It starts one bright winter morning. You wake up bleeding. Except you shouldn’t be – it’s not that time, as your mother would say cannily. But as with so many other things, your mind agrees to spin a reassuring story about the blood for you – something comforting if slightly abstract, but nevertheless something that absolves you from having to actually do anything about it. You shrug it off as best you can, and boy howdy you can shrug things off with the best of them. Days pass. The blood is light, spotting. It waxes and wanes. You write to friends, needily, “is this something I should be worried about?” Doubt begins, slowly, to seep in.
You find yourself crying at stupid youtube videos and having dark fantasies about the grim phone call you’ll get from the doctor, that inevitable worst case scenario we all hope to stave off until our most geriatric of years. On the fourth day you feel shaky and light-headed and the blood is heavier, an ominous bright crimson. And when he looks at you – into you, as he does – you feel your face begin to slowly melt into a gigantic puddle. The jig is, as they say, up. “Something is wrong… something isn’t right,” is about all the admission you can manage. But finally saying the words, and hearing the undeniable lilt of pure terror in your own voice, makes your whole body sob.
In his office, the doctor lays out the possible scenarios for you, marking up a piece of paper with diagrams of internal organs on it, circling things and drawing arrows. You’re sitting down, but feel that in reality you’re floating in the air just above his desk, the detached observer of a terrible moment that, thankfully, does not belong to you. At some point you notice the woman’s hands – your hands – shaking, and he does, too. “When you hear the beating of hoofs on the street outside your door, you think horses, not zebras,” he says in a preschool teacher calm sort of way. “Cancer is the zebra.” You find this analogy reassuring, and immediately begin thinking of your lady parts as an aging thoroughbred, standing on a hill at sunset, serenely eating grass.
The exam itself isn’t terrible, at least not until he does that thing where he pushes upward and down on your belly simultaneously. Then you literally bolt up on the table screaming, all sense of decorum gone. Out on the imagined sunlit hillside, the horse whinnies and bucks, nostrils flaring in sympathy.
The doctor peels his gloves off finger by finger, smiling, and hands you all the paperwork. Forms and tests – weeks of them. You don’t know if something has just ended or begun, and you honestly aren’t sure you want to know.