A couple of weeks ago, one of my students, we'll call her Jill, had to leave class early for a doctor's appointment.
"It's nothing serious I hope," I asked.
"Oh no, it's a regular check up for my chest," she answered (while indicating to her breasts)
"You mean your annual breast exam?"
"Well, my mother died of breast cancer as did my aunt, so I go more often. I have a kind of cyst that they are monitoring. It's just a cyst though," she happily announced.
"How old was your mother when she died?"
"Wow, that's terrible, I'm so sorry. Have you ever thought about getting a breast reduction?"
Gasps and bewilderment all around the class. Okay, maybe it's not the most tenderly put question, but in my defense, this girl has veritable melons.
"Well, I mean you could get rid of the cyst, and you know, women of your size often get back problems."
Sometimes I don't know how to talk to women. One time I told my friend I thought her thighs had gotten bigger. Big mistake. Anyway. I was just thinking "clinically" as it were about a 30 year old required to get breast exams every three months. Why not just nip it in the bud?
"My breasts are not that big! You're the third person who has suggested that to me." I had obviously touched on a sensitive spot.
"Okay, they're not freakishly big, but you've got to admit they're not small!" and we all laughed to diffuse the tension.
Last week, Jill was not in class. Turns out the cyst was not benign at all, it was a very rare form of cancer. So rare that she will have 9 doctors following her case to learn about it. She starts chemo today. And that's where my heart will be.