaving soon anyway.” And then I added, “Please don’t tell anyone. Not yet.”