I got my first mammogram this year. Not because I finally transcended that 40-year mark, but because at my annual exam, my doctor found a lump in my breast.
And I say annual as if I went every year, but I didn’t. Three years had passed since I had last put my legs in those cold stirrups. The volume of regret I felt thinking over those stupid three years while I laid on the table was enough to choke me.
My doctor directed my hand to feel the lump for myself, all the while she talked but my ears found a way to smother her words for a few moments. And then survival mode piped up and kicked me in the pants (well, lack of pants), and I snapped out of it. Logic insisting that I stop being so damn dramatic. Logic telling me that it isn’t a cancer diagnosis… yet (retorts my lizard brain).
Logic wins for the moment, and I re-focus on the remainder of the exam. Get dressed, pay my bill, get in the car, and immediately call to schedule my mammogram and ultrasound.
Two weeks until my appointment. Great. Two weeks to wonder and worry and freak the fuck out and calm myself back down – at least ten times a day.
I call my twenty-something-year-old daughter and tell her that I have to get a mammogram, but that I am 100% sure that it is totally nothing. I lie to protect her from scary thoughts, I lie to buy her some worry-free time… just in case.
Back at the house, I am sitting on the couch when my husband comes home. I wanted to lie to protect him too, but I guess lying is easier over the phone. Standing over me, he asks how my appointment went, and I promptly burst into tears. I am scared. I tell him everything. He tells me that it’s totally nothing to worry over. It will all be nothing. I hoped he was right, and I wished it was that easy to convince me. I later realized he was saying it for himself as well as for me.
Those two weeks were the longest I think I have ever known. Two weeks of reading so many articles and blogs about breast cancer and breast cancer scares, foods you should and shouldn’t eat to prevent and/or fight breast cancer, and all the treatment options and their respective success rates. Two weeks of pitching “do I have it?” and “I don’t have it” enough times to make anyone seasick.
I go in for my appointment. Numb, but curious – definitely ready to get this the hell over with. Not a long wait. Within minutes, I am wearing a thin cape/shawl combo with snap buttons, and I have the 3D mammogram done. The mammogram technician was friendly and quick but didn’t offer me any clues as she sent me off to hurry up and wait.
I hang out for about five minutes in a small dressing room before the ultrasound technician escorts me to the ultrasound room across the hall. Once there, she performs the ultrasound and tells me that the doctor will come in shortly to also have a look.
He steps in a few minutes later and while going over my breast again with the ultrasound wand, he explains that he does not see any cancer, it is a cyst. He turns the monitor so that I can see. He points out the dark mass on the screen and reassures me that dark mass with defined borders indicates a fluid sac, a benign cyst. My diagnosis of Fibrocystic Breast Disease buys me a full 12 months until I return for another mammogram.
They will be yearly now. Same for my annual exam.
I am strangely grateful for this experience. In just fourteen days time, the gravity never felt so heavy, yet at the same time, life never felt so damn important to live.
Statistics and genetics be damned, I got a lucky break and a serious a-ha moment for how small and fleeting life is.
I don’t want to waste another single moment.
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