Most days, my after work ritual is the best 3 minutes I get in a day.
I peel off layers of itchy fabric from tailored pants and professional blouses and swap them for soft clothes — a warm hoodie and cotton loungey pants, or a breezy dress, depending on the season.
One evening in October 2017, still light outside since the time hadn’t changed yet, I looked down at my bra tossed casually across the bed and noticed a drop of blood in the center of its left cup. That’s really weird, I thought, dismissing it for an unseen cut on a finger, a fleeting reminder to get a manicure.
A few days later, another splotch of blood in my bra, slightly bigger than the first time. I glanced at my naked breasts in the mirror. They looked normal, with a droop that comes with extra pounds and extra years. Is that a smear of blood? I leaned closer to the mirror, out of the shadow of the poor lighting. Yes, a smudgy trail of blood heading up to my shoulder. I grabbed my left breast in my hands and lifted it up to look at it; as I did, drops of dark, rusty blood dripped out of my nipple.
I had my first mammogram in my 20s, having found a weird knot that seemed out of the ordinary, even for the uneven terrain of my tissue. Mammograms aren’t so bad, and over the years, I’ve become accustomed to the radiologist saying, “Well there’s something here but not no worry — let’s do a quick sonogram to be sure.” At some point, the something there turned into a slightly bigger deal than usual, so I found a wonderful breast specialist who I’ve seen regularly since. She graduated UVA med school with my brother, and on my first visit, she realized she knew him, and called in the nurse to bring her some warm sonogram lube. “I’m not putting that cold stuff on Matt’s sister.” It was an odd thing to hear while laying topless on a table, but endearing nonetheless. Like all the women I love, she’s a bad ass bitch, and I’m so glad I found someone as warm and brilliant as she.
Speaking of bad ass bitches.
All the Bridges women have lumpy breasts due to a scary sounding but mostly benign condition called fibrocystic breast disease. Our breasts are also very big, even in proportion to our big, round bodies. If I close my eyes, I can still see my Grandmother Imogene standing in the doorway between the dark living room where we cousins snuggled down on quilt pallets, and the bright kitchen, her silhouette haloed by the intense florescent lights. In my mind, she’s dressed in a button-up floral housecoat, arms folded and resting on the top of her chest, her large breasts gently propping up her elbows. I’ve noticed I do that sometimes, too.
My Aunt Virginia has been my sherpa through all my breast issues. She’s walked me through most of my mammograms, and one particularly scary time, detailed very clearly what a needle aspiration would look and feel like. Luckily, I didn’t need it. But luck being a complete asshole sometimes, she has been diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to her bones. We texted yesterday. She’s doing well and says she’s “still fighting but doing pretty good.” I think it will take a lot more than this bullshit to get her. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.