Waiting Rooms: A Breast Cancer Story

Laura Yeager talks about her journey with breast cancer, from the fearful thoughts to the free food at chemotherapy.
When I was in graduate school, a close friend gave me all of her old clothes that she was wearing when her boyfriend beat her up years before. She just couldn’t handle the memories. She wanted the garments out of her sight. They were nice clothes. I remember she gave me a red sweater dress with a big parakeet on it. I wore it for her, without angst.

Recently my basset hound was chewing the sun hat I wore to Florida when I was bald from the chemo. At first, I grabbed the hat from him; then, on second thought, I gave it back. Let him chew it up, I thought. Good riddance.

My breast cancer was a two-year experience composed of four procedures: diagnosis, chemo, mastectomy and radiation. I have vivid memories associated with these treatments. I focused on the healing procedures, not the actual sickness, and to be even more specific, I remember the waiting rooms, all four of them.

The place where I waited to receive all of my diagnostic procedures (mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, biopsy) was decorated for “ladies.” The style was Victorian — all peony-flowered slipcovers and checkered ribbons adorning bright pink and soft orange pillows. The interior decorator had taken the female aspect of these breast procedures to heart. Not only were there soft, comfortable chairs, there was a couch, where a patient could stretch out and shut her eyes. Of course, a television emitted a happy talk show, usually Rachel Ray.

First came my mammogram. It was routine in nature, a yearly check-up. The technician took the films, developed them, inspected each one and told me she’d made a little mistake and needed to take some again. Of course, she’d seen the lump, but she didn’t tell me this.

The next day, I got a phone call, and they told me they had spotted something and that I needed to come in for an ultrasound.

The tech slathered on the cool ultrasound gel and pressed the ultrasound wand hard into my breast. I peeked at the screen. There it was — the evil bump. This procedure provided the view that they needed to inform me that they would have to do an MRI.

The first time around, I thought I’d die in the MRI machine. When they pulled me out, I was in hysterics.

I’d have to have a second MRI done in a roomier tube. For this one, I took three Lorazepam tablets. The drugs put me in a sleepy, fantastic mood. They could have wedged me into anything, a sewer pipe, and I wouldn’t have cared.

After this procedure, they knew that a biopsy was necessary. All I remember about that is that it involved a needle and it hurt.

And then this: “Yes, Mrs. Yeager, you do have breast cancer.”

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