As my forty-second birthday is rapidly approaching, I am beginning to ponder the concept of my imminant mortality; not in a morbid, Fellini-esque manner, but more as a means to gradually acclimate myself for that moment when I shuffle off this mortal coil. I know most people say that "life begins at 40", but unless your the fucking Highlander then I am inclined to differ. To be honest, talking about death makes me about as uncomfortable as Shaquille O'Neal flying coach but it isn't like ignoring it will make it go away.
A large portion of the crystal-wearing, Prius-driving, Wiccan community would like us all to believe that death is not to be feared or stigmatized, but rather embraced as just another part of life. These hippy-dippy bastards don't understand why we portray death as terrifying and cruel. Well, that's a tough one, Stardust McDolphin, but I'd say it's because it fucking KILLS you! But hey, if you want to view your demise with acceptance and peace then who I am I to begrudge you? Just don't expect me to hold your hand on that E-ticket ride. Your death may be a glorious journey into the sacredness of eternity. My death, on the other hand? A freaking clusterfuck of angst and terror.
Now that I'm in my 40's people my age don't die from basic dipshit moves like bodysurfing on top of a Winnebago at Burning Man or mixing Vicodin with Jagermeister. No, we tend to die from the things that require extensive reconstructive surgeries and the kind of pharmaceutical-grade drugs that would make Anna Nicole Smith flinch. In my family, if you're a woman, you get cancer. It's just the delightful little genetic legacy that my Danish ancestors have passed down, along with a scathingly dry sense of humor and a propensity for inane dickery. Every time I feel a twinge, pinch or pang I'm certain it's the big C making it's cameo appearance. Legs a little extra achy after that run? Thigh cancer. Belly a little 'floopy' after that questionable tamale from the food trucks? Stomach cancer. Weird dark spot on my chest? Skin cancer.*
*That one actually turned out to be from an M&M that fell down my shirt. . .shut up.
Cancer awareness is certainly in the forefront of political activism, but quite frankly most of the Breast Cancer PSA's are a lot like Dr. Phil: pointless, overdramatic, and most of the country has learned to ignore them. But not me. I perform regular self-exams, partly because of my strong family history and partly because I'm the only one tapping that these days. I perform them regularly. I never find anything. Until I did.
It was small, about the size of a Skittle...*
*And, no. Before you ask, I did NOT drop a Skittle down my shirt.
...but big enough to strike an overwhelming feeling of HOLYSHIT into the very marrow of my neurotic bones. Never one to suffer in silence, I immediately called my friend, Kelly.
KELLY: Where was it?
ME: On the right side, down deep. I was just lying there, thinking about Jeremy Renner's abs, and BAM!
KELLY: Wait. . .what? Don't get me wrong, Jeremy Renner can get all up in my "Hurt Locker" any day, but does Nathan Fillion know you're cheating on him?
ME: I tell you I'm dying and THIS is the takeaway you get?
KELLY: Let's not organize the candlelight vigil quite yet. Have you gone to the doctor?
ME: This morning. I have to go in for an ultrasound this week.
KELLY: Good girl. You're sure it wasn't another rogue M&M, right?
ME: I hate your face.
The day of the ultrasound arrived and I spent an anxious morning being even less productive than usual; no small feat for a lazy bastard such as myself. Just as I found myself mindlessly photoshopping pictures of myself without hair...*
*For the record, I can't rock that look.
...my phone began to chirp.
And this? Right here? Is why Misty is the wind beneath my goddamned wings. Unfortunately, as she lives on the other side of the continent, my sister Holly agreed to
blow off work and go to IKEA accompany me for moral support. Sitting there waiting for the tech to arrive, Holly eyed the mammography machine with thinly-veiled contempt.
HOLLY: Did they already squeeze your tits in there?
ME: Just the one.
HOLLY: Did it hurt?
ME: No! It doesn't hurt. It's like wedging your feet into cute shoes that don't fit. A little pressure, a little discomfort, but worth it to look hot in the end.
HOLLY: Jesus, it hurts the hell out of me. Probably because I don't have boobs.
It was at this point that my sister proceeded to yank down her tank top and give me a private "Girls Gone Wild" show.
ME: Whoa, 'Miss Jackson If You're Nasty'! Let's keep the wardrobe malfunctions to a minimum, 'kay?
Holly shrugged and went back to tapping on her Smart Phone while I laid back on the table listening to the background music playing from the wall speakers.
ME: Did they just play Michael Jackson's "Beat It"? Are you shitting me? (singing) "Breast cancer don't you ever come around here. . .I can beat it, beat it, beat it. Just beat it, beat it, beat it..."
HOLLY: I swear to God I heard them playing Coldplay's "Fix You" earlier.
ME: What, does Pandora have a whole cancer station or something?
As Holly continued to check her email the opening notes of the next song drifted through the speakers. As recognition dawned, we both slowly turned our heads and gazed at each other in astonishment.
HOLLY: Wait. . .is that. . .?
ME: Yes, yes it is. They're playing "I Will Survive". In the breast cancer clinic.
HOLLY (grabbing her phone again): Aaaaaaannnnd, that just became my new Facebook status.
A few moments later the technician returned. Her name was Dana and she had already garnered mad street cred with me by making highly inappropriate cancer jokes, talking smack about her supervisor, and allowing me to hang some motivational photos on the mammography equipment.
DANA: They'll take one last look, but everything looks good.
ME: Wait, good like "We can keep you alive for eight to ten more weeks" or good like "Holy shit, you don't have cancer"?
DANA: The 'holy shit' one. It all looks harmless and clear.
HOLLY (throwing her hands up dramatically): Thank you, Dana! Seriously? Now will you PLEASE tell her to stop freaking out? And tell her she doesn't have liver cancer too!
ME: I totally feel twingy right here (pointing at where WedbMD claims my liver is located), and sometimes it just feels all cancer-y.
DANA: Do you have severe back pain? Jaundice? Extreme edema?
DANA: Then you don't have liver cancer.
HOLLY: Ha! Told you. (to Dana) She is such a drama queen.
ME: Excuse me, 'Beaches', weren't you the one who called me at midnight because you had a headache and thought you were having a stroke?
Holly muttered something indistinguishable and proceeded to call my parents to inform them that I would in fact be attending Christmas dinner this year.
So, crisis averted, right? Well, maybe. With our family history the clinic strongly recommended that both Holly and I get tested to see if we carry the genetic marker for breast cancer. Most likely, we do. If we do test positive, the bad news is that we have over an 80% chance of getting the disease. The good news? It means that insurance will pay for a prophylactic mastectomy: a surgery where the breast tissue is removed entirely and replaced with implants. Yup, you heard me. Free boob job. God bless America.
Take care of yourselves.