You know that annual exam we women look forward to every year?
It’s our routine hour spent lying on our back trying to make small talk with someone who knows us more intimately than our significant others desire to. Ice-cold tools send a chill of anticipation up our pelvis as we’re waiting to hear those three words “You’re all done!”
If really looking for an escape from our 9-to-5 routine perhaps after the pelvic exam we double book appointments so that our top half doesn’t feel neglected. It’s always a smashing good time to visit the imaging center for a mammogram. We leave feeling like overworked supermodels after forcing our bodies through a blend of interpretive dance and yogilates for the perfect shot.
Thanking the staff for too much fun for one day, we wave goodbye, skip to our cars and return to our everyday lives. A few days later we hopefully get calls from our doctors saying that everything looks normal. I so look forward to that dance so this time I felt comfort in seeing their message on my phone, putting a happy ending to my annual exams.
When finally treated to a slower afternoon, I dedicated one ear to clear out phone messages. As the forgotten message from my breast imaging lab began, the transcribed words caught my eye! They read, “We recommend you come back for further test…” Now fully engaged, I scrambled trying to get the message to play faster as if that would answer all of my immediate questions.
My heartbeat surged and the “What ifs” peppered my head like hot sparks. To tune them out, I focused on fixing this – though I still didn’t know what “this” was. I clawed to gain the upper hand by calling the lab, masquerading calm, to book an immediate appointment. My next call, to my doctor, actually preceded the paperwork from the lab so I chalked that as a small victory for me – staying one step ahead of the nasty order. Still, I had to wait 10 days until my next visit, so I needed to exist with the anticipation for that long before getting one step closer to a resolution or a plan. I am horrible with secrets but wanted to process my questions and concerns, not be overwhelmed by everyone else’s yet.
My brain immediately and incessantly drew conclusions between things that I’ve encountered in my life, giving me a few theories to check out. I researched the impact of cell phone towers and possible links to cancer since our work building supports a communication kingdom on the rooftop raining all sorts of waves that we don’t truly know enough about. After an information overload, I held off with the rest of my investigative research online until I could ask the nurses or doctors in person with their real-life experience. The Internet provided material to support any theory I wanted to pursue, but not always the truth, nor information specifically to help me.
I briefly dipped my toe in the irony of having just been picked for the most awetastic Oprahtunity of my life layered with my excitement to cruise with Oprah in a few months then felt frustrated that this could balance out that joy. I refused to live in those thoughts for long because, especially this year, I believe in manifesting our futures. If those negative ironies aren’t allowed to wander the universe, hopefully they couldn’t pick up speed. I remained defiant that whatever these future photos showed, they would not put a damper on those plans.
Realizing that my kids’ homework would still flood us and the morning rush wouldn’t lighten up, for the next 10 days, I buried the secret and lived life as usual. OK, yes, I’ll admit to the exception of not sticking my phone in my bra when I needed an extra free hand. Oh, and being still and talking to God a few more times than usual. Despite trying to keep my chin up, I did not sleep well. My mind wasn’t stewing on anything in particular, I just couldn’t sleep. It didn’t help my writer’s block either. I’m not great with receiving surprises and this unknown had a strong possibility of delivering an unwanted surprise.
On the morning of my appointment, I chose to remain optimistic and focused on staying present. I remember the waffle texture of my starched white robe and how peaceful the waiting room felt with its natural stone walls. Enya’s voice filled the air while other women and I flipped through a library of beauty and fashion magazines. A snapshot of this moment might look like a lovely girls’ spa day.
When called into the first room for a few more smashing images, I suddenly appreciated all of the large machines it takes to stare at my chest. The images on the rocket control monitor looked like a foreign galaxy. I asked the technician what foreign bodies or alien bodies we hoped to locate and she indicated that it’s an asymmetry (I thought everybody’s boobs were asymmetrical). But it just means that one side grew something new.
I recovered briefly in the calm waiting room, before a new technician invited to my next stop: Ultrasound. After having two children, I prided myself on my mad ultrasound deciphering skills (even if not my own). Nothing in the shading of these ultrasounds made sense to me. I made a mental note to never play cards with either technician because their poker faces held solid. Not unfriendly at all, but void of any discovery, definition or significance.
While bored on the table, hindsight started my highlights reel. I recalled that my left breast sometimes felt different, but not in a lumpy way. When I did my breast self-exams I couldn’t put my finger on anything specific, it just felt different. Occasionally, I felt a brief pain, too small to set off an alarm, but I chalked it up to mid-life sagging or ill-fitting bras and hoped for an Oprah bra intervention. Perhaps I felt a slight connectivity within the tissue where I hadn’t before. But now, after smashing and poking and prodding for a closer look, I centered in on the area in question!
The technician asked me to get off the table and hang out for a minute while, I assumed, she made sure the slides captured clear enough images to send to my doctor. When she walked back into the room, the full color of the emotion on her face filled the room as she announced: Benign! I avoided making eye contact with a paper reading “malignant” or “benign” that emphasized in what felt like 75pt bold font just how much weight this answer carries. Then I got dizzy trying to remember which word I wanted to receive, or not. Benign!
Turns out it’s just a little cyst. Bodies make them sometimes, my body seems better at this than most. Because of my delight and previous pixie dust use, I immediately pictured the cyst as a friendly Disney character (It’s weird where our mind goes in times of stress). I thanked her profusely, wished her a wonderful weekend, returned to the dressing room to change back into my normal clothes, and cried. Relieved.
- Get annual exams – I’d fallen off my regular schedule after a work event competed for time last fall. After the urgent reminder of a friend who hoped to get even one friend to make her appointment – I called.
- Do monthly breast exams – Just do it!
- Don’t be afraid of doctors – Don’t be scared to go to the doctor because you’re afraid of what they’ll find. They are trained to know how to fix you so you can focus on being or getting well. Often, the issue is smaller and treatment is less scary than your enthusiastic imagination or Web MD says.
- Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion – Even if they have similar diagnosis, their treatment style could be different. Find a doctor you feel comfortable with.
- Consider finding your family history – Doesn’t mean you will get something or guarantee that you won’t. But when faced with a health challenge, I feel the more knowledge we have, the less irrational fear occurs. If nothing else, it helps knowing there is someone else who understands what you are facing.
- Relax – Remember that hopefully your story will be less crazy than people who came before you thanks to progress made in medicine during the last decade.
- Be Confident – Consider too that these days, technology advances with DNA may allow us to someday change the negative DNA we’ve been gifted with.
What about you?
- Please share tips or resources that helped you get through a health challenge or scare.
- Please share your ideas for gifts that patients and their families really enjoy.
- Do you use your bra like a pocket too? Keys, credit cards, loose change…
- Did you do your annual exam this year? Go! Call! Now!
- Do you have any fun rituals like treating yourself to a spa day afterwards?
- Bonus points if you remember what movie my title came from!
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