I figured the time and day at the mammography clinic had been reserved for special use from the moment I stepped through the door. Where women would usually sit and wait, there were guys who apparently were reading without turning any pages. I could feel their nerves.
I had asked Marc to stay home, telling him I would call with the result. Whatever my mystery mass was, I had decided well in advance that I was going it by myself. I would be okay either way. Good to great, regardless of outcome.
I don’t want to detract from the seriousness of the business of finding out your trusty body has pulled some sort of trick on you.
Is there anything scarier to most of us than facing the prospect of breast cancer, when we know so many who have been through it? The same thought that could have killed me actually made me stronger.
For the past ten days since the routine screening, I have been thinking. Wow, I might be joining their ranks. But I wasn’t thinking in terms of “people stricken.” I was thinking of my sister, my grandmother, and a host of courageous and wondrous friends who have come through the woman-cancer experience at different ages, nearly all of them alive and thriving and somehow even better than ever. (My grandmother actually died of old age and some residual cancer effect; but she lived with it for 20 years).
I thank you all, ladies, for who you are to me and the way you live. I honestly felt going in for the special tests, that whatever the outcome, I was in fine company. It’s just how I run my life—grateful for the fortune of how my life was, how it is now, and how it will be, thanks to each of you. You know who you are!
By the time I was laying on my back wearing my lovely exam shift in the darkened sonogram room, I was good to go, having been more formally introduced to the impalpable mystery mass on the “special” mammogram the hour before. Waiting for the doctor, I experienced a moment of sweet nostalgia thinking about the times in my life I had been in a sonogram room anxious to see the features of whichever mystery baby I was carrying at the time. Oh, sweet life! With a little pang I thought, “From now on sonograms will never mean the same.” But what great experiences I have been blessed to have.
The doctor on my case was from South Africa, and I told her about a surgeon I knew from there. We chatted on, and I cruised fairly easily through the experience, especially considering the sad worried faces of other women awaiting further diagnosis of their abnormalities. I just knew I’d be taken care of, one way or another, in the company of those who had trod the path before me. I kept talking as the doctor looked. I told her about good people in my life who had died from brain aneurysms, brain cancer, or accidents. “With breast cancer, we have a real chance,” I said as much to myself as to her. “If I had to pick a reason for unwellness, it’s not such a terrible thing, all things considered. There are so many options.”
“I know exactly what this is,” she told me after a few moments. “It’s a little cyst filled with water. See?” She marked it on the screen and turned it to show me.
“Really?...” which is kind of a dumb response. Most abnormalities are benign. But I had prepared myself for the alternative.
Someday something will happen. We all know it. Thanks to the experience, and the lessons learned from my survivor friends and family, I have an even better idea of what gratitude for simple everyday experience feels like.
Here’s the advice part, though, and women friends and family, please hear this. Dr. Warren and I want everyone to know that you need annual mammograms. Large healthcare organizations formally recommend “every two years” now for healthy women with clear past exams, according to new guidelines.
Pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain! How do we really know who is indeed low risk? Please remember their corporate interests are population–based, not personal. They are saving lives in a large cohort the size of the USA; they measure success in per-capita terms. They are not concerned about saving individual lives, such as that of a mother/grandmother with children, grandchildren, and a husband who loves her.
So take care of yourself. Promise me.