October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, during which I was personally and ironically introduced to the fear and uncertainty of a possible diagnosis. While I have a family history of breast cancer and helped care for my “granny” while she was going through her treatment, I was surprised to discover a lump on myself. Being relatively young, it’s not something that had ever really crossed my mind. Yet, it was there, and obvious. So I made an appointment for the doctor who examined it and told me “that it didn’t look good” and I was referred for a mammogram, which also “didn’t look good”. Next step was an ultrasound, where a “suspicious mass” was discovered. The radiologist came in to the room and explained what she saw. The only words I understood were “vascular” , “abnormal”, something about blood flow…apparently I don’t speak radiologist and when she asked if I had questions, I figured it would be easier to say no than have her bring me a dictionary and have her start over. I did get the part about a biopsy which needed to be scheduled.
The first thing I thought about? Money. Without insurance, how were we going to be able to afford that? It’s bad when the prospect of paying for any possible treatment is scarier than an actual cancer diagnosis. I expressed this and Komen Foundation entered my life. I have never been so thankful for an organization in my life. I vow to donate and walk and do whatever it takes to show my gratitude. Without them, and the care team at Summit View Health, my experience would have been even more stressful than it was.
A core needle sample was needed, which would require a small incision to allow the needle access. The thought of a large needle being poked around into my breast tissue and around my nipple was less than appealing. And yes, when my appointment came, I was a nervous wreck. But I pretended not to be. So, you’d be cutting a hole in my breast and prodding around inside it with a needle? No problem. Just another day. Obviously, the techs and the doctor saw through my tough chick act, and were amazingly friendly and compassionate. The biopsy was ultrasound guided and I could see the screen but when the Dr. started the procedure and I saw the numbing needle start to probe around in my breast tissue, I decided I’d keep my eyes shut for the remainder of the procedure. The nurse tried to distract me: asking about my kids, Halloween costumes, etc. but the “snap” of the spring loaded needle contraption used to obtain the core samples was hard to ignore. The sound reminded me of a Nerf gun. “Snap!” “Snap!” Fortunately, the numbing was effective and the “worms of tissue” were obtained. Which I absolutely did not want to look at, but of course, my retired fire fighter/EMT was very interested in checking out.
It was Monday. Results would be back by Wednesday. So obviously, until then, I googled everything related that I could find. I quickly came to the conclusion that I was going to die.
The waiting is the hardest. You have too much time to imagine all the worst case scenarios. Finally, Wednesday came, and my stomach flipped every time the phone rang, but it was never “the call”. I made phone calls, but there were no return calls. It was a long night. Maybe I sound a bit melodramatic, but the possibility of dying (no matter how unlikely) and leaving three young kids behind is horrifying. I stood by their beds that night a little longer than usual, and watched them sleep.
Thursday morning came along with the anxiously awaited phone call. The mass appeared benign. And I realized that I could breathe again. But now I am being referred to a surgeon for a second opinion, so more waiting. But I realized that nothing can be taken for granted, because as cliché as it may be, it could be gone just like that and then you’re left with all the things unsaid, the regrets, heartbreak and loss. So say the things that need to be said, have no regrets and tell them you love them, because aliens could abduct them tomorrow. An asteroid could hit. And there is always death by water intoxication. And oh yeah, that little cancer thing. You just never know.