Cancer scare: Laughter after the lump

When I woke up giggling in the brightly lit hospital room, surrounded by a surgical staff, I had good reason to be happy though I didn’t know it yet.

Just days before, I’d discovered a lump in my breast while performing a self-breast exam after my shower.

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It’s the kind of thing you don’t think will happen to you when you’re looking at the diagrams about the proper way to do a self-breast exam standing up or lying down. I never actually thought I’d feel a lump, and when I did it took more minutes and many more presses with the tips of my fingers to make my discovery a reality in my head.

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Next was the wave of fear, washing in immediately, flooding my head with death; not chemo or recovery, but death. It was hard for me to find any humor to grab onto at the time because all I could think of was that this lump meant the end, and at that moment I gave up on my future. I kept my morbid thoughts to myself when I sat my three teenage daughters down at the dining room table though. I told them what a lumpectomy was, what could happen, and tried hard to hide just how scared I was.

After telling them, the pressure in my head eased up a bit and I was able to entertain humorous thoughts of my new Spock-like image of super-huge ears on a bald head if chemotherapy snatched all my hair. Or perhaps I could start a new trend: a one-boob fashion wonder if I opted not to seek a prosthesis in place of the one breast I no longer had.

Laughing didn’t remove my fears, but it helped balance out my emotions so that I could think. And faking my calm for my daughters buoyed my inner strength so that I could actually make it to the hospital for my early 6 a.m. appointment, an appointment that I’d contemplated cancelling more than a few times. Thinking that I was going to die and having a doctor confirm it are worlds apart, and I had no desire to embrace the possibility of the latter of the two.

My daughters came with me to the hospital that morning and we filled the waiting time with truths about our relationship that I can’t recall anymore. When it was finally my turn in the operating room, what I recall the most was the laughter. What I learned then, and during the colonoscopies I’ve had since then, is that I have the capacity to find humor in the darkest of places. Lying on a gurney surrounded by a roomful of people, I initiated jokes and they joined in, the resulting laughter helping me to relax long before the anesthetic knocked me out.

I woke up giggling they said, making me laugh even more as someone handed me a little, clear bottle explaining that the slimy, bulging thing inside was a clogged milk duct, and it was benign.

I feel fortunate for my laughter; for my goofy, sometimes way-out-there sense of humor; for my ability to calm my nervousness by finding something to giggle at. My laughter calms my stress, keeps my blood pressure stable, and lessens my need to hit the panic button.

My prayer is that laughter will always be there for me.

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