The Mammogram

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As I lay on the procedure table, I could not stifle the laugh that was threatening to take hold of my body. I was repeatedly warned to lie perfectly still because any movement would threaten the accuracy of the biopsy. Stop it! I admonished myself, as my shoulders began to rise and fall with laughter.  “Are you alright?” the technologist asked in earnest as my face was turned toward the wall. “I’m fine”, I reassured her, hoping I was finally able to take hold of my emotions

With my right breast adeptly positioned through the hole in the specially designed stereotactic breast biopsy table, I kept envisioning how a cow must feel on milking day as its udder became a compartmentalized part of its anatomy. I found myself in the same unique position. I could not believe this was my reality.

Only three weeks ago my life was as near normal as anyone could hope for. The day I was scheduled for my yearly routine mammogram, I overslept, which I rarely do. As I turned towards the incessant beeping of my cell phone’s alarm, my heart quickened as I realized it was 8:35 am and my mammogram was scheduled for 9:30. For a fleeting moment I rationalized that I should just cancel and reschedule my appointment because it would take a miracle to get up, dressed, and there on time. With the lightning speed of a gazelle, I made the split second decision to make that appointment because rescheduling would take months.  Glancing at the clock on my dashboard, as I pulled in front of the radiology practice I smiled as the clock provided a reassuring nod as 9:32 am gleamed back at me.  

This was the 14th mammogram in a string of annual mammograms and ultrasounds I’ve had. The drill was the same. Remove everything from the waste up, put on the gown, opening in the front, and sit in the waiting room until the technician calls you to begin the procedure. As you enter THE ROOM, you brace yourself for this vise like mammography machine that must have been designed by a man, because a woman would have never conceived a machine that could rival a middle ages torture chamber device. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little but this necessary evil is an interesting design phenomenon.  

This mammogram was like all the other mammograms. Nothing appeared different or unusual.  In between the mammogram and the ultrasound I sat in the waiting room reading magazines like the other women undergoing the same procedures. As I was called into the ultrasound room, I again, suspected nothing, it was business as usual. Following the ultrasound, I went back to the waiting room, as I had 13 other times, waiting for the all clear to get dressed with another breast cancer free year under my belt.

This year was different. Instead of being given the thumbs up, the technician told me to get dressed and the radiologist wanted to meet with me. What?? Although I had a momentary feeling of panic, my mind went completely blank. It never dawned on me that the C word would be a possibility because cancer was not something that ran in my family. As I walked down, what seemed liked, an endless hall, I entered the dimly lit radiologist’s office. The radiologist was a middle age man with kind eyes and a reassuring manner. On his light box were my mammograms from the past 5 years. He patiently went through each mammogram in order to discuss the changes in my last mammogram.  Prominently displayed on my last mammogram were clusters of ant like irregular structures which he explained were micro calcifications. Because of their irregular shape he was recommending a stereotactic biopsy in order to rule out ductal carcinoma insitu. I was absolutely stunned!! He did say that the micro calcifications could be benign but all I heard was the C word. The next day, I took a copy of my report with the CD of my last three years of mammograms to a cancer center in NYC.

Fast forward two weeks with the Thanksgiving holiday in the mix. Their process consisted of seeing an intake nurse practicenor. The intake NP takes the history and physical, does a physical exam, and sends the report and CD to the radiologists for review. If the radiologists concurs that a biopsy is needed, the NP’s assistant schedules the appointment. Mind you that this is a process and this process does very little to calm the savage beast.

The NP called me to let me know that the radiologists agreed with the findings of my local radiologist and the stereotactic biopsy was recommended.  So on the Friday before Thanksgiving, my husband and I drove to the Cancer Center not knowing if our lives would change inexplicably from that day forward. The stereotactic biopsy went off without a hitch, mainly because of a fantastic Radiology Fellow who was the ultimate communicator. Every step along the way, he explained what he was doing and how he was doing it. There was no gray area, no surprises. He was the epitome of calm, steady and assuredness all qualities that were immediately transferrable.

As I went home, with an ice pack securely in place, the only thing I knew was that I was not going to “claim” a cancer diagnosis until that diagnosis was confirmed. Sure I had moments of fear that insidiously crept into my consciousness until I was able to beat those feelings back into submission. I also knew from the core of my being that if I did have cancer, worrying would not do anything but derail the course of my life. A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine shared a saying that resonated with me. She had no idea, or maybe she did, the impact that saying would have on my life. From the moment I read it my life changed: “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.”

Being a communicator, sharer of information and more importantly a person who thrives on the warmth and comradery of family and friends, most of my family and friends knew about my potential diagnosis.  Unfortunately, I’ve had too many close friends who faced a similar diagnosis but knowing and sharing the positive impact of their treatment morphed into a tremendous source of loving comfort and support.  Regardless of their slant on the pendulum of positivity or negativity, their pragmatic viewpoints were sincere.

The Radiologist Fellow told me that, in all probability, I would have the results of the biopsy in three working days.  As dusk descended on the second day, I shuddered as the now all too familiar number of the cancer center jolted me into attention. “Hi….it’s Dr. Radiologist”, “Is this a good time to talk?” I waited anxiously as he made polite small talk although I wanted to scream, “Do I have Cancer?” It seemed like an indeterminable five seconds until he told me that the micro calcifications were benign.  I was shocked! After all of the waiting, thinking, hoping against hope and yes, persevering, I had the answer I had hoped for. Believe it or not, I did not pray for a cancer free diagnosis. What I did pray for was the grace, strength, and fortitude to handle whatever the end result would be. I knew God was not the source of cancer; cancer just happens whether it’s due to the environment, genetics, viruses or some other unknown chain of events. If I was sure of anything, I was sure that I would persevere, like the thousands of women and men who bravely battle this disease each and every day.

I’ve been humbled and blessed by this journey. I’ve realized that in the face of adversity I can draw on an inner strength I did not know I had. I am surrounded by loving, caring and amazing family and friends, whose support knows no bounds.  Although, my journey toward self- discovery and awareness has evolved over the past decade, this latest chapter in my life serves as a pivotal life lesson. What I’ve learned and continue to learn is to surround oneself with positive people, places and things. Toxic relationships in no matter what form need to be eliminated or definitely curtailed. Being truly engaged and in the moment is vital to life’s sustenance and finally this too shall pass; nothing, whether positive or negative, is forever.

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