I don’t remember exactly when I began claiming Mondays as my own—to do with as I please—but it has certainly served me well. It’s no coincidence, of course, that Monday is the day our car is color-coded, therefore garaged in.
Anyway, it’s the perfect time to do my hair and nails and get my massage; perfect, too, for reflections on life, for making sense of it, for making hard decisions, of which a particular one happened indeed on a recent Monday: I went for my medical checkup.
With a phobia even for the slightest chance of pain, I shy away from colonoscopies and mammograms. Since I was confined in the hospital last year and, upon being found out to not have seen a gynecologist in years, subjected to a vaginal ultrasound, I have dreaded ever going through anything like that again.
It’s not really the pain; there was hardly any. Rather, it’s the discomfort from the unnatural invasion: I felt like a turkey being stuffed.
But hearing the word atrophy too often and hearing it blamed on age, I felt I just had to deal with my fear, if not conquer it.
I finally see a gynecologist-urologist. She has to be that—a dual specialist for something widespread among women of my years, for whom the prospect of the two anatomical parts crowding each other and causing complications is so real.
The doctor, a younger woman, wastes no time sending me to the lab for a urine output test and a bladder and ureter ultrasound, all painless and non-invasive; I have decided to avoid anything invasive. The findings are encouraging, but she suggests a mammogram to preclude anything that might counteract the medications she has in mind.
Filling out a form at the breast clinic, I find it almost a shock to know that my last mammogram was in 1999 and to recall what age I had my first period. But I have no recollection at all when menopause began.
Some blurring in the mammogram sends me for a more definitive sonogram, which is a breeze and costs just about as much as the medieval torture of the mammogram. My husband Vergel and I have made a pact: In case of any serious findings, no one else is to know.
Almost as soon as I put on my gown, I become aware that I’m missing my cell phone and have to go back outside to tell Vergel, there in the waiting room chatting with a young doctor friend of ours. Bad enough seen in an ill-fitting, faded gown, now I have been discovered as a patient.
Well, if I were to tell anyone it would have been his mom, a doctor as well in the same hospital. Some relief—I definitely can use all I can get in the circumstances—comes when I’m assured my cell phone is charging at home.
I join the other gowned inmates in a small room where little-encouraging prayer booklets instead of glossy magazines are the suggested reading and a TV is going on, tuned to the Food Channel. Just when I think my secret is safe, a cousin appears on her way to the changing room.
Sonogram is so painless I manage a chat with the radiologist. She reveals that women found positive used to belong in the 40-60 age bracket and that now the youngest on their record is only 22. She leaves out what I have hoped to hear—that women my age are past cancer’s reach. I leave wondering about the rise in cancer incidence and the younger and younger sufferers.
It’s yet another topic for me and cousin Ninit during shared car rides to lunch meetings, without digressing too far from our passion and campaign for the month, nay, for the year—boycotting goods from China. Ninit herself avoids checkups like the plague. If you ask her, it’s precisely the checkups and the new technology employed in them that are responsible for the emergence of cancer as the scourge that it is. She likes blaming machine and messenger. It’s for such rash conclusions that our children refer to us as the “great concluders.”
My own reason for wanting to know is to find a match to whatever I’ve found in alternative medicine. Besides, recent experience has positively taught me the disadvantage of not knowing. In all my dyeing years—20 now—I have believed myself allergic to peroxide and therefore made my life more difficult, as well as the lives of certain other people, whom I have had to involve to ensure my supply of the right hair dye, which has become increasingly hard to find—no ammonia, no peroxide.
One Monday, in utter desperation, and after shamelessly resorting to darkening my white overgrown roots with eyelash “volumizer,” I decide to take the risk on a Loving Care Clairol of my perfect shade, but with a two-percent peroxide. It’s easy; I’m done in 15 minutes. I wash my hair and wait for judgment.
Wow, no scalp itch, no hair loss!
With the likes of me in mind, Clairol must have improved its formula. In fact, I actually never took the simple skin test to know for sure; for some reason I have simply presumed my allergy.
But, with checkups, it’s futile to try to win over Ninit, who seems doing well without them.
On our way to another lunch we wonder more seriously about the cancer statistics. Ninit, usually quick with an explanation for everything, is silent this time. When she finally opens her mouth, she proves even worthier than the certified great concluder she already is: