Hoping the Meter Maid’s a Slacker, and Other Cancer Dreams

Hoping the Meter Maid’s a Slacker, and Other Cancer Dreams

“You’re name’s not on the schedule,” a lady told me, glancing up from her screen with a question mark.

“But I made this appointment six months ago,” I said. “Could you check again?”

I’m in the Cancer Survivorship Program, and twice a year, I travel to the Bay Area for a checkup and mammogram.

“Sorry, we just have you down for an exam, no mammogram. You can see your doctor and then come another day for the other part.” I proceeded to the exam room, worried.

Rescheduling my mammogram would be hard. I took an airplane to get here. That means booking a flight, renting a car, paying for lodging, economizing on food. I leave my family, reschedule work, and figure out who’s going to water my tomatoes while I’m gone. Yes, in the desert where I live, vegetable gardens are flourishing now.

And the purpose of all these logistics is to see if my cancer is back. During chemotherapy, my oncologist told me I have a 40 percent chance that it will return, and if it does, it will likely be fatal. So, nerves pile up around these semiannual visits.

“You seem anxious,” the doc observed during my exam. I made an effort to relax my clenched jaw, but my brain was a tornado while she asked routine questions. “Are you getting plenty of exercise? Enough calcium?”

I was thinking about the mammogram. Who would have thought I’d ever want one so bad?

“We’ll get you into radiology. You’ll just have to camp out there,” she said, “and they’ll fit you in when they can.”

What a relief. I threw my husband’s shirt back on and moved my car to avoid getting a ticket. San Francisco parking meters only give you two hours, and it seems like meter maids there are devoted to their work.

When I arrived at the airport, the rental car company was out of the cheap, small cars I normally get when I travel, so I climbed into their “free upgrade” — a 15-passenger behemoth that was impossible to park. I maneuvered it into traffic and circled the hospital looking for a spot to weigh anchor.

Forty-five minutes later, I fed my credit card into a meter, set my cellphone timer for two hours, and dashed back inside.

Pretty soon, a soft-spoken Scottish woman named Katherine called me out of the waiting room in the mammography department, crammed my breast into a vice and told me to hold still. I was thrilled to be there. It helped that her accent is so nurturing that she could sell it as massage oil.

Her lilting voice reminded me of a job I had in Edinburgh one summer when they opened a mall there. My job back then was to “put rubbish in the bin.” Self-serve food courts were new to the Scots and they didn’t understand they were supposed to bus their own tables. Fortunately, English majors like me are generally available for that sort of thing.

Katherine draped my shoulders with a heated blanket and sent me back to the waiting area. Then she called me again for more images. And again. And again. They found something, I thought.

Finally, she led me toward a door I’d never seen. The exit’s the other way, I worried, and I only have 20 minutes left on my parking meter.

The next thing I knew, I was covered in sonogram juice. Two strangers stood at my side, staring at a screen, one of them rubbing a wand back and forth over my breast.

Except for beeping machines, it was quiet, kind of like church when everyone is supposed to be deep in prayer but I was actually wondering what they were seeing and how much longer it was going to take. Is this another cancer diagnosis? Then my cellphone chirped.

Crap. I’m going to get a ticket too.

“It looks like scar tissue,” the doc said. “We’ll keep an eye on it, but you can go for now.” Kind of like a mechanic telling me my car is fine even when it’s making a weird noise.

I thanked the docs and threw my top back on, cold sonogram gel clinging to my hair and skin. Then, faster than a Jamaican Olympian, I ran to my ridiculous vehicle. There it was, a ticket-free windshield, a timely reminder that miracles do happen.

***

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