@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
Nothing To Worry About
During the day, it was easy to distract myself. But then the nighttime came, and the bad thoughts that hid behind the furniture crept in. They were always there. But it wasn’t so easy to ignore them at night.
“It’s probably nothing to be concerned about,” I kept telling myself. Indeed, I’d find this to be true. It would turn out to be nothing to worry about. But even a very small lump in your breast is a very big worry.
The year kept finding ways to be shittier. As if 2020 hadn’t already come with a full order of strife, a pebble sized lump appeared in my left breast, just under my nipple. You could even see it. If I lay down and you stretch the skin enough. You can see it. It crossed my mind to try to cut open my boob myself, not that this would accomplish anything. I wouldn’t even know what to look for, cutting myself open like that. What’s your end game here, Lori? You have a lot of experience cutting open boobs like Jack the fucking Ripper?
At 31, I am a healthy specimen. I eat well and exercise regularly. What felt especially eerie to me was the fact that I grew up in West Islip, NY on Long Island. Long Island has usually high breast cancer rates… even more so, the town of West Islip.
Growing up, a close friend of mine lost her mom to it, a devastating loss, as she was a larger than life person and our greatest cheerleader on the soccer field. I can’t imagine my soccer playing years without her championing us from the sidelines. She seemed so strong. It seemed impossible anything could take her like that. Loving wife and mother of two, she had unbridled warmth and she was funny as all fucking hell too.
A lot of moms had breast cancer. It was almost normal, when it shouldn’t have been. It shouldn’t have been so normal for so many moms to have been sick. You didn’t grow up in West Islip not knowing what cancer looked like. You just didn’t.
Long Island has high breast cancer rates because of government facilities and a high density of golf courses. Both poisoning the environment. West Islip was also home to the Dzus Fastener factory. This is not conspiracy. The Dzus factory was dumping heaps of carcinogenic compounds into a creek where they are doing clean ups to this day. (More about this here in a 2017 Newsday article)
Here’s the kicker: I grew up half a block from this factory. Suddenly, that little lump felt huge— like I was walking down a street of my own screenplay. On paper, I should be clean. 31, healthy lifestyle female— good odds. But this seemed like a very bad omen.
I always thought if I had a time machine where I could only travel to points in my life I’d have plenty to choose from to stop myself. I’d pull my hair back from kissing certain men. Take a drink out of my hand, “you’ve had enough.” Whisper to myself to not do that gig. Pull the blankets off myself in the throes of a depression and say some soothing worlds…
But I didn’t like that I’d have to revisit myself in my adolescent years when I was just a happy kid. However, that happy kid loved drinking out of hoses. I was drinking hose water on the regular. In fact, I relished it! Delicious, delicious hose water. What did make hose water taste to good to me. Hmm… I don’t know, maybe it was all that cancer? Delicious, delicious cancer.
Here is where I hate myself. It’s such a small thing. But I’ve known about it all year. Which means it’s been there for a while. More than a year. I knew about it all year. Sure, I could lay blame on my insurance being wonky this year, or the pandemic, and these are valid obstacles but what fear possessed me to put it off? What fear of knowing made it worse than ignoring? That the ghost of someone once cheering a smaller me, speeding down the soccer field, I felt yelling at me to go get this checked out. It’s probably nothing. It will go away. I don’t want to deal with this right now.
Selfish me. Stupid me. Stupid, selfish me.
Those days and hours between doctors visits built this pressure that was all consuming that if this was bad news, that if I was already in a stage, I could have prevented it if I acted sooner. And that somehow, maybe I deserved a doomed fate for being this way. That maybe I deserved this.
The logical voice in my head has a megaphone. Which is good. Because there are a lot of voices. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” it said, “it’s checked out now and what will be will be and we’ll face whatever that door is once we know… but the odds are in our favor. 31. Young. Healthy. There may be a time to panic. Now is not that time.”
In the days that followed, I was mostly calm. Mostly, it felt like nothing. Just as the little lump felt under my nipple. Nothing. No pain whatsoever. And then these intense panic attacks.
I confided in a small handful of people. I didn’t want to freak anybody out. My family was left in the dark. I especially didn’t want to freak them out. I didn’t want any one worrying as much as I did. Plus, there would be really nothing they could do unless I knew something, which I didn’t.
That was the worst party, really. The thought of having to actually call my parents with bad news. That’s how panic attacks got triggered. The thought that I would have to make this phone call to them. It made my throat tighten and my face feel like it was on fire. My parents are a religious people, and their faith would carry them strong. However, it would age them over night. Because I know, I know, parents are not supposed to bury their kids.
If I could keep my mind from having to break bad news to my parents, I could keep my mind, period. Even if it is bad news, I am young. My body will fight. My body will fight. But the bad thoughts hid behind the furniture. And they come. Oh yes, they come. You go down the road to a mental hell.
I hated the very idea of being sick. Weak. Throwing up. Frankenstein boobs. Sure, loosing my hair and my figure would be awful, and yes it’s vain and egotistical, but I’ve yet to find/maintain a great love of my life and who would ever want me without my beauty. Not that beauty is everything. Certainly not to me. But I’d understand if or when no one would desire me anymore. It’s supposed to happen when you’re old. Not when you’re 31. One of the things about being lonely about that kind of love is the hope that you won’t be forever. That your person is still out there and you’ll meet them. Or maybe you already know them, you just don’t know they are your person yet. To be robbed of that… well, maybe I deserved that too. Maybe I deserved it.
But nothing was worse, absolutely nothing was worse, than losing my strength. To not be able to surf or do stand up. But the worst was because of my nephew, Anthony. He thinks I’m so strong, brave, and a beautiful wildflower. I’m a super hero in his eyes and it’s a crown I wear with pride. I’m a fucking warrior to him and for him, I most certainly am. I would fight for him. I’d do anything for him. My love for him and his sister frighten me on some level. I think she is too small to know, or even remember if something were to happen to me. But Anthony would be scared. He would be scared. And I know the way people look at you when you’re sick. And I know they don’t mean anything by it. And I know that look is from a place of concern, of love. But I hate it so. I hate that look of pity. I fucking hate it. And I couldn’t stand that look from him. Out of all the people in the world, I couldn’t stand for him to look at me like that.
Tuck the shadows back behind the furniture for now. It’s not real. It’s a possibility. A very bad possibility, but not even a probability at this point.
The waiting is torture. To pretend that it’s not hovering over all your thoughts. Like I said, most of the time I really did feel completely fine. Until I didn’t.
Tests confirmed the little lump is nothing but a fluid filled cyst. The shadows hiding behind the furniture are gone now, even when I look under the bed.
So now I can move on. The fear has left me too. I can just go back to all my regular neurosis. How happy I am to see them.
My name is Lori Palminteri. I am 31 years old. Today, I have nothing to worry about.