Today was my date with destiny. For three years I was on an “every 6 month” cycle for mammograms due to calcifications. Generally, these just impede the screener’s ability to see any malformation, but sometimes they organize themselves into something more. In 2009, the schedule was relaxed to once a year for a diagnostic, bilateral mammogram. It is a bit more intense than a regular screening, but uses the same digital technology. There is discomfort, but nothing severe. Still, I procrastinated until 2 years had passed. When 2010 melted into 2011, I made a “to do” list of the stuff I would do to take care of myself. A mammogram, colonoscopy, treatment for TMJ and a revision or re-look at my knee were all on the list. The truth is, we are in charge of our own health. It gets to be a bigger job every year. And so I have myself on the treadmill of preventative health care.
I am fine. This is not a cautionary tale. On Friday the scheduler called to verify my health insurance and collect the co-pay, and she warmly wished that my screening would go well. I was so shocked to hear the humanity in a world of computer generated calls that I started thinking it was an omen. I spent the weekend in a tizzy of concern and worry. As with all my contemporaries, I have borne witness to too many women traveling the road through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. I have admired their grit, resolve and determination. I am not sure that I measure up in character or will.
My coping mechanism was to get frenzied and clean up the post-tub installation mess. Steve warned me not to simply move my junk back in: I was to divest. Check.
My clothes have been on a rolling rack, and I re-installed them in the closet. Winter clothing was removed and space was allocated for the summer stuff. I’ll get to that task eventually. Anything that looked like party clothing went to Pat’s closet. (where it will collect dust and moths) I smelled every bottle of 20 year old cologne, most of which had deteriorated to the point where disposal was the only option. My garbage will be uncharacteristically fresh this week! I made bags for Purple Hearts. I mixed all my various body lotions into one pungent cinnamon-vanilla-patchouli mess. Steve will really like that.
Then I dusted and cleaned the bedroom I have used as a closet for the last three months. Not one moment of this chore distracted me from my trepidation, but at least I had something constructive to show for my fear. Just think of what I will accomplish the week of the colonoscopy. No, don’t.
At any rate, I hauled my butt out of bed and checked in at the cheery Imaging facility early this morning. You never forget the program: No deodorant or powder. Put on the gown, lock up your stuff and wait for the tech. ( I picked the brown gown rather than the floral. I wondered what that said about me: pessimist? old? scared?) I half watched Oprah blab about her most popular shows, and half read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
on my Kindle. (Henrietta Lacks was being treated for uterine cancer with radium in 1950 as I skimmed the pages. Her cells, Hela cells, were the first to reproduce infinitely out of the human body; much medical research and many important treatments owe their success to her. Her cells are present in most labs today. She was indigent, black and illiterate when her cancer cells were harvested without her informed consent. Ironically, I believe Oprah optioned this book for an HBO movie. )
I could hear the technician walk the woman before me through it: stand here, arm here, hold your breath. Buzz. Good. One more. Now this way. Buzz. Again. Don’t breathe. Buzz. I know I am hurting you, sorry. Buzz. It was like a dress rehearsal. Then it was show time for me.
Fifteen minutes later, I was back in the holding area, sitting in my gown, listening to Oprah relive her big Michigan Avenue concert. I was praying that no more squishing was needed. Did I hold still? Breathe? Was I ok? New women checked in. One tiny young woman was called for another set of films. Anguish, acknowledged.
The intercom called for the doctor to come to the viewing room. I wondered if my X rays were being pored over. Jitters happened. I abandoned both Henrietta and Oprah and picked up a Rolling Stone with Howard Stern on it.
Really? Did I think that Howard had the power to calm me? Did I really want to read about his divorce and his psychiatrist? Would that make me feel better ? No.
The tiny girl was led to an office. I hoped her news was good, but I feared for her. Good news is generally delivered in the hallway just outside of the waiting room- private enough for a happy outcome. I was alone in the “wait and see” room just long enough for my imagination to take me through the ‘what ifs”. Then I was called out to the hall. When the tech realized I was alone in the waiting area, she just delivered the news: I was fine, and after 5 years of diagnostic films, I could shift to the regular mammogram. Woo Hoo.
I dressed in a jiffy, and I was off. The anticipation and fear is far worse that the test.
When I woke up at 6:30, someone on Facebook had posted a prayer about how important it is to start and end each day with gratitude- for the simplest gifts, like air and water, then move up to all the blessings that are built upon this base. I prayed that prayer, and gave God the word that I considered myself blessed in a zillion ways. At 9:30, I had a zillion and one reasons to be grateful, and so I thanked Him. And I snuck in some prayers for tiny girl in the flowered gown. Thank you, Facebook friend, for your gift to me.
Ladies: get your mammogram. Learn to self examine in the shower. Men: nag them. Do it every year. Early detection is the key to the cure.
Breathe easy- the odds are good for all of us, and we can tilt the odds with proactive screening. Think good thoughts and prayers for all those whose news will take them to a much harder path. If you know someone making the journey back to health from hell, reach out. We are in this together.