What's Better - A Cancerous Growth or a Fatty Tumor?

Let's hope I come out of it safely this time too, writes Haaretz columnist Neri Livneh.

First off, calm down: In the end it’ll turn out I have nothing. I’ve been hit with false alarms too many times. The time before last was a year and a half ago, and at the end of a pretty scary week I was told that all six of the growths that were found in my stomach were benign. I was very happy, but also dreadfully sorry that four days earlier I’d been invited for a conversation in the company of a “first-degree relative,” i.e., my eldest son, to inform us about fears that would prove false. I was utterly ashamed for inflicting such horrific concern on my beloved son. Well, that’s human history in a nutshell: First you are ashamed and afraid to worry your parents, and later you don’t want to worry your children. Six years before that, the growth in my thyroid gland also turned out to be benign.

The first time it happened was 20-something years before that. I was a young student at the time, and there was a doctor at the student medical service on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University who was excessively fond of performing manual breast checks. I came to him with an ingrown toenail and he made me remove my bra. Following a particularly lengthy feel, he informed me that I must rush the next morning to Hadassah Hospital in order to have a biopsy.

There, the doctor and I swapped jokes about Ophira Navon, the wife of Israel’s fifth president, who had just refused to undergo a mastectomy, and a few minutes later, when he drew samples from the lump, he told me that in his opinion it was nothing, just a fatty lump. “Do you have to be offensive?” I said.

Don’t you have a word other than ‘fatty’? Are you saying I am fat?” He laughed.

The next day, the laboratory workers went on a two-month strike, but I wasn’t worried. I didn’t even feel fat, because in the meantime I discovered that I was three months pregnant with my first-born child.

My brother also endured several false alarms in the past. “That’s the way we are,” I explained to my friend Yael, “we grow inwardly instead of outwardly.

Because how much more can I grow?” “You’re shy,” Yael said, “so it’s not pleasant for you to be even bigger.”

This time it started in a routine way. After repeated postponements, I arrived for a mammogram. The procedure was done by an exceptionally cordial female technician, and would have been a lot less pleasant if not for her gentleness. I then waited outside for the results. Suddenly the technician asked me to do a second test. This time she took four more pictures from complicated angles. She said I had to do an ultrasound, because there was something that should be examined.

“Your left breast is fine,” the radiologist said, “but I’m not so pleased with the right one.” I said I didn’t much like it, either, and that I had plenty more parts on my body that I don’t much like, apart from the armpits, which according to the technician have no fat at all. That’s how I am, no sooner does the fear of disease crop up than I wax lyrical. She went on to say, in reply to my question, that the size of the lump was 1.7 centimeters. “That’s not all that small,” I said, to which she replied, “It’s also not all that big.”

While I was waiting for an appointment for a biopsy to be made, the cordial technician appeared. She came over to me, placed both hands on my shoulders and said to me, “Way to go, lady, for getting here exactly at the right time.” The merry smile that I reserve for medical situations and for meetings with people I can’t remember spread so far I thought I heard a click in my ear.

“You don’t have anything, just every two years you’re told that you’re going to die or some organ is removed, and in the end you are healthy again,” Anateleh said. I said to her that if by chance I do have something, now with the book it’s really not the right time. “It could be, Neri, that it’s never the right time,” said Anateleh, who took care of a close friend who recovered completely from breast cancer.
“But did she get thinner?” I asked her.

“Much.”

“I decided that I don’t want a wig.”

“Hey, knock it off, you don’t have anything.”

“Yes, but on the other hand, being bald will really not suit me. Baldness only suits women with a beautiful face and bright eyes,” I explained to her.

“I didn’t sleep all night,” I said to Yehudit a few minutes before the biopsy. “On the other hand, I ate a lot of chocolate.” “I hope that at least it was bitter chocolate,” Yehudit said.

“Milk chocolate.” I admitted with shame. “But it’s because I will lose a lot of weight afterward in chemotherapy.” I was too abashed to tell her about the Krembos. “I will need the money for medicines, I am on the way to a biopsy, maybe you’ll let me off?” I said to the Green Patrol inspector who claimed that Shoshana was frolicking outside the area reserved for canines. “Be healthy, lady,” said the muscular guy, and hit me with a fine of NIS 475.

“That’s it, now I’m positive you don’t have anything,” Talia said. “The bad stuff went with the fine, there’s no bad karma left to make the tumor cancerous.”
“It’s a fatty lump, right? Don’t be led astray by my scary thinness,” I said to the radiologist, who chuckled but rebuffed the hint and said that an answer would arrive from the lab in two weeks at the most. “You really aren’t a cancer type,” Yael said.

She lost four friends to the disease in the past year. The truth is that it’s most fitting for me to die like the urban legend about Mama Cass, from swallowing a sandwich, or in a collision with an electric bicycle at an intersection. “I am not built for processes, to start thinking positive, to internalize, to become a vegan, to bear my agonies bravely, to turn lemon into lemonade,” I told her, and thought of my youngest son, who said once that instead of turning lemon into lemonade, it was better to throw away the lemon and get a mango. I thought of him afterward - he’s gone to visit his twin brother and their older brother in Berlin - as I downed half a kilo of mango ice cream.