Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lessons from a repeat mammogram

I don't have a basketball angle for this post. I write it because sometimes this blog is an outlet for things to share, wisdom to impart.

I thought nothing of the letter when it came in the mail. It was 5:10 p.m. on a Thursday. I opened it expecting it to read like the others -- a box checked saying "normal results." Instead I spotted capital, bold letters. ADDITIONAL IMAGES.

They needed additional images of my breasts? It had been nearly two weeks since the mammogram. Why hadn't my doctor called if something was wrong?

I called the number on the letter. A hospital clerk told me there was nothing she could tell me and no appointment I could schedule without talking to my doctor. Suddenly, I couldn't hear the voices in my own house in the background. I kept rereading the letter and seeing the words. ADDITIONAL IMAGES.

I dialed the doctor's office, dreading I'd get the machine. Maybe they close at 5:30, I tell myself. Closed as of 5 p.m., I learn. I dial the answering service. My doctor isn't the one on call and was this really an emergency? The office reopoens at 8:30 a.m. Click. The long night of people, well-meaning in intention, telling me it was probably nothing does nothing to lift me. I have my own ways of telling myself inside it's probably nothing. I mean, no one had called, right? How bad could it be? I wanted to believe, but what if?

What if.

I expect reassurance when I finally talk to my doctor. Instead she tells me the report hadn't been sent to her. She knows nothing of it. Some mixup. An hour later, I talk with her again and she says something about women often needing to redo their mammograms when they go somewhere new. Hold on, I interrupt. That's not me. I'm 47. All seven of my mammograms have been at the same place. That put the doctor off script, but the message is the same. You'll need to return for another mammogram and an ultrasound.

Monday. 1 p.m.

I want to tell you that I don't put on a tough exterior front. I have trouble finding faith, trouble believing that all the praying in the world will change a health result. I worry. Nothing scares me more than health. My dad used to tell me  you could have all the money in the world, but without your health, it means nothing.  I scour the Internet looking for something to appease me and find dozens, maybe hundreds, of posts on message boards about women who have received such letters. Most of them are relieved to learn the results are benign even if they have a lump. I have no lump. I don't even know which breast; I forgot to ask. I feel both over and over. I find no lumps, but I wonder, would I know what a lump feels like?

The weekend is agonizing. I dismiss everyone's good intentions because they don't know; they can't know and I am a stubborn sort. My mind is clouded with what if. I think of all the women I know who have had breast cancer, survived breast cancer. I think of the survivor's walk at Old Dominion during the pink game and I see Debbie White, among the healthiest looking women I know, who beat breast cancer twice. You don't have breast cancer, the voices say. But what if? What if?I ask inside. What if I don't seem them graduate from high school?

Weekends generally speed by. This one didn't. Monday arrived slowly, 1 p.m. even slower. When it's time, you're grateful even if it is unsettling to walk back into a breast center again so soon. They ask you all the same insurance information that you gave two weeks before. Nothing has changed. It hasn't been a year, you want to shout. It's been two weeks.

You put on the gown that opens in the front and sit in a wicker chair. Other women are in the room, and you wonder if they are here for a repeat, too. They are staring at their cell phones; I stare ahead. I pick up a magazine and wonder why I'm holding it.

 Nobody ever says the word cancer, but you see the pamphlets. You see the pink. They call your name and tell you not to worry. Your breasts are dense, you're told. But what did they see? The tech tells you the radiologist wants to take another look. Just in case.

Mammograms smash your breasts into a cold metal machine. It pinches more than usual as the tech really works to flatten each breast, and you don't care about the pinching. Do what you need to do. She tells you if all is OK, maybe an ultrasound won't be necessary. She takes pictures, many, many of both breasts. Over and over again.

I wait. I talk to another woman who tells me she has a lump. She is scared. The tech returns. They need a few more pictures, she says. My left breast returns to the cold machine.

I wait again, longer this time. I picture the tech telling me all is well; I can go home. The tech returns. They want to do an ultrasound just to be sure. I ask if I can talk to the radiologist. After, I'm told.

I pray.

The ultrasound tech is very young. I watch her while she uses a probe to smooth out the cold, sticky jell she has placed on the right breast first, then the left. I'm reminded of when I had sonograms during my pregnancies and would study the tech's face for a sign something is amiss. Back then the tech told me it wasn't her job to tell me the findings of a sonogram.

 I look at this screen and see nothing but black. The tech tells me not to worry. She sees nothing at the various "o'lock" portions she is probing repeatedly. I feel good when she is done, but she's not a radiologist she tells me.

She leaves and the radiologist comes in. She talks about breast density and how mammograms show little for women with dense breasts. It seems like it takes forever, but she finally confirms that nothing is there.

Nothing is there. I breathe again for the first time since Thursday at 5:10 p.m.

You tell yourself when you come out of that room that you will live life differently. You will hold those you love a little tighter and you will worry less about just about everything. You will eat well, exercise more. You will be better and life will be better.

The days go by, a few weeks now, and you wonder how much of the bargain you made that you've held up. Have you been kinder, warmer, less stressed about the little things, more involved in the bigger ones? Not as much as you had hoped. You write this post vowing to share something that made a significant impact on your life that will go down as a blip for those around you.

There was nothing there. But all that you endured meant something to you.  

1 comment: