99 Percent

Last September, I saw a general surgeon about having a growth removed from my shoulder. All summer I’d been disciplined, getting stronger and fitter after having weathered a stressful life transition. The slight swelling bugged me. Why not get it removed, I thought. I felt vain but tried to justify a snip of self-improvement.

A massage therapist found it. Almost certainly a benign lipoma, he said, but being a cancer survivor you’ll want to be sure. Yes, my oncologist said, a lipoma, see a surgeon. Then this extra-careful surgeon, reviewing my history, also conducted a breast exam. Oh! 

“I’m 99 percent sure this is a cyst,” he said, “but I want you to get an ultrasound.” A couple of panicked hours later, smearing around the cold gel around, the radiologist said, “I’m 99 percent sure this is not a cyst, so I want to send a biopsy to the pathologist.” To be sure.

That 99 percent percent thing. Is that something they teach doctors to say? A technique to present bad news? To dunk you in a fresh horror like a teabag dropped in boiling water, clinging to that thin cotton string dangling above you – your 1 percent link back to the world you occupied just a moment ago, a thread too slim to climb, too fragile to pull you back out, its only function to swish you around in hot hell until your old, safe self is fully steeped in this new black brew?  

So began my return to cancer-land, a place I left nine years ago and felt was finally behind me. Uprooted? Picture a sturdy Douglas Fir flipped on its side by a rough coastal storm, its heavy anchors ripped from the foundational soil of its life, that huge root ball gripping rocks and dirt and smaller plants in the claws that had held it firmly upright in the earth for decades. Now rawly exposed, you can examine its underside. See what it looks like in the place where it had been attached, settled and strong, for so long. Right there is the seam between the seen and the unseen.

Published In:

Oregon Humanities Magazine, Spring 2016 and We Become A New Story (OHSU Anthology), Winter 2023