“Everything is OK. We’ll see you in a year.”
And with that, I grabbed my purse, clutched the flimsy cotton gown barely covering my naked upper body and headed for the dressing room.
It’s what I should have heard a month ago when I went for my first mammogram (not first ever, just first of this series).
Instead, I headed home and proceeded to receive a barrage of letters, phone calls and one certified letter from the hospital begging me to return. My heart raced after the first letter, but I was reassured that “it was routine.” At no point did anyone say anything was “suspicious” or “amiss” or even “curious.”
So, I delayed because I made the assumption that it was an imaging problem, which happened once before. In other words, the technician missed a shot. It was no big deal. I’d delayed almost three years since my last mammogram, what’s another month?
It took an hour of sitting in a different waiting room to make me realize something else was going on this time. It was a room of worry. There was no chatting of any sort going on. Women came in. They were called once. Returned. Then called again. Most left looking relieved.
This was the “follow-up” room. When my name was called and I was enclosed in a private room, the technician told me as if I knew already that they needed to do some magnification images of some areas of “calcification.”
Huh? This was news to me. I was offered no information, but the tech was willing to answer some questions. Is this normal? It’s not unusual. Is it an age thing? Yes, it has to do with age. Do I have cancer? We will look at the magnified images and see if you need to have a biopsy.
Shit. We are talking about a cluster of dots about the size of a pin head on the X-ray. Nothing I would ever have felt in an exam. Nothing that I would ever have known about. How could I have been so nonchalant about my health? What if I have cancer?
By the time the technician led me back to my seat, my heart was racing and my mind was a mess. All I could think about was how I would handle the news if it wasn’t good. What about my baby Girl from the East? She can’t afford to lose another mother in her life. What about Girl from the West? How could I do this to either one of them.
I thought about the cigarettes I used to smoke. The junk food. God knows what toxins I’ve inhaled, ingested in my lifetime. How I avoided the mammogram because, frankly, it sucks.
Then I decided to pull it together. Until I know more, I’m working myself up over nothing. Even if I do have cancer, they’re just breasts. I can live without them I reasoned. Just let me have my health.
I thought about my best friend from childhood who told me two years ago she had breast cancer. She’s doing better now, but the image is hard to shake. It’s what your mind can do to you that can cause the most damage, I concluded.
Two excruciating hours later, the same technician came out with a kind smile on her face and suggested I have a nice day after this.
So, lesson learned. Don’t skip exams. Don’t delay follow-up visits. Ask questions. Value life.