I had a mammogram last week. I had one over 20 years ago to diagnose a strange lump in my breast that turned out to be a harmless cyst, but this was my real deal first mammogram of “middle age”. I would like to say I was being awesomely proactive by scheduling a baseline mammogram for the reasons of early detection, but I have a weird thing going on with my left boob and the mammogram was to rule out a return of the monster cyst or worse. Thankfully it did rule all that out and my breasts are healthy. But given the facts that three of my very best and closest friends have battled cancer in the last two years, two of them breast cancer, and another three friends/friendly acquaintances have battled breast cancer in recent years as well, you would think I would have been eager to get this test done.
You would think that, but I wasn’t eager. I was freaked the fuck out! I mean, “Logical Katie” understands that not getting the test you need to detect breast cancer just because you are afraid it might show you do have breast cancer isn’t going to prevent that diagnosis. However, “Irrational Katie” has been reigning supreme lately and she screams over the top of logical Katie. But this isn’t really a story about mammograms or even breast cancer. It is a story about connecting with each other.
I have already established that I was “freaking the fuck out” about having the aforementioned mammogram done, so when the day came I was all nerves. My appointment was at 11:45 am and I also needed to stop by the walk-in lab and get some blood drawn for a related test (also came up fine). I showed up at the building the lab is in at just about 10:50 am, which was good because my nerves gave me a violent IBS attack and, under the only circumstances my body allows me to poop in public restrooms, I kinda destroyed the first floor bathroom.
There is a lengthier version of this part of the story but because it isn’t the focus, I will save you the details other than to add that midway through this horrid experience an elderly gentleman came into the bathroom looking for his wife. He called and called for her while I sat in mortified silence and didn’t stop until I heard him coming in further to look under doors and yelled “NO SHE ISN’T IN HERE!!!” As you can imagine, none of this helped calm my nerves.
Though it felt like and eternity it only took me ten minutes to shit my guts out, even with the interruption, and I headed up the elevator to the third floor lab at 11:00 am on the nose. I shared the elevator with a wild-eyed old woman who held her pretty, purple fingernails out to admire them for the duration of the ride. The top of her head reached no higher than my breasts; her hair was a long, crazy mass of gray frizz that danced around her face as she moved. She was wearing black leggings with a bold geometric print all over them, with 70s style double striped tube socks pulled up over the top of them to her knees (if memory serves, the stripes were red). She was wearing an over sized black shirt with a wolf’s head on a background of stars, and her eyes were almost the same blue of the wolf’s.
As we stepped out of the elevator she continued to admire her nails and it was then I noticed her continually glancing at me in a not so discrete way… I realized she was fishing for a complement on her nails and happily gave her one. I soon realized she wasn’t so much looking for a complement, as she was a reason to tell me I should be taking better care of my nails and how I could be doing that. This started a nearly one-sided conversation wherein she not only told me what products I should be using and were I could obtain them, but included step-by-step instructions on how to file and paint my nails (the process basically takes an entire day and she said as much). I literally managed no more than the occasional “Oh, really?” or “Huh, you don’t say?”
I began to feel a bit anxious about the time because this woman clearly meant to finish her lesson. I looked at my phone to check the time and was shocked to find it was 11:20 am. She had been talking for twenty minutes, non-stop! It was at that moment I decided this woman needed me to listen to her and I didn’t have the heart to interrupt her. I could just come get my blood drawn after the mammogram.
The lesson kept going and I again started getting anxious about the time so I again discretely checked my phone. It was now 11:37 am and I had to go to a different building to get the mammogram done. Rather than cut her off I asked if she would like to walk down to the directory across the short sky bridge with me so I could find the office I needed. She linked arms with me and happily accompanied me without missing a beat. When we got over there I realized the clinic wasn’t in the building I thought it was and I had no idea where I needed to me. And I was going to be late. I invited the woman to walk with me back to elevator because I needed to go back down and ask someone at the lobby where I should go.
Now remember, these are the most words I have said since she began her lesson on nail care nearly forty minutes earlier. I didn’t tell her why I was there or who I was. Knowing this you will surely understand my confusion when the tiny elderly woman holding my harm stopped me, looked me directly in the eyes, took my hand in hers and said, “It is important to get you mammogram done. I am a breast cancer survivor and this is very important. You are in the wrong building. I will walk you to the elevator. You need to go down the first floor, then cross the street in the other direction to the main hospital. There are nice young people who will escort you right in the lobby.”
I was in shock and for some strange reason, feeling rather emotional. I hadn’t told her I was getting a mammogram! What was even happening? As we approached she wrapped up her nail care lesson and then patted my hand and said, “You go get this taken care of. It is important and it will be OK. There isn’t a thing in the world to be afraid of honey; you are going to be fine… now give me a big hug.” As I hugged her tears flooded my eyes and all the fear I had been struggling with left my body. She winked at me and told me she expected I would have pretty nails if we were lucky enough to cross paths again, and then she wandered off in the opposite direction.
As I sat there in the waiting area of the breast clinic I found myself thinking about the woman I had just spent the last 45 minutes of my life with. I later joked with a friend about having met a mystical old crone when telling her this story. It has taken me a few days to process all this and I realized something. It wasn’t just that woman needing someone to listen to her. I needed to listen to her. In that moment I needed to connect with another human being… to not be alone. I needed that connection and the universe put it in front of me.
I didn’t know anything about that woman and I will probably never see her again. She knew nothing about me. I have no idea who she voted for. I have no idea where she lives or how she lives her life. I don’t know if she has money or not. I don’t know if she believes in god or not. I don’t know if she has any family. Literally the only thing I knew about her when I complemented her fingernails was that she had pretty, purple nail polish on them. And that is all I needed to know to make a connection with her. She had my favorite color on her fingernails. The only thing she knew about me was that I didn’t have nail polish on and I needed to file my nails.
We need each other and we aren’t going to connect or find each other by looking for differences and passing judgments. Just reach out and make a connection with kindness in your heart. It is its own reward. Trust me.