September 13, 2013

I’m sitting in the coffee shop, the General Mercantile or “the Merc” or “Ray’s” depending on how long you’ve lived in Helena, where 2 years ago today I got the results of my biopsy for breast cancer. While cancer is not so funny, in fact it really sucks and I hate it, the circumstances of getting the news were very funny.

I had just gone to the counter to pay for my coffee. Here you don’t pay when you get your drink but on your way out. (Yes, I have left without paying before and had to go back hours later after I remembered.) I was standing there waiting for the barista to be free to take my money when my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and it wasn’t the usual “406” that comes up with a medical call so I backed away from the counter and answered without much thought. I had been waiting for the news though I pretty much knew it was cancer. I was actually eager to find out the results so I could start treatment. I had things to do. “Lets get this going” was my attitude. This is what I heard in response to “Hello, this is Marilyn,”

“This is Dr. rrr (garbled). Got the results back, and it’s definitely cancer. This is what I want you to do. You’ll go see Dr. Weiner (the oncologist) at 3:30 tomorrow and then you’ll come see me at 4. I want to do a punch biopsy to see if it’s inflammatory breast cancer. Be sure and tell them that you have an appointment with me so they get you right in.” That was in one breath. By then I’d figured out which doctor I was talking to.

I said, “OK, that’s pretty much what I thought. I’m ready to get going.”

Then he says what I think is, “How is your mom?” She had been in the hospital the week before, and he had been one of her doctors.

I say, “She’s doing fine. My sister is here to drive her back to Texas.”

Long pause and then, “You call your breast ‘She’?”

“Wait, what did you ask me?”

“I asked how your breast was doing after the biopsy last week.”

“Oh, I thought you were asking about my mom. I’m at a coffee shop and there’s a lot of noise here.”

“You’re at a coffee shop! Sorry about that.”

Months later I would find out that his daughter works here when she’s home from college. I now see him in here regularly. This is my office away from office. I’m often sitting where I am right now, just inside the front door, tucked away in an area with 4 booths of a sort. I can see people come and go when I’m not totally absorbed in my writing.

On the call, I’m standing where all I can see are joke gifts and gum brands popular 40 years ago, some funny and some meaningful greeting cards. I’m scanning Beechnut gum and candy cigarettes. “That’s all right. I was waiting for the results, and I’m ready to get things going.”

There it was, definitive news. I wouldn’t know the particulars until I met with the oncologist the next day. Two days after that I started chemo.

MBAt first, when I remembered the call, I thought, “He must have thought I was loony for calling my breast ‘She’. On the other hand, he thought I was taking my She-breast to Texas.

No matter where She was going, I had started a journey through a myriad of needles, IVs, speed up/slow down the intestine medicines, cold wet wash clothes, hospital gowns, stitches, witch hazel, drains, unimaginable love and care, and on and on and on.







Marilyn Bennett is a published author, documentarian,  and recent cancer survivor. Her business Life Stories ( helps families and individuals record their stories on video, in a unique keepsake book, or as a written memoir. She is the Writer-in-Residence Emeritus at the Rodney Street Laundry. Her books include We Were Baptized Too (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), It Happened in San Antonio (Globe Pequot, 2006), and Truth inProgress: Letters in Mixed Company (EmNM Press, 2007, limited release). She is the director of the documentary Truth in Progress.

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