Camera shy

"Sunnyside" Medical Center and a "silver-lining" sky seem to bode well for a doctor visit.

“Sunnyside” Medical Center and a “silver-lining” sky seem to bode well for an annual breast exam.

By Elizabeth Hovde

When I went in for additional breast tests following an annual exam that had my doctor concerned, I wrote, “Camera shy,” on the breast in question. I figured maybe I could amuse the technician and doctor who’d be seeing me. After all, they were probably used to bad news and long faces.

I worry about people with jobs that require them to deliver bad news. Sitting with someone who suddenly thinks they have cancer or even telling someone you’re investigating if they have the c-word would probably have me watching my go-to cry movie, “Steel Magnolias,” weekly. As it is, I see it once a year. I think it’s therapeutic to shed that many tears about something totally unrelated to your life.

A week after the follow-up tests and a viewing of “Steel Magnolias,” I was scheduled to meet with a surgeon about my boob drama. A friend gave me the brilliant idea to carry the message, “May be used as a flotation device,” this time. And as I prepare for surgery in a week to remove what my medical team thinks is a benign papilloma I can’t see or feel, I’m toying with writing, “Slice sparingly,” “C wannabe,” or, “Leave everything better than you found it.” I think “Slice sparingly” will win.

I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I’m game for reconstruction should their cutting tool go astray, and short is good: Writing backward on a breast with a limited amount of real estate takes more time than making your kids breakfast. And you need privacy to do it. That’s something moms of the young and the restless usually don’t get.

The next time you have to go strip for doctors, set an alarm that will go off and demand your attention in five minutes or less and start writing backward in a mirror. Good luck.

I’m glad the body graffiti I’ve been doing is seen only by the medical community. Those people are used to semi-legible writing, right?

My first follow-up tests were done at a hospital I’m not familiar with, which added to me being an anxiety-filled mess. Enter the gift of perspective.

On my way into the feels-like-trouble hotel, I was in the thick of self-thought, obsessed with worry about what “I” was going through, when I saw a woman shaking and crying softly on a cell phone. I walked past her. But that didn’t sit right. So I turned, walked up and gave her a big, silent, socially awkward hug from a stranger. She cried on my shoulder a little, and I was able to leave her with both of us hopefully a little better off: We’re all connected. It’s good to be reminded.

Elizabeth Hovde

Elizabeth Hovde

Focusing on our own drama is a dangerous activity. Not only does 90 percent of the stuff we worry about never happen, self-pity sits on a cliff. Well, wait a second. I don’t really know that this 90-percent number is factually based. I’ve seen or heard the saying a number of times and chose to believe it years ago without every researching the methodology used to claim such a thing. When I briefly researched the thought’s roots before putting it in print again without validation, I found it a lot — again unattributed.

One article I saw talked about how a study on worry found that only 8 percent of what we worry about are situations over which we have any influence, making our worry a waste of time even when what we’re worrying about is in fact going to happen. (By the way, the study refers to also supposedly found that 40 percent of what people worry about never happens and 30 percent has already happened and cannot be changed.)

The Positivity Blog,” reminded me that Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” It quoted Benjamin Franklin saying, “Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.”

Who’s gonna argue with Churchill and Franklin? Certainly not a girl who writes things on her chest in an attempt to amuse herself and others.

Elizabeth Hovde writes Sunday columns for The Oregonian, raises two boys, and is thinking of being a tattoo artist in her spare time.


Editor’s note: I got to know Elizabeth when I edited her columns as the Sunday Opinion Editor at The Oregonian. Professional collaboration has turned into a personal friendship. If only we didn’t live on opposite sides of the Columbia…

Tomorrow:  “They call me Dime-bag”  by John Knapp


11 thoughts on “Camera shy

  1. There is so much to like about this post, Elizabeth — how you deal with something as stressful as an abnormal mammogram (with humor), that as Nike said you hugged a stranger and that is so awesome, how useless it is to worry (accept the things you cannot control?) … and more. You will learn soon enough how your comments about useless worrying resonated with me … almost like you were already scolding me! 🙂

  2. What a great post- I had to share with a couple of breast cancer survivors in my office, who really appreciated your special secret messages.

    Now how do I quit worrying that I may be worrying too much…

  3. Wow. A courageous way to deal with a tough situation. Having had a very minor false alarm myself once I know it couldn’t be easy to “not worry” Eckhart Tolle also talks about disengaging from one’s own drama and the “I” that’s suffering. Sending healing energy for good health outcomes.

  4. Wishing you the best, as always. Nice of you to hug someone who was suffering. It was a really great thing to do. I’m sure she appreciated it. I hope everything turns out OK for you. I would have to agree that most of the time it does.

  5. Thanks, VOAers. I have to confess that I wrote this before my surgery, and when I talked to a nurse the night before it and they went over the cleanliness manifesto, it was clear that putting graffiti on my chest this time was out. (Plus, my surgeon got to do some writing on it. I got trumped.) The nurse was amused, however. That was fun.
    Fast forward: I got results from my surgery this afternoon. And the result? Benign. What a great word. Those who have heard it in relation to their own scare know how great it is. Those who hoped for it to be said to them after a scare and didn’t get it said to them know how great it is. I feel spoiled, empathetic and grateful. And I now have something to add to the list of things I am not so good at: body art.

    • I am so relieved to hear that word. Woomothereffinghoo! I had a scare myself recently and did not handle it with such aplomb. It was more like a lot of heavy breathing into paper bags with my head between my knees envisioning my motherless son on a dark and dangerous path. Such drama.

      • That is so good to hear! Makes me feel I was normal dramatic. The first night was definitely me in a near-fetal position envisioning motherless sons on a dark and dangerous path. Today I had my follow-up visit for the surgery part. My body graffiti? “Nice slice!” The surgeon was good. It was a thank you for his skill.

  6. Elizabeth – I apologize for the very late response but this piece is so you! I loved the balance between stepping up and the medical irreverence! but given all that you’ve gone through, what else could we expect? Take good care!


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