“I have never believed that everything happens for a reason. But I do feel very strongly that everything happens so that it can be turned into a column.”—Gail Collins, “The Breast Brouhaha,” November 18, 2009, New York Times
Am I a worrier?
It hardly seems worth asking; my pedigree is impeccable. My forebears worried about pogroms in their respective villages in eastern Europe. My parents? Oy, don’t get me started.
Textbook case that I am, my litany is lopsided. Death by air travel; a perceived slight from an acquaintance. The health of my near and dear; a concern that I’m going to run out of Kleenex. The passing along of insidious family patterns to the next generation; the comma in the second paragraph of my query letter to that one literary agent in Massachusetts. Car accidents, underachievement, firecrackers, gum disease: I’ve got it all covered.
So why is it that when I got a notification that my recent screening mammogram didn’t look quite right—could I come back in for another look—I took it in stride?
Sure, I made the appointment and went for the second mammogram. And I didn’t like what the young radiologist with the dubious bedside manner mumbled: “You need to come back for a biopsy.”
I wasn’t worried—just irritated. You can’t be a doctor, I thought. You’re twelve.
Of course I followed up. And I didn’t like what the mature, kind radiologist didn’t say, in between her skillful attempts to distract me during the procedure. She didn’t say: “This tissue looks normal to me.”
But I still wasn’t worried—just preoccupied; a needle with the approximate diameter of a parking meter was lodged inside my body.
Afterwards I was sore, but surprisingly calm. In fact, when my internist called the next afternoon and gave me the good news—It’s Nothing To Worry About!—I was almost confused.
But I wasn’t worried, I nearly said. By the way, are my Vitamin D levels holding steady?
At the same time, of course, I was profoundly relieved, and appreciated how promptly he called. My gynecologist, on the other hand, waited five days to contact me. I understood—having seen the pathology report, she obviously Wasn’t Worried—yet she started asking questions. The mass—was it something that had been bothering me?
“No. It was just a routine mammogram.” Wasn’t that in my chart?
“The reason I ask is, even with benign masses, some women worry.”
“But this is benign,” I pointed out helpfully.
“Well, I know. It’s just, some women want them removed.”
“Why?” I was still sore and not exactly keen on the idea of unnecessary surgery at the site in question.
“You know,” she went on. “Some women just get tired of them.”
“Tired of them?” Tired of worrying about them, I suppose. There was no doubt about it now: I was being invited to worry. Where was my innate zeal for anxiety? “But isn’t this something you’re going to be watching? Like, when I get my next mammogram?”
“Of course it is.”
“You’re right. You needn’t worry.”
And I haven’t.
I guess what I’ve learned in all this is that I want to hand-pick my worries. I want ones that are comfortably familiar, yet remote. Irrational is fine, out-of-my-control is fine, because generally I’ll be indulging in private.
When life conspires to impose worry on me, I resent the presumption. I’d rather meet immediate threats head-on—and with healthy denial—than descend into some cliché of hysteria.
Now, can I go back to wringing my hands about how much my kids are using their cell phones, how I don’t like all that radiation so close to their heads?
Published in the Piedmont Post, December 9, 2009