The Ultrasound

Note: “The Ultrasound” is an excerpt from my memoir (in progress). Please do not copy, share, or distribute without written permission. 

My parents insisted on driving the three hours from Santa Cruz to Davis to come with me to the ultrasound appointment. I had tried to reassure them that I was perfectly fine to go by myself, and, when that didn’t work, that one of my housemates would go with me, but they would not budge.

This was a new variation of the same fight that I have been having with my mom for as long as I can remember. All she has ever wanted to do is to care for us, her kids, and to be needed by us – to which my instinctual reaction has always been to try to prove how little I need her. “Don’t make my school lunches, I can make them myself,” I would say as a kid. “You don’t need to do my laundry, I can do it myself,” I insisted in high school. The message is always the same – I don’t need you to take care of me, I can take care of myself.   This time was no different – “don’t drive up here, I can go by myself,” I insisted, but, as usual, she would have none of it.

A few days later, I was in the back seat of their car, eating the breakfast they had brought me, the three of us on our way to the radiology clinic. After we checked in, I sat down in the waiting room, put my iPod ear buds in, and pulled out my canine anatomy notes from my backpack to study. A cyst. It’s going to be a cyst, and I’m going to feel like an idiot for having my parents drive three hours, spend the night in a hotel, and worry themselves sick, all for a cyst. Why did I have to make such a big deal about this? I wiped cranberry walnut muffin crumbs from my sweatshirt and stared back down at my notes. Cleidobrachialis. Latissimus dorsi. Biceps femoris. I had no idea what body parts these tongue-twisting words referred to. I can’t believe I’m missing class. I’m going to fail for a cyst.

“Rebecca Hall?” a woman called. I took out my ear buds and gathered my things. My mom looked at me expectantly.

“No it’s ok, I don’t need you to come. I’ll go by myself,” I told her as I stood up, swung my textbook-filled backpack onto my shoulder, and followed the nurse down the hallway into the exam room.

The room was dark and quiet. I took off my shirt and lay down on a table while the tech sat next to me, gently rolling the transducer around my breast and focusing on the golf ball sized lump I had found a few days earlier. We had already had a few lectures on how to read ultrasounds in vet school, so I craned my neck to the right as far as I could to try to get a look at the screen. All I saw were black and white blobs of fuzz. I might have had more success with an enlarged cat bladder, but I had no idea what a healthy human breast looked like, let alone a diseased one. I gave up and instead decided to watch the tech’s face for any signs of concern or worry. She was deadpan.

She clicked off the machine. “I’m going to go discuss this with the doctor. She’ll be in to talk with you in a few minutes,” she said as she handed me a towel to drape over my exposed chest. I waited. A cyst. It’s going to be a cyst. And then, cancer. It’s cancer. I fought back tears. Latissimus dorsi. Biceps…damnit. What was the name of that one? Oh my god. What if it’s cancer.

Finally, the door opened, and a middle-aged woman introduced herself as Dr. Marks.

“Your ultrasound did show a solid mass, but we’ll need to do a biopsy to determine exactly what it is. We also found a second smaller mass in the outer quadrant of your breast, near your armpit, so we’ll need to biopsy that now too.”

I heard the word solid, and the tears spilled out. I had read enough online to know that this was not good. Solid meant that the mass was not fluid-filled. Solid meant that it wasn’t a cyst.

“So you are sure it’s not a cyst?” I asked her with pleading eyes.

“Definitely not. But we can’t say what it is until we have the pathology results. Don’t cross any bridges until you have to. Let’s take a couple of mammogram pictures and then we’ll do the biopsy.”

I changed into a hospital gown and followed a nurse out to a more private waiting room than the one where my parents still sat. Tears were now streaming down my face.

“Are you here by yourself? Is there someone in the other waiting room that you want me to bring in to sit with you?” the nurse asked.

“My mom,” I replied through my tears, “I need my mom.”

© Copyright 2016, Rebecca Dickson (Hall), All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Rebecca Dickson (Hall) is strictly prohibited.

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