I’m thinking out loud here, sharing a few experiences during this, Breast Cancer Awareness month. It’s been a blur the last few weeks, as we face many unknowns on many fronts, nearly all in the control of others, but the constant thread throughout the year has been cancer. Not just my own brushes with it as doctors run various tests and even, just this last summer, for our middle son, LT. Nope, MANY others that I love have dealt with the terror of cancer recently– a staggering and heart breaking number.
And normally I wouldn’t write a confessional like this for fear of poking at anyone’s wounds on the subject of cancer. So if you’re one of those people, you’re just going to have to stop reading here or continue knowing that I’m raw and writing with little censoring.
I’ve been digging in deep in therapy, facing my cancer fears and, as my Momma taught me long ago (after 3 known generations of a breast cancer death sentence), exerting control over it where I can:
- by vigilantly performing breast self-exams;
- by staying up on new possible risk factors;
- ensuring that what I consider to be essential dietary requirements are met;
- never, ever missing an annual physical or mammogram.
So, as it happened, this year my annual exam best worked out on my 43rd birthday. It was just one of many things that defined the day in a special way, particularly because of the love and patience my husband showed me.
While at the appointment, I was given an order for a mammogram. I have them annually and have for years. I don’t fear them, I welcome them. Find the little fuckers before they can spread to my lymph nodes, because Holy Hell you don’t want to happen.
I put it with an order I already had for back x-rays, deciding to make the appointment within the week.
Then I got a call from my doctor’s office, relaying my extremely trusted doctor’s need to discuss abnormal results from the pap test portion of the exam. I wasn’t terrified, because it was the second one I’d had, the last being 15 years ago and the follow up testing and annual testing in the intervening years have been normal. I was also terrified, because it was the second abnormal and if it had been missed all this time then it had 15 years to secretly fill my body.
I already had a full day of laundry, and shopping for baking and an already too-full To Do list, but the plans went out the window and the race to see her began. She explained it was likely nothing, but she doesn’t mess around when it comes to me and reproductive cancers. After she opted for a pelvic ultrasound, I snatched the order for that test and the other two and dragged my dazed and raw self to the imaging center I prefer. (A phrase I hoped never to say.)
The ultrasound, with a fresh 32 ounces in my distended bladder was unpleasant but over quickly, and with great relief I headed off to tinkle when I was then told of the shocking (to me) internal component that I was not warned of. Again, ever seeking more information on life-threatening matters, I leapt into the necessaries, and was beyond relieved when I was given the all-clear on Monday. (Huzzah!) In related news, my left ovary is bashful.
One down, two to go, and I don’t really know what to wish for regarding the back x-rays. That left me with the mammogram results to sweat out. I try to act like I wasn’t worried, but I always am. After leaving my doting husband, and his comforting hand in mine (Thank God for Chooch), in the waiting room, I liken the feeling I get to being a little girl reaching up for my Mom’s hand to guide me through it the rest of the way. Luckily, although she died almost 7 years ago from breast cancer, she never disappoints. (Thank God for Mom.)
So a phone call from my doctor today, followed by a notice from the imaging center that there is again an area of concern in a new location, and I have to go back for a breast ultrasound and what I think of as a targeted compression mammogram. I’ve had multiple ultrasounds over the years and one targeted compression mammogram. That year, I had photographed the room, the machine and different steps involved in the hopes of de-mystifying the mammogram experience of an ordinary patient.
Before I could even edit the photos and write the post, I had gotten the notice of the area of concern and need for further testing. Even having gotten the all-clear, it felt like tempting the fates to post it. This year, I again stopped myself from taking my camera to finally write a blog post. No jinxies.
Am I getting better at handling and processing terrors? Is therapy helping? Or, with all the other nasty surprises the year has brought our direction, am I just burned out?
Tomorrow I schedule that test, hopefully Monday. Now, how many tests can you have come back negative before the odds send home a positive? As in, “You have tested positive for cancer.” Wait, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.
Even scarier, what if something is wrong and I hadn’t gone for my annual exam and/or mammogram?
And yes, I know, everything is going to be fine. In fact, I’ve even been able to find a thin sliver of a silver lining, if you can believe my gall, if the worst is true. So, there’s that.
Please, everyone, if you haven’t gone for your annual physicals yet this year, schedule them now.
There is more than simply breast cancer to be vigilant against, Dear Reader, so give yourself a fighting and well-informed chance on anything you or your doctor are concerned about.
I don’t mean to diminish what is likely a hefty co-pay, but I would certainly prefer knowing that a loved one nixed gift giving over the holidays in exchange for a health screening.
Promise you’ll at least think about it?
P.S. For those expecting a Dr Who reference, here ya go — if I do get breast cancer, send the Weeping Angels my way if it starts to win. Cuz I have no intention of being the 4th generation with that particular cause of death.
Everything came back negative and WOW that’s a long and gnarly post. Ah, the wonder of me.