I had just returned from Europe, was severely jet lagged and running a fever. The scheduler at UCLA Radiology had been kind enough to find me a timeslot before I started a new job in four days. The consummate multi-tasker, I had also dropped off my aging car for work that morning, and navigated the north 405 in a large loaner vehicle. I parked it awkwardly on the top floor of the parking garage in Santa Monica, hoping no one would try to park next to me.
There was nowhere for me to sit. The waiting room contained six chairs, far fewer than your typical radiology suite. I stood in the corner and filled out the questionnaire, What age was your first period? Have any of your blood relatives had breast cancer? Do you have any symptoms? I was eleven. My mother’s cousin. I can feel a hard lump in my left breast.
I was called back, and led into a changing room with lockers where I tied a fuchsia smock around my waist. I went into waiting room #2 and again, there was nowhere to sit. The room was filled to bursting with women of all ages, eyes mostly downcast, some carrying distressed expressions on their faces. One talked loudly on her cell phone, revealing that she had done this before and didn’t have health insurance. She let us all know she was waiting for biopsy results. I found this perplexing. In the breast cancer imaging suite you can sit and wait for biopsy results? What land is this?
There was a “serenity” fountain on the wall, made of two rectangular slabs of rock with water cascading down into a small rock pool below. I thought they looked like tombstones in the rain. I began to feel a ball of anger taking shape inside of me, and I fantasized about smashing that fucking serenity fountain with a hammer. Serenity this! I wondered who the donor was that funded it, and if they had the opportunity to approve of the design.
Despite the waiting crowd, I was called into the mammography suite within ten minutes. The technician asked me where I felt the lump and placed what looked like a piece of scotch tape on the bottom of my left breast. I told her my primary care physician didn’t feel a lump, but that I had thyroid cancer in my 20s and had a pre-cancerous polyp removed from my colon four months prior. Essentially, I was there to perform my due diligence. She praised me for staying on top of my health, and I felt good about my efforts, a rare feeling.
After the mammogram, I was sent back to the waiting room where many of the same besmocked women waited. Because of my age, I was now waiting to have an ultrasound. I quickly gathered, based on comments to the nurse, that most of them were waiting for their turn to be biopsied. I looked around, taking everyone in, their fuchsia smocks topping yoga pants, a pencil skirt, jeans, sweatpants. Most carried expressions that said they expected to be led to slaughter. I also wondered whose money purchased the fuchsia smocks, Komen? They were heavily performative in their femininity, clownish, even. The gendering of the disease made me angrier. Bitches love pink, right? Nevermind men get breast cancer too. I once read that pink is used in hospitals and prisons because it makes patients and prisoners less aggressive. Perhaps that was the idea here all along.
Following the ultrasound, a pregnant radiologist came out to speak with me. Everything was clear, and I have a favorable type of breast tissue that makes it easier for breast cancer to be detected. I was relieved, and then confused, walking into the wrong changing room in my eagerness to shed the fuchsia smock. A calm, collected elderly woman told me the numbers on my locker key would lead me to the right changing room. I quickly donned my civilian accoutrements and sped out of the breast imaging suite, grateful to be continuing my existence in the same familiar, colorless town in Cancerland.