Tumour in a Blue Bag

In case you were wondering this is not a take-off on Devil in a Blue Dress, but it would be cool if it were, eh?

A while back I decided it would be prudent, or as my British dermatologist likes to put things, “sensible,” to see an oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (the “DFCI”) in Boston during our visit to the US. Arranging for such an appointment may not sound like a big deal but let me tell you, it was.

Because all of my reports, imaging, pathology and histology stuff is over here in London, I have to transport not only myself to Boston but all of it as well. And this is why, yesterday, I found myself walking down the street carrying sections of my tumours on slides in a blue plastic bag.

I would have liked the hospital here to take care of all of this for me, but somehow that didn’t happen. The hospital (which is a world-famous cancer centre, by the way) didn’t seem to do this sort of thing and although it is apparently used to receiving a great deal of biological materials via international mail it doesn’t seem to happen much the other way around.

So anyhow, the samples I requested (because the DFCI wanted to review them prior to my appointment) ended up in my breast surgeon’s office and I got a phone call that it might be best if I just came and picked them up in person and simply took them with me on the plane to Boston. Somewhat bewildered but nonetheless pleased that the requested materials had been made available promptly, I agreed.

After I ended the call, I imagined myself going through airport security at Heathrow and having my carry-on bag searched. “And what pray tell are these, Madame?” The guard asks suspiciously. “Oh those. Those are just sections of my right tit. I like to carry them around with me when I travel.” Hmmm. No thanks. I thought the better of the plan. Called back and asked if they could do the mailing from the breast surgeon’s office. But their mail room didn’t use one of the carriers that the DFCI had listed as acceptable. So I went and picked the damn things up after all and out I walked onto Harley Street, tumours in hand.

As I ambled along, gently swinging the blue bag, I had irrational thoughts of accidentally leaving it somewhere — all physical evidence of my disease being lost forever. I descended into the tube at Warren Street and boarded my train. I clutched the bag in my right hand and my purse in my left and looked around. Satisfied that no one was about to wrestle my plastic baggie of tumours away from me, I pulled from my purse my latest addiction, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and read a few pages during my brief ride.

I alighted at my stop (the British like to use the term “alight” rather than “get off” because it sounds fancier) in Belsize Park, triple checking that I still had the bag. When I got to my house I put the bag right on my desk so that the cleaning lady wouldn’t mistake it for trash or recycling and heave it outside. And there it now sits. Awaiting dispatch.

How terribly odd to carry around my cancer in a bag. Those bad bits of me that were, only six months ago, on the inside of my body, slowly growing and threatening my health, my life. I’m looking at the bag right now. I feel rather smug. Sort of like “ha ha, asshole. You are so low that you are in a second-hand, rather crumpled, blue plastic shopping bag and that is all you deserve.”

I spent part of the day wringing my hands over whether to use FedEx or DHL to dispatch the goods and what to write on the customs form. It demands a value. What should I put? Worthless? Priceless? The lady at the DFCI who deals with international patients (which I now am on account of living in the UK and having international insurance) suggested that I write in $1.00. One dollar for my cancer cells and their unique characteristics. One dollar for the thing that has changed my life forever.

As much as I don’t want them lost in the mail I can tell you that they don’t deserve to be valued at one red cent. They are dead. We cut them out and killed them and squashed them between slides and put them in plastic cases in a blue plastic bag. Now they are just specimens. Just evidence of what was.

You know, it’s funny. Years ago, right after my husband and I moved from our small apartment in New York City to the Boston area he joked for no apparent reason one day “your bosoms arrived in the mail.” Not knowing the odd significance of this prognostication we both thought it was wildly funny — albeit totally random. Now I am about to mail my bosoms to Boston while I take British Airways. It’s pretty weird, people.


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