That’s how most women’s cancer stories start, right? I found a lump. Only most women find their lump through a self-breast exam. You know, the kind my mother’s friend from church, Milly, taught me how to perform. She was a breast cancer survivor and she had the exam instructions hanging on her showerhead the way you hang a temporary handicapped parking placard on the rear-view mirror of your car. “Do it every month on the 28th,” she said. “The 28th is your birthday, so you’ll be more likely to remember.”
But I never did perform self-breast exams. Even though my mother impressed upon me the importance of doing so, having found more than one lump over the course of her college career (none of which turned out to be cancerous, thankfully). Even my gynecologist’s admonishments couldn’t make me take the exam seriously.
Nobody ever talked about the importance of a self-abdomen exam. No, kidney cancer is not supposed to be found that way. Neither is it supposed to be found by a microwave or the MRI machine that can be heard through the wall of the 2nd-floor bathroom at Les Brasseurs, the restaurant in front of which I did not take a picture of the naked blue man sporting only a cotton fluff on his butt, even though he thinks I did. But that’s how it happened.
It was microwave moving day. I’d rented a room in a student residence across town that was run by a group of nuns. They were kind, but the mother was strict in a very OCD sort of way. You know, the left potholder has to be hung on the left hook and the right potholder has to be hung on the right hook in the kitchen, and other little manias like that. So it was no surprise that she did backflips of anguish when I tried to move in my microwave.
Plan B: Take my microwave to work so my coworkers and I could heat up our lunches in our snack area without going to the upstairs cafeteria.
I must have been a sight. It was a sultry, un-airconditioned 1st-of-July morning in Geneva, and I was dressed in a suit and heels, with my work badge hanging around my neck, hauling a 30-pound microwave across town on the trams. By the time I arrived at work, the microwave was slipping out of my sweaty hands, I had to open the front door with my backside, and in order to clock in on time, I had to hold the editors’ door open with my toes and stretch as far forward as possible to swing my badge close enough to the time clock for it to register. 9:15 on the dot. Ouf.
Once I arrived back at my room after work, I flopped on the bed, exhausted, my hands lying on my stomach. And that’s when I felt it — a lump. A huge lump. The lump.
First I jumped on the Internet to do research. Wrong move. I got myself all worked up about having a hernia and needing surgery that would keep me out of work for two weeks. Then I calmed down and called my best friend, Sarah. “Sarah,” I said, “Lie down on your back and put your hands on your stomach like a pregnant lady. Does the left side feel the same as the right?” I asked. “Yeah… why?” she answered. “Because I feel a lump. I think carrying that microwave gave me a hernia.”
Then she said what I absolutely did not want to hear: “Kitty, you need to go to the doctor.”