I'm Probably Fine
Don't worry, please! I'm probably totally OK. The following is excerpted from an essay I wrote for the Phoole Patreon Platoon.
I'm Probably Fine
I'm probably 100% fine and okay! There is very likely nothing seriously wrong. I just want to open this post with this statement.
I am going to talk about medical stuff in this post, just as a warning. I am also going to swear a lot.
Please don't worry. I just wanted you to know something that's going on with me.
Last Friday, after a really fun day and a really fun show...
...I got my annual mammogram result. I have to get them annually because there's inconclusive evidence that it might run in my family.
Usually I get an all-clear.
But this time, for the first time ever, an "indeterminate mass" was found. I have to have follow-up testing.
I'm horrified and embarrassed to admit what my first thoughts were.
I'm also compelled to admit them. What is that? What is wrong with me? But here we go.
My very first thought was this.
"Damn it. I just finished making that fucking dress. It fits perfectly."
My second thought was this - and I am so horrified that this popped into my consciousness at this precise moment.
"What if my chest really is the reason anyone pays attention to me?"
This second thought originates from a director I once had to work with.
Digression: That Fucking Director Guy
Back in 1997, I had been Jane the Phoole at a Renaissance Faire for a handful of years, just four years, but the audience knew who I was. I wasn't good at the gig yet, not really. I was a kid, just 26 years old, hadn't learned big lessons about the audience yet, but I was good at some of the gig. I was developing as a "charismatic leader."
When the show's owners decided that they'd celebrate the show's 10th Anniversary Season that year with a Festival of Fools, I ended up being the Assistant Director for the Fools' Troupe. A buddy of the show's Artistic Director, who had some RenFaire experience and a background in improv comedy, was tapped as the troupe's Director.
Director-Guy knew some improv comedy stuff. He could be a funny guy. But the year was 1997 - most white cis-het dudes had zero awareness of their privilege, and Director-Guy is not the kind of guy who will ever be aware of it.
At the first rehearsal, troupe members developed their character names. DG asked what ideas I had for my character.
I looked around. The troupe and I blinked at each other. "She's...she's Jane the Phoole," troupe members said. "She's the Queen's jester."
DG made a bad-smell face. "It's not funny. Jane isn't a funny name. It has to be funny or it won't be memorable."
I stood there with my mouth open.
Someone said, "She's a historical character...? The audience knows who she is."
DG chuckled. "If she were famous, I'd have heard of her, and I haven't, so she's not."
I just kept standing there, not reacting.
Like I said, this was 1997. My mother had just died the year before. I didn't yet know about acronyms like ACOA and AL-ANON and CPTSD. I didn't know I could have boundaries, or not people-please. I didn't know I was allowed to experience or express anger. I was a little Zelig chameleon-girl. I just became whomever anyone needed me to be.
So I didn't punch that fucking Director Guy directly in his larynx, or slam his face into my knee, or sweep his feet out from beneath him and heel-drive his head into the ground until he stopped moving. I didn't scream at him, or even protest in any way.
I just stood there and took it.
It's who I was then.
It was a long time ago.
DG said to me, in front of everyone, "You're not really funny. You're more...surprising. You're chesty. You have a huge chest - that's why people pay attention to you. So we're going to work with that. Your Fool name is...Lustybust. Let's go with that."
And...we went with that. I let him do that.
In the intervening eras, I have, of course, learned that I am funny as fuck. I have gotten shitloads of laughs over the years, and I know where the laughs are coming from. I can discern different kinds of laughs and their origins. I know when a laugh is from wordplay, or slapstick, or visual cognitive dissonance. I know I'm funny.
I also know that my funniness is a trauma response, and I'm fine with that. I had to be a rodeo clown for humans as a child; it made me funny; I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone; and at the same time, it was solid training in read-the-room, pull-focus, look-at-me, clown-alley, send-in-the-clowns redirection and entertainment.
But whatever its origin, I have it, I know I have it, and I enjoy making people laugh and forget sad things for a little while.
At the same time, when you hear that shit early in your career, it sticks. It hides in you and worries you. Am I really not funny? Are people just humoring me? Am I really getting all these laughs because of my rack?
It's so stupid.
But it's there in the back of my mind, and in this moment, it raced to the front, ahead of any useful or helpful thoughts. If I have to have major, life-endangering surgery to have my breasts removed to stop cancer from spreading through my body, WILL I STILL BE FUNNY?
Goddamnit, Director Guy.
The curt notification message didn't include any reassurances about the probabilities of the mass being deadly cancer - I had to look all of that up in a heart-thudding panic for the next fifteen minutes. Angelo and Tony the Cats ran into the kitchen to sit next to me, peering up into my face, wondering why I was crying, repeating "No no no no no no no" for fifteen minutes continuously, and madly scrolling through sites on my laptop to find sources that seemed reputable.
Consensus seems to be that "fewer than one in 10 patients" are revealed to have breast cancer after this type of finding on a screening mammogram.
Pandemic life has really worn me out on a lot of levels, not the least of which is the life of constantly calculating risk in scenarios with endlessly-shifting variables. I spend a fair amount of time reading studies I'm not really qualified to read, trying to make sense out of risk predictions based on widely-varying study samples and probabilities. I try to keep up. I drown in data, with no established, reputable agency existing to make sense of any of it for me.
But I drilled through a lot of data late Friday night, just to keep myself from thinking about death in a more direct sense, and got some reassurance. More than 90% of tests with this result lead to a benign diagnosis ultimately. I'd prefer something a lot closer to 100%, of course. But I can manage my dread in a 90%-survival scenario.
Tiffany got home; I gave her the news; I cried a lot; she reassured me a lot. Perversely, I rushed to reassure her a lot. There is a broken part of my heart that does not understand that it is possible for me to be loved, thanks to CPTSD, so when I'm triggered, I often feel like I have to fervently and explicitly apologize for my entire existence, or otherwise prove to people that it is worth it to be involved with me, because I know I'm tedious and troublesome and a handful.
I'm probably fine.
I will probably be completely OK!
This mortality stuff though.
It is something.
My diagnostic mammogram will happen in mid-October; that's the earliest appointment my medical network had available.
So I have a couple of MYSTERY WEEKS OF WONDERING until then, which I am going to need to cram with activity, to distract myself and prevent myself from spiraling directly down into existential terror. I will drink gallons of green tea, eat bushels of dark leafy green vegetables, keep punching every day, and do a couple of shows, and call Ivan Phillips to get together for motley photos.
I have a lot of experience in keeping myself busy so that I don't think about stuff.
Now is a time to flex that as a superpower.