I’m Glad I’m Not a Woman

By Cliff Springs

No, this isn’t a controversial commentary about the battle of the sexes.  It’ s not macho bravado (in fact, quite the opposite as you’ll read momentarily).  It’s simply my appreciation for what women must endure on a periodic basis.

About a month ago, I discovered the beginnings of one of those under-the-skin pimples on the right side of my chest.  It’s amazing that at the age of 40, pimples are still a part of life.  Where’s the Oxy 10 when you need it?  As I was feeling the irritated area, I discovered a hard little bean-sized knot about an inch below.  At first, I speculated that the knot was possibly an inflamed lymph node due to the growing blemish nearby.  I called my doctor friend to get his take on my self-prognosis, and he indicated that a swollen lymph node was not out of the question.  That was good enough for me.  I figured I’d wait it out.

Several days later, the pimple was gone, but the lump remained.  It wasn’t sore to the touch and hadn’t changed in size that I was aware of.  It would be easy to dismiss this as nothing if it were not for one important factoid:  my family has some pretty wicked history with breast cancer.

My mother had a lumpectomy around the age of 60.  Her sister had a double mastectomy close to that same age.  And my cousin–the daughter of Mom’s other sister–had a double mastectomy around the age of 40.  These are just the immediate cases.  Apparently breast cancer existed in the family many years before their diagnoses.

I read online about male breast cancer.  Was it related?  Is female breast cancer history a risk factor for men ?  Much to my dismay, I discovered that it is.  Although male breast cancer is rare, I would be a prime candidate because of its presence in the family.  Perhaps we have a mutated gene or something.  It might be kind of cool to be a mutant.  But I digress…  Upon finding this information, I knew I didn’t want to be some dumb guy who ignores something obvious.  Men aren’t instructed to give breast self-exams, so I considered myself fortunate to have even discovered this potentially dangerous little nipple bean while it was still small. 

It’s amazing the thoughts that go through your mind when you realize that cancer is even a possibility.  I wasn’t about to panic or assume the worst–that’s not my style–but my mind did consider some of the “what ifs”.  First and foremost, my children.  I have a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old girl/boy twins and a stay-at-home wife.  And I’m self-employed.  That’s not a good combination for a health issue.  So I called my doctor to schedule an appointment.

It’s interesting how these things work.  When I have just a simple cold or cough, I can usually get in the same day.  When I want someone to tell me I don’t have breast cancer, they ask me to wait until tomorrow.  No problem.  I’ll wait. 

I go to see my doctor, tell him of my family history, and direct him to the offending lump.  At this point, I wanted him to say with a chuckle, “Oh that’s just a clogged flibbety bibbity gland.  Give it a couple days and it’ll go away.  Go home and have a nice day.”  But he didn’t.  He said without hesitation, “Let’s refer you to a general surgeon who can get that thing out and determine what it is.”  Hmm.  Should I take that as being smart and precautionary or should I take that as concern?  It was an odd feeling.  Again, not panic or fear, but odd.  My desire to know what it might be would be further delayed.  More time to wonder about the “what ifs”. 

First I had to wait for the doctor’s referral department to get me scheduled.  That actually took three or four days.  More time to wonder.  I wasn’t dwelling on the what ifs and no one would have ever known there was anything on my mind.  I hadn’t told anyone about this yet–not even my wife.  She is prone to stressing out and worrying.  She REALLY would let her mind run wild and imagine only the really bad “what ifs”.  I wasn’t going to put that on her until it was time to do so.  Getting scheduled to have surgery (even minor surgery) meant that it was time.  So I told her.

She asked questions, but I had to inform her that I had absolutely no answer of any kind.  Beyond this point, I’m not sure what went through her mind.  Over the next few days, she kind of kept her thoughts to herself aside from asking me when the surgery would be.  Finally, after 4 days, I called the doctor’s office and complained that I hadn’t yet been scheduled anwyere.  They called me back a little while later and gave me my appointment time–12 days later.  More waitin’.  By this point, I was kind of getting used to it.

Also, at this point, I had given this thing over to God.  He gave me a peace about it that kept this from simmering at the front of my mind all day long.  God didn’t lead me to any conclusions about the outcome, but rather just gave me a peace that I didn’t need to dwell on it until it was time to know something.  My appointment came last week, and I met with the surgeon.  He poked around and told me there was nothing there and that he thought I was fine.  I immediately directed him right to the pea pod–which he now felt and acknowledged.  He said that he didn’t think it was cause for concern, but he wanted me to have an ultrasound before deciding if it needed to be removed.

I went down the hall with the referral lady to schedule the ultrasound.  She dialed the phone and was put on hold.  We talked about the weather–really, we did.  Just a little polite chit chat.  The person on the other end of the line returned and she started to give them my necessary information.  It was around this time that I noticed that she was reading from a cute little pink form in front of her.  Pink.  With a pink ribbon on it.

I began to have a bad feeling about where this was headed.

Then I noticed the name on the form–which ended with the words “Women’s Imaging”.  I muttered inside my brain a very calm yet unsettled, “noooooooooooooooo.”  It couldn’t be.  He said “ultrasound”.  I’ve seen ultrasounds before.  No big deal.  My wife had ultrasounds when she was pregnant.  I was there.  No big deal.

Then came the dreaded words delivered with a sly smile.  “You’re going to get to experience what we experience.”

Don’t say it.  Don’t say it.  Don’t say it.

“You’re going to have a mammogram,” she exclaimed.

If I was the cursing type, I would’ve likely let an expletive fly at this point, but instead I smirked a false smile and sarcastically replied, “Thaaaaat’s greaaaaaat.” 

A mammogram.  I’m a dude.  I’ve heard the horror stories.  Boobs squashed flat.  I’ve heard women describe the pain.  I’ve heard the “you’re lucky you’re a man” comments.  I’ve even shot videos for hospitals that featured a faked ultrasound procedure.  I know what goes on.  Although I’m 40, I wasn’t ready to find out whether I even have any manly boobage to squash.  It then dawned on me that I reached a point in this process where there would be no good outcome.  Either I discover something serious like cancer or I realize that I had a mammogram for no reason. 

They scheduled the appointment for me.  Yep–more waitin’.  Only five days this time.

I discussed the impending procedure with a couple of friends at work.  One of them even pointed out that because I would likely be the only man there, that I would be the “creepy guy in the waiting room”.  I even wondered whether I would be asked to don a pink gown for the procedure.  Surely I could just take off my shirt. 

I got up this morning and went at 7:30.  I was told they would work me in since they didn’t have an opening for me.  I brought my newspaper and came prepared to wait.  They made me wear a wristband–so everyone there would know I was a patient.  I noticed a youngish lady in the waiting room staring at me, speculating as to the reason for my presence.  Thankfully, I really didn’t wait long at all.  The nurse came out and called my name.  “Mrs. Springs?”  Fortunately, she was right beside me, so I could sheepishly raise my hand without having to loudly correct her about my gender.  It was better to get up and go than to assert my male-ness.

So we walked… down the long hall… around the corner to the little dressing room.  Sure enough, there was a little pink gown.  The nurse quickly tossed the gown into the soiled linen bin to prevent me from freaking out.  A few minutes later, it was time.  Time to squash.  I stepped up to the glass and leaned my chest onto the machine.  As the clamp came down, the nurse grabbed, tugged, and stretched my man boobage into the grip of the mammogram machine.  It clamped down and the technician told me not to move–as if I could move if I wanted to (not without leaving a significant chunk of me in the clutches of the glass squash monster).  It was at this point that I looked down and noticed that there was far more of me in this vice than I wanted to acknowledge.  Perhaps at age 40, some man boobage has started to form.

She squashed me 5 times as I stood embraced with this machine in a way only lovers should.  She took the results to the doctor and asked me to wait.

Moments later the technician returned and said, “We’re going to do an ultrasound.”  At first, that didn’t sound good, but she quickly updated herself to declare that everything looked good on the mammogram.  We went to another room down the hall for Part 2.  I laid back on the ultrasound table and she squirted me with warm gel.  I remembered this part from my wife’s pregnancies.  She moved the control back and forth on my chest to get a good view of my booby bean.  It wasn’t a cyst and wasn’t dark like a tumor.  She took the results to the doctor and I awaited their return.

A few minutes later, the doc burst in the room the way a doctor with results should enter a room, “Everything’s fine!”  She wasted no time with the results and told me that’s the way she likes to do it–declaring the good news upon opening the door.  She didn’t make me wait.  I liked her immediately. 

It turned out to be some fatty tissue that will never be cause for concern.  It was on my way out the door that I think I pieced this all together.  Earlier this year–twice in fact–I had to be put on a cycle of steroids due to some overwhelming allergies that had caused my nasal passageways to completely close shut.  Even the questionnaire at the mammography center asked about steroids.  I’d be willing to bet that the steroids caused my booby bean.

I left the building to the refreshing burst of a cloudless, vibrantly blue sky and bright sunshine.  I can only imagine what the opposite feeling must be like–receiving an unsettling diagnosis or exiting the building on a rainy day.  I was fortunate and I was blessed to have the circumstances play out the way they did.  I was witness to God’s sovereignty and His mercy and immediately thanked Him for both. 

I was also able to get in touch with my feminine side in a way I hope I never do again.  I have a first-hand understanding of the ramifications of being female.  This was just the “upper half” of what women have to go through.  Like I said at the beginning:  I’m glad I’m not a woman.


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