By: Diane Payne
My mammogram results were fine. I felt rejuvenated, powerful. I thumbed
through the local realty magazine and considered calling to request catalogs
from cities where I'd always wanted to live. If I couldn't persuade a college
to hire me full-time, I'd simply relocate.
As I was contemplating these new locations and calculating how long it'd
take for the move to materialize, I remembered that I had another mammogram
scheduled in six months. The results had been fine, but not perfect.
Though I'm only 39 ( I can use the word "only" in limited context,
such as discussions of mammograms and retirement cities), I have been on
this six-month sentence for the past three years. Thus far, only one doctor
has suggested removing my breasts as a preventative measure.
My daughter is six. Nursing her prevented me from having to go through
these mammograms and face these questionable results. The more I nursed,
the more strongly I believed that I was decreasing my chances of ever
developing cancer. I miss nursing.
Not long before I became a mother, I was camping with a group of rock
climbers and became involved in a rigorous workout with a young buck in my
tent. Without warning, he stopped. Still and quiet, he said, "I've never
been with a woman with a gray vaginal hair." I didn't know I had one, and
when I looked, there were actually three. The young buck was dismissed. I'm
certain he was relieved, though I was disheartened.
Now I color my hair so my daughter's friends don't confuse me for her
grandmother. I have thoughts of eliminating these coloring charades when
I am 40, and just let the hair be since there's no reason not to be fully
gray. Approaching 40, I simultaneously think of going on long mountain bike
rides and my fear of chemotherapy, radiation, and baldness, thoughts that
make me appreciate the least opportunity to be vain. I no longer
have the desire, nor the stamina, to romp with young bucks, and I have
lost my urge to hang off steep cliffs; but I certainly haven't lost all my
So I sit here at my computer tonight, after watching my daughter
fall asleep listening to Vivaldi, and wonder if the new radiologist even
bothered requesting my old mammogram results, if these current calcifications
are truly no different than the ones the previous doctor detected. I wish
this doctor would listen to me, answer my questions. The earlier radiologist
pointed out the calcifications and explained what their shapes meant. Now I'm
told they are "probably benign," but probably doesn't provide me with much
I wonder if I should take my daughter to meet her grandmother
in India this summer, her grandmother even I haven't met, then take a
detour to the Himalayas; or if we should simply slip away to a new town
without leaving a forwarding address, and just be free of these endless
reminders that I am high-risk; but then I look at my daughter sleeping and
figure I'll do whatever I can to remain healthy for her. At times like this,
I am relieved to be turning gray--to know that I may, at least, turn 40.
Diane Payne has been published in a number of magazines and is the
winner of both the 1990 and 1991 Southwest Writer's Award for nonfiction.
She teaches writing at Pima Community College, and has a novel coming out
from Red Hen Press next year. She is still on the six-month