It was 6 p.m. on a Friday. I had bolognese sauce boiling on the stove and the aroma of its red meatiness was in the air. The telephone burred.
When I answered, my GP didn’t waste words. Josie, your results are in: you have ductal, invasive breast cancer. I’ve gone ahead and booked you in to see a breast surgeon on Monday.
I sat down at the kitchen table, my world now the size of its rectangle of silky oak. A tremor ran from my hand to my feet. A few days before, I had shaken uncontrollably as a doctor dug into my right breast with a fine needle, its journey guided by an ultrasound machine. I remember her authoritative voice warning me, this will sting. She pushed and the needle slid deeply into my breast. The sonographer, a well kept woman in her early 50s, assisted. Something in that sonographer’s manner and voice made me trust her immediately.
It turned out I needed both types of biopsies that day. The needle that poked in and out of the tumour to capture its adolescent cells, as well as a core biopsy, where a thicker needle shunted in and out to take tissue–like getting your ear pierced.
A support person, someone from the front desk or a training doctor, I never found out which, had stroked my hair back. She had a brown bob and a plump figure. You wouldn’t notice her in a crowd unless you knew her and then you’d gladly rush over to share a confidence.
You’re doing well, Josie, she’d said. I wasn’t. Not really. I’d wanted to say, I’m scared, I can’t get a grip. My mind raced, looking for a way to escape what I knew then was coming.
Here you go, honey. She pressed a tissue into my hand.
I’d sobbed throughout the entire procedure, thinking of my mother, wave upon wave of memories lifting off my chest. Like me, she’d faced this painful procedure alone and later, like me, was alone when she heard the news. Did she think of her own death then, as I did now? The future and the present colliding, like the words of that faux Buddhist phrase on café walls: Live like this is your last day on earth.