Last week I had one of those 'oh crap' moments, you know, the ones that drop a rock in the pit of your stomach and leave you feeling a little off-center.
See, I had a mammogram the week before. My first. One that I procrastinated for months, then years. On Monday of last week I received the letter every woman dreads - and a phone message to follow up - "There are areas of your scan that need further evaluation."
I told myself not to worry. This test was a baseline. This was my first. I'm healthy. My doctor didn't find anything suspicious at my checkup.
But try as I might, I couldn't block the doubts and fears, the worries and the 'what if's'. It was a long week, waiting to do a follow-up visit.
Finally, this morning I got up early and headed to the Breast Care Center for more scans.
I entered the building with a smile on my face, masking the trepidation I was feeling. My chest felt heavy and my stomach twisted - I was thankful I hadn't eaten. The receptionist seemed to recognize me, and quickly handed me off to the other receptionist, the one who checks in follow-up visitors. And this time, I wasn't taken into the part of the building where they do yearly check-ups. This time I was taken to the other side. The side for returners.
Sitting in the waiting room, legs crossed, foot bouncing, watching the women around me, all of them there for further evaluation or follow-up, like me, I started to think again of the 'what if' scenarios, each more worrisome than the last. My eyes wandered around the room, taking it all in, and I noticed a sign on the wall.
My throat closed slightly, and I could feel myself tearing up. Because I wanted to hear that it would be okay, to KNOW that it would be okay.
And I knew that for some of the women sitting near me in this room, things hadn't been okay previously. See, this is the room where women who were following up after surgery, who were getting their 6 month check-ups, who had been down a very difficult road, went - not just those of us who needed 'further evaluation'.
Minutes felt like hours as I waited, even knowing that I would, at the very least, know what they had found before I left the building.
The tech who came to get me was kind, cheerful, and helpful. We chatted as she adjusted my breasts and the machine, taking more pictures. Her attitude and her knowledge put me at ease. I knew I was in the right place, and in good hands. And when I was told I needed to undergo an ultrasound as well, I felt confident that things really would be okay.
And they were.
I am lucky. The follow-up was necessary to see some areas that were difficult to scan - nothing more. My scans were clear, and there was nothing else I needed to worry about. I go back in a year.
Huge sigh of relief.
Now, you may be asking why I would write about this experience on my writing blog. I have two reasons.
First, I was writing this blog in my head as I waited. It was a great distraction from the 'what if' scenarios I'd started to spin. (Being imaginative can be awfully scary at times). I knew that, whatever the outcome of my scans, I needed to put my feelings down on paper. I needed to let go of the worry, the anxiety, the stress of the prior week, and there is no better way to do that, for me, than words.
More importantly, I wanted to be an example - to my daughters, my friends, to any other women who have procrastinated their care.
Yes, there is a measure of discomfort in a mammogram. Yes, you may feel slightly awkward as a tech handles your breasts, moving and compressing them. Yes, you might just get a call or letter telling you to come back for more scans.
But this can literally be a life or death situation.
A little discomfort can be the difference between finding an anomaly early, when it's highly treatable, and finding out that you are in a critical situation that will require surgery, medications, and radiation.
Please ladies, for the sake of yourself and your families, get a mammogram. Schedule it now.
Then we can celebrate our good outcomes together.