I had a brush with confronting my own mortality last week. As I picked up Theo from day camp one afternoon, with Sam running around the camp room like a crazy man, my phone rang. I answered it and got a call I’ve kind of expected for years: My mammogram was abnormal, and I needed to come back for more extensive testing.
I’ve only been getting mammograms for two years, so I guess the exact phone call wasn’t what I’ve been expecting–but the general content was. My mom had two types of breast cancer at a young age, despite having very few risk factors for it, and I’ve always felt like it’s just a matter of time before my sister or I get it. My sister has dodged the bullet so far, so then I wonder if I’ll be the unlucky sucker who gets it.
Which is silly, really–I mean, we’re both at a much higher risk because of our mom’s history, but that doesn’t mean that one of us will definitely get it. One of us might…or both of us might…or neither of us might. But in my sometimes-pessimistic brain, I’ve always wondered when my day will come—when a lump will show up, or when the phone will ring.
I went back in the next morning, scared to death. “We’ll do a second mammogram first, with more pictures,” the nurse explained. “We show the images to the doctor right away, and if he’s not happy with them for any reason, then we do an ultrasound. We show that to the doctor right away, too, and if he’s not happy with that, then we’ll do a biopsy today, while you’re here, so we can get you answers as soon as possible.”
I appreciated their process. So quick! No waiting weeks for test results. But it was still the most nerve-wracking hour I’ve had in quite some time. The mammogram didn’t look good for whatever reason–not good enough to rule out the possibility of the big C word. So as I sat nervously in the waiting room (or “women’s relaxation area,” as they so euphemistically called it), eating Hershey’s kisses that were provided for us stress-eaters, my stomach clenched and then dropped when they came back in and announced I needed to move on to the ultrasound.
The feeling didn’t get any better as I watched the ultrasound tech stop on an area, click some buttons, and then take out a measuring tape to measure an area on my breast. The same area that has been painful and tender for a year. The same area where I haven’t been able to find a lump, thank god…but that has worried me all the same for its tenderness. And then, as she typed into the computer “7cm suspicious area” in my file and announced she was going to get the doctor, the tears started to stream down my cheeks.
It was cancer, I knew it. It was my turn…my number was up. And 7cm? That was huge! I thought about my babies…who aren’t babies, but who will always be babies to me. I tried to breathe slowly and relax, but all I could do was think about how I have taken good care of my body for 41 years, and I had cancer?! And other people who abuse their bodies for years with drugs and cigarettes and alcohol are still chugging along happily? What if I left my boys without a mother? And dammit, I wanted to see them grow up!
Well. This was all just my mind being dark and pessimistic. The doctor came in, ran the ultrasound wand over my breast again, and quickly said, “This is nothing to worry about. Just come back in a year. Keep an eye out for any lumps and let us know right away if you have any changes in the breast, but it looks absolutely fine right now.”
Thank you, God. My babies will not be motherless. Not yet, anyway. Hopefully not for a very, very long time. But what a reminder of my own mortality…my own need to be vigilant about my healthcare and to appreciate every single day—the good and the not-so-good.
I think I’m a pretty optimistic person in general, but maybe I needed that reminder….