Huffpost Divorce
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Pauline Gaines Headshot

Breast Cancer Scares and the Single Mom

Posted: Updated:

A couple months ago, while lying on my back in bed mid-breast exam, my wandering fingers screeched to a halt on a lump on the side of my left breast. It moved, and the edges were smooth, and I can't afford to get cancer, so I told myself it was nothing.

When I was going through my custody battle, there were days that were so searingly stressful that I was convinced my body would blow up. I'd have an aneurysm, or a brain tumor, or my innards would simultaneously combust.

Or I would get breast cancer, for which I have double the risk of a typical woman.

Because I was spending so much money on litigation, and because the end result of that litigation was the cessation of child support, I decided that if I got really, truly, terminally sick, I wouldn't bother to get treatment. What would be the point? Better to give my remaining time and money to my kids than to futile, debilitating medical treatment.

So I kept telling myself the lump was nothing, and it wouldn't matter if it were something anyway. I went about my days in a haze of denial. Until the Angelina Jolie story broke.

The reason the news of Angelina's double mastectomy knocked some sense into me is because we both go to the same breast center. I realized then that I had neglected to schedule my annual mastectomy and ultrasound. I also realized that my ostrich-like approach to my health was absurd and, given the fact that I had children, irresponsible.

I called up Pink Lotus and scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound. The soonest available appointment wasn't for two months, so I begged to come in just for a breast exam. I had to know what the lump was. Now.

* * *

Unlike the cold, cattle-call atmosphere of most imaging centers, Pink Lotus is intimate and Zennish. Everyone, from the receptionists to to the doctors, has an impeccable bedside manner. And every patient is treated like a VIP.

After giving me the most thorough breast exam I'd ever had in my life, the doctor showed me my lump on the ultrasound screen. She said it looked like a lymph node, something she encountered in patients at least twice a week, but just to be safe she was going to aspirate it.

The nurse held my hand and the doctor stuck a needle in my lump and after 45 painful seconds, the aspiration was done.

"We won't get the results till after the weekend," said the doctor. "But don't let it spoil your holiday. I really think it's nothing."

* * *

The doctor was so optimistic that I actually sashayed through Memorial Day Weekend without once thinking about picking out my headstone.

She called Tuesday evening with the test results. I thought I detected a slight catch in her voice and I felt a clutch in my stomach until I heard her say:

"I'm calling with good news."

She told me the lump was just breast tissue and no cancer cells were detected. She said it had probably been there awhile but I just noticed it because I had recently lost weight (due to my diet of second-divorce stress).

When we ended the call, I said a silent prayer for skirting death. Cancer is kind to no one, but it's even less kind to single parents, who must wrangle jobs, medical treatments, and child-raising alone.

In return for my good health, I vowed to a God I'm not sure I believe in to schedule my mammograms on time (mine will be in August, two months late), and worry about how to manage bad news and my single-mom life if need be.