I brought my husband with me to the appointment that day. I knew he couldn’t come back to the exam room with me, but I needed him close by, in case they didn’t have good news for me.
We were sitting in the waiting room when the nurse came out and started calling names. Apparently they call a bunch of at the same time to start getting prepared for our mammogram. My husband got up to go with me, such a good man, but I told him he couldn’t.He wanted me to ask, just in case, but I let him know there were a bunch of women in there and I’d call him if I needed him. His “I’m not going to look worried, but I look worried” face and tone of voice made me feel loved and cared for, and a bit nervous, all at the same time.
Back in the dressing room, they gave us floral fabric to wear and reminded us to wear it like a cape. It took me a few minutes of trying to find the arm holes when I luckily remembered they said it goes on like a cape. We all sit in the same waiting room area, in our capes, and wait to be called.
I was the youngest by far. No one talks to each other, and there’s a TV and magazines to keep everyone distracted. Besides I couldn’t think of a conversation starter at that moment, and it’s not really the time to talk about the weather or my personal preference about the show on the TV.
Finally they start calling patients to the exam room. I walked in a sterile small room with a massive piece of cream-colored medical equipment on one side of the room. It looked like something out of Grey’s Anatomy except this was real life.
The nurse handed me some kind of form about being eligible for a 3D mammogram. I wasn’t sure what the form was even asking me. Was I eligible? Would my insurance cover this? If I did this, would I end up getting a bill for $3,000 for some procedure I didn’t need?
Finally, the nice lab technician clarified for me, “You’re just signing to consent the procedure. We will bill your insurance and if the bill isn’t paid, we don’t charge you.” Why she couldn’t have said that when she handed me the form was beyond me, but then again maybe she did and I wasn’t listening. I was slightly distracted.
Mammograms are not something someone forgets. I had my first mammogram around my 30th birthday. Yes, that is far earlier than the average woman begins her yearly checkups, but my doctor had advised me to start checking when I was about 10 years younger than than the age when my mother developed breast cancer. I couldn’t remember the exact age but thought it was around 40.
After the initial x-rays, at that mammogram, they called me back to the observation room and did an ultrasound to double check something they thought they saw. Talk about a panic moment, but it was just dense tissue, and they told me I was really too young to be having this procedure and to wait a few years.
Well it had been a few years and now, at 33, my doctor had just found a lump. I was back in the mammogram office. At least this time it didn’t seem as daunting since I knew (or thought I knew) the general process of the appointment. That’s not a process you want to be unfamiliar with, when you’re busy worrying about a lump.
For years, I’ve had people tell me how awful mammograms are, which didn’t necessarily make me want to run right out and try one, but for me, they’re really not that bad. They make you stand perfectly still and use a machine to press against you to get the correct image.
As I’m standing there in this awkward position in a room where no one wants to be, with my lump still intact, the technician says, “Ok, just relax and hold still.” I wanted to giggle… relax, really, with the lump? But I was in too much of a fog to even say anything and just followed her orders. It’s a quick few minutes and they escort you back to the waiting room while the staff reviews the x-ray films.
Sitting in the room, waiting for my name to be called, I started to imagine what they’d say to me when they returned, but I had to stop with the scenarios. Whatever it was, I would deal with when I knew.
They called me back and took me to a different room. They had decided to do an ultrasound.
OK, here we go, something’s wrong, I thought. It was in that moment that I really started to panic. I wished I had asked if my husband could come back with me, because I could have really used him, if only to hold my hand.
The ultrasound was quick and to the point, and the tech left to check the images. I sat in the room trying not to break down and my imagination started again. I decided as soon as she walked in I would ask her to get my husband. I debated walking out and getting him myself, but I was in my floral cape.
A few minutes later she walked in and she looked like she had something serious to tell me. I didn’t even have a chance to ask for my husband when she told me that everything was normal. The doctors just wanted to double check but that they didn’t see anything on the mammogram or the ultrasound.
Where was the lump? I managed to open my mouth and ask, “Then what is the lump?”
“We don’t know,” she answered, “you’ll have to follow up with your doctor.”
And that was it. I wanted to argue with her, “No you figure this out! You don’t understand! The lump is still there, and I’m not leaving until you tell me what this is!”
Instead of an outburst, I followed her back to the changing room and quickly changed so I could get out of there.
I found my husband in the waiting room and blurted out as fast as I could – “It’s nothing.”
He looked so relieved. It wasn’t till we headed out that he asked, “Then what is it?”
I had thought I would be leaving the mammogram with an answer, and while I did find out it wasn’t cancer, I was still left wondering what it was. I knew I needed to make a follow up appointment with my OBGYN to get started with the hormone treatments, but with the holidays coming I just decided to ignore everything. I didn’t have cancer and that was enough for me.
I received a letter awhile later from the medical imaging place I had gone to for my mammogram, just restating that the mammogram was normal, but then it said that because I had dense breast tissue, there was still a 30% chance it was cancer and they recommended further diagnosis from a breast specialist.
WHAT! I thought I didn’t have cancer? What’s with the 30%? And as quickly as they left, the cancer scenarios were back in my head.
It was time for the breast specialist. I mustered up enough courage to call the breast specialist my OBGYN had originally recommended and the number was disconnected, well that wasn’t going to work. I tried calling a different doctor that had been recommended to me by a friend, but the doctor was no longer with the practice, she’d moved to Texas. I was starting to get defeated.
I don’t quite remember how I found the specialist I ended up seeing, but I made the appointment for a few weeks out, for the beginning of January. I prepped myself that I could wait that long and tried not to let my mind wander with worry. A few days before my appointment, the doctor’s office called me to inform me that the doctor was going to need to reschedule. She had been called into an emergency surgery the day of my appointment.
I of course felt awful for the person who was having the emergency surgery, and while I was grateful that I wasn’t having emergency surgery, I was not excited about having to wait longer. And by longer, I mean it was another two to three weeks until the doctor had another opening.
This time I asked to my mother-in-law to come with me to the appointment. I had had time to collect my thoughts and calm down and I really wanted her to be there with me. The doctor was late and I worried even more in the waiting room but once inside she got right down to business.
She wondered why I was coming in, if I had already had the mammogram, but when I mentioned taking Clomid, she got serious and was determined to do the best ultrasound. I’m not quite sure about the Clomid connection, but it was like name dropping to get a better seat at a restaurant, and I took whatever I could get!
She started the ultrasound and warned me that she makes noises she doesn’t realize she’s making while looking at the ultrasound screen, so to just ignore them. I was relieved she told me that because I would have thought every noise meant something awful.
What seemed like a few minutes later she paused and said, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing here. Where was the lump?” I laid there wondering if I was on candid camera or something.
I reached down to show her and it was gone. WHAT… WAIT… It’s here somewhere, it was huge!
And just as quickly as this lump had appeared, it had left. There was nothing there and I was free to start Clomid.
As she left the room I just sat in shock. My mother-in-law was overjoyed and grateful that it was nothing, but I just couldn’t figure out what just happened. Was this a test? Was there really a lump?
Did I do all this worrying for nothing? And more importantly, how did I move on from this? These were the moments in our lives that I thought were supposed to shape who we are, and make us into the saints we’re trying to become.
I followed up with my original OBGYN and she was thrilled it was nothing and assumed it was some fibrocyst thing. She said they just come and go. When I explained how the specialist had bumped my appointment back, she said it was probably better, because it had time for the cyst to go away.
And that was that. We moved on.
Writing this now, I can’t believe all of that happened, but I have taken away one very important thought. The human body is a mystery, of which God is ultimately in control of, but we are also stewards of this temple of ours and we have to protect it from the toxins that can hurt us.
Obviously I can’t stay in a bubble all day and I can’t always afford to eat organic, but I do my best to make sure I drink lots of water, get as much rest as I can at night, and find ways to remember not to worry about everything. I’m not good at the “not worrying” part yet, but I’m trying. It’s also made me realize I need to have a will written and make sure that my children are taken care of if, God forbid, the results aren’t as good next time.
I leave you with two questions:
The next morning, I went to drop my daughter off at school, trying to act as normal as possible, but the carpool people didn’t help my anxiety level. There is a lane where parents park to drop their kindergarteners off, but because my daughter is PM kindergarten, and the AM kindergarten parents get there and park to pick up their kids (even though they’ve sent home 17 flyers telling them to park in the parking lot and not in the drive through!).
I wanted to get out and start yelling, “It’s a no parking zone, you’re inconsiderate and irritating and I have a mass on my breast and you can’t even let me pull in to drop my daughter off at school?” Luckily, again, I talked myself off the ledge and realized that although my world seems to be on some weird pause mode where everything is in slow motion, with no sound, the rest of the world was still functioning as normal. So I parked in the lot and walked her in myself.
Once in the car again, I rushed to the radiology center that had come up as the closest location when I did my very fancy Google search. I live in a small town, so it was just down the street from my daughter’s school.
I went in to the appointment scheduling desk and told them I needed to make an appointment. When the receptionist asked what for, I couldn’t say the word mammogram out loud. I whispered it, as if whispering it, would make it sound better.
I felt crazy handing her my prescription for the mass in my right breast. I felt like I was waiting for her to look at me in horror, and I imagined what she might say, “But you’re so young, how can you have a mass? How can you have cancer? Did you not to your breast exam?”
Of course she didn’t say any of those things, and instead gave me the first available appointment. This was Friday and they couldn’t see me until the following Tuesday. How they can make someone wait the whole weekend is beyond me! I wanted to yell, “Don’t you see I have a mass? I want it looked at now!”, but I refrained from making a scene, took the appointment card, and left.
So I began the waiting game. I spent the weekend trying to ignore the mass. That didn’t last long, and so I began talking myself off the ledge. It’s just a tissue lump, it’s just confirmation that I have a thyroid problem, it’s benign, etc…. anything I could do to NOT let myself think it was cancerous.
Then, I began thinking about the biopsy, and how they may just remove the lump. I started to worry because I had heard that after lump removals, you can’t lift your arm for a few days and my husband was getting ready to leave for a business trip. How would I manage? Had I bought the trip insurance they offered me, in case he had to cancel his trip or would we end up having to front the cost of the whole trip?
My scenarios stopped there, because the idea that it was the C-word, and I could lose my hair or leave my kids without a mother was not something that I was willing to even consider. I would deal with that if and when it ever got to that point.
Right then, it was just a lump of tissue. And if my brain wasn’t racing enough, I even began to think, “Well what if it’s nothing? Are you just waiting for it to be something? How do I move on from this if they tell you everything is fine and send you home?” I just had to stay calm and push it out of my head until Tuesday.
In an attempt to ignore the mass, I began to battle with my anger. I had to fight my temptation to ignore prayer and to cut myself off from God. I could blame Him. It would be easy, but was it going to help?
I thought I’d try shopping, figured I’d buy whatever I wanted to make myself feel better. After all, if I was dying I wouldn’t need money. But if it was benign, how was I going to rationalize the spending?
I went to Mass that following Sunday and the priest was reminding us how the Year of Faith had just ended. Really? Seriously? We’re gonna talk about that again? I was done with the Year of Faith!
The house we were renting got foreclosed on during that Year of Faith, we lived with my in-laws all summer while waiting on a job so we could move home, I was faithful, I stayed the course, and now what?
The encore to the Year of Faith is A MASS! Then if it couldn’t get better, my parish priest tells the parish that they’ve decided to put the Year of Faith into action and so they’ve claimed the theme for the upcoming year, for our parish as Duc In Altum,“Go out into the deep.” Really, go out into the deep!!!! No thanks, I’m good, check please!
Again the attempt to talk myself off the ledge: I realized if there’s any way I’m going to get through this, it was to turn to God, cling to Him and wait out the storm. I was just hoping my umbrella would open this time!
Copyright 2014 Courtney Vallejo