Cancer is a disease of the body, but it also afflicts the mind.
In the body, it grows at the expense of normal cells, healthy tissues and functioning organs. From the mind, it steals. Steals security, normality and a presumed sense of well being. I’m not alone among cancerians when any random ache, any inexplicable pain or any unanticipated discomfort provokes the questions: “Is that my cancer?” “Is it spreading?”
Prick a cancer patient and she or he can bleed bright, red fear.
I’ve had this painful-to-the-touch growth behind my left nipple. I first noticed it on July 24, after I had checked into the Beijing Hilton. With time, it got not better but more sensitive to the touch, and it grew noticeably. Since it had begun with a skin eruption, I waited to ask my dermatologist about it at my regular, annual skin-cancer exam. She wasted not a nanosecond in queuing me up for a closer look, Friday.
In the time leading up to my Friday appointment, I rode an emotional carousel of painted horses, up and down. White horses of hope up: It isn’t male breast cancer. And black horses of fear down: It is male breast cancer — and this is the horse I rode most of the time.
It was eerie for me to be in the Virginia Mason Medical Center breast clinic for my mammograms. Left and right, vertical and diagonal. A slip of the tongue telegraphed my dark state-of-mind to nurse Kim: “This is my first mastectomy.” No: first mam-mo-gram. So afterwards, Kim, a lovely and loving nurse, took me quietly to the ante-room to whisper the diagnosis to me in private: Not breast cancer. Instead, I have a side-effect of my hormone therapy: gynecomastia.
I’m growing a left boob.