debbie millman

Friday, December 15, 2006

Probably Nothing And Much Better Than This Morning

brilliant brilliant maira
Originally uploaded by debbie millman.

“It’s probably nothing,” my doctor told me. This was the same doctor I almost cancelled on this week, because of I have a nearly pathological fear of doctors. She said "It's probably nothing," as she circled a smudge on the mammogram x-ray of my right breast. She circled the inky, blurry spot with a red oil pencil, identical to the one I used to use to mark up mechanicals when I was in my twenties. This is the same pencil I no longer use because I am now in my forties and mechanicals don’t exist anymore. I am in this doctors office because I am in my forties and this what you do when you are in your forties, especially when your grandmother died of breast cancer.

She did a second mammogram and then decided my right breast needed a sonogram. I laid on the table and watched a screen showing us the inside of my body and I couldn't believe this was happening and she asked me why I was crying. This surprised me, as I didn’t realize I was crying. I wasn’t really crying; tears were just coming out of my eyes involuntarily. I tried to smile so she wouldn’t think I was a baby. But even though I am in my forties, I am a baby.

Four hours later, she confirmed it was probably nothing. In fact, she said it was definitely nothing. I called my father and then I really cried. I called Carin and told her I was on my way to lunch, finally, as I had kept her waiting in the restaurant for more than an hour. When I sat down she ordered me chicken soup and I cried a little bit more. And then she cheered me up and we sat in the restaurant talking until the sun went down and the dinner reservations started showing up. And then I talked to my Aunt Harriet who told me my cousin Shayna went through the same thing. Apparently we both inherited our grandmother’s dense, Jewish breasts. And then Emily called to make sure I was okay and Miss Minus emailed. And then Edwin came in from New Jersey and bought me Chinese food. I felt better.


I went around hugging my breasts all day, the same breasts I often ridicule for not being big enough or perky enough or perfectly symmetrical. But all that day I thought they were perfect. I felt happy until I got a call at 11:37 pm from John, the husband of my dear, dear friend Miss Clara. Miss Clara helps me with my life and my pets and she loves my cat Rothko almost as much as I do. John called to tell me that Miss Clara was hit by a car. She was in the hospital with two broken legs, a broken nose and a fractured scull. I started crying again and then he was crying too and he said there was nothing I could do, because he knew I wanted to do something. I couldn’t see her because she was in intensive care, and he promised he would call me in the morning. When he called back, he was still crying and he told me she might not make it. She was in a coma and things didn’t look good. But by the time I got to the hospital, she actually had started to improve. Miss Clara’s sister Marta was there along with some of her other relatives. Miss Clara is Bolivian and hasn’t seen her children in several years, as she is here working to make money to send back to them at home. After all these years here, she finally got her green card this past Monday, just a few days ago. On Tuesday, she told me she was going to go back to Bolivia for a visit after Christmas. She was giddy with joy at being able to see her children again and we hugged. Now we were in the hospital and Marta and her relatives were all standing in Miss Clara's room as there was only one chair, and they were too polite to ask for more. So I went and got more chairs for them. I talked to the doctor and he told me this was going to be a very long recovery. She would need steel rods in her legs and her fractured skull was still worrying him. Ordinarily I know what to say, but I didn’t know what to say. We all cried some more and I went to the hospital gift store and bought Miss Clara a kitten beany baby to remind her of Rothko for when she wakes up. John was being brave and feeling optimistic. He kept telling me she was so much better than this morning.


When I got home I remembered that Maira Kalman’s monthly column in The New York Times Select came out last week and I hadn’t seen it yet. For those that might not be aware, Maira, our very own National Treasure, writes a column titled, “The Principals of Uncertainty.” This month she wrote about her encounters with Oblomov, pheasant eggs, a girl in a pink fuzzy coat, hats, fortune tellers and glorious women. And she describes seeing a dress she embroidered hanging in a friends house: “On the wall was a dress that I embroidered. It said “Ich Habe Genug.” Which is a Bach Cantata. Which I once thought meant, “I’ve had it, I can’t take it anymore, give me a break.” But I was wrong. It means, “I have enough.” And that is utterly true. I happen to be alive. End of discussion. But I will go out and buy a hat."

Tomorrow I am going out to by two hats. One hat for me, and one hat for Miss Clara. And I think I am also going to buy a very pretty, very sexy, very appropriate and very exceptional new bra.


Blogger minus five said...

what a week! i'll go to mcdonald's with you, if you want.

12/15/2006 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger jennifer said...

Hi, Debbie Millman. I'm a friend of Tania Rochelle (and I met Minus Five/Sarah via Tania's blog). I am glad that your breast and Miss Clara are o.k.! I love your blog!

12/16/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

That's quite a week you've had. I'm glad you are well and that your friend Miss Clara is recovering. -G

12/18/2006 12:40:00 AM  
Blogger Cadillacrazy said...

I cried during my sonogram as well.. but mine was not nothing to worry about. It makes me happy to read about you hugging your breasts, and your new found appreciation for them. They deseserve the very pretty exceptional new bra!

12/18/2006 07:48:00 PM  

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Location: new york city, United States

Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for over 25 years. She is President of the design division at Sterling Brands. She has been there for nearly 15 years and in that time she has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she was a Senior Vice President at Interbrand and a Marketing Director at Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is President of the AIGA, the largest professional association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine, a design writer at and Brand New and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet. The show is titled “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” and it is now featured on In addition to “Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design,” (HOW Books, 2009, she is the author of "How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer" (Allworth Press, 2007) and “The Essential Principles of Graphic Design” (Rotovision, 2008).

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