I turned forty in January. When May rolled around I knew my gyno was going to mention the “M” word: mammogram. Like most women I’d heard horror stories about how painful they were and how it was dreadful and no one looked forward to it. So when the doc signed me up for said torture test, I was a little anxious.
I shouldn’t have worried about the test.
It wasn’t that painful. It was uncomfortable, and I had to stand in an awkward position a few times. I had to have more than the average pics taken because my girls are too big, which was embarrassing. You can’t wear deodorant the day of your test so I spent the whole time wondering if I had overpowering B.O. as opposed to being upset by pain. The lady at the hospital said it would be a good week before my doc would have any results. All in all, I left feeling self-conscious, a tiny bit sore, jealous of small-breasted women for the umpteenth time in my life, and overcome with relief that I didn’t have to do this again for another whole year.
The next day I got a call from my gyno. Personally.
“Mrs. Gargasz, we need to get some more pictures. There is a slight problem in one of the photos.”
So, now I worried more.
Off I went the very next day to get the test done again. This time only on one of the girls. This one hurt. It squeezed harder and longer. The trays they squish them in were smaller and more localized which made it hurt more. After the pictures were taken they sat me in the miniscule waiting room. As a woman prone to anxiety, waiting is not something I handle well. Thoughts rushed through my mind. Thoughts like, Is it really great that worried women have to sit next to a sign that says “Biopsy Room”? Could someone please hang happier pictures in this room? Anyone ever consider distracting magazines for us worry warts? Do I have cancer? What will I tell my kids and hubby?
The nurse came back after about twenty of the longest minutes of my life. I had hoped she’d release me to go home. Instead, she said, “We need to take more pictures.” I felt an elephant perch on my shoulders. I took a deep breath and entered the room again. When we were done, I was, again, banished to the waiting room.
The self-talk continued. Maybe they needed that extra pic because they were mistaken. Maybe there was a smudge on the screen and it just needed to be retaken after cleaning.
The nurse came back and sat down beside me. “Honey, the doc wants you to go down to sonography. They need to take a closer look.”
I fought back tears as she ushered me into the changing room so I could at least dress for the walk downstairs. During that walk, I was numb. Every woman I had ever known who’d had breast cancer rolled through my mind. There was Bridget, trooper that she is, who had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy, all while raising her son alone. She was still fighting the good fight and kicking cancer’s ass mightily. There was Candy, Bridget’s baby sister, kicking ass and taking names. Then there was Sherry. Poor Sherry. She died after many years of struggling, wasted away. Still, I choked back the tears, reminding myself that nothing has happened yet. Just a lot of radiation and pictures.
When I got to sonography, the nurse who was going to take care of me came out. He looked like he was the same age as Jimmy, our oldest. A fourteen year old sonographer? Someone shoot me now, I thought. I curled up on the table, one giant breast laying there for this Doogie Howser of a nurse to see, again worrying that all this stress was causing me to sweat and smell for lack of deodorant. As I lay there I thought, I’m going home after this and it will all be a big scare for nothing. You watch. I’ll lay here worrying up a storm, give myself digestive upset, all for these folks to say ‘It was nothing’ and send me on my way.
When he was done with the pics he called in the radiologist that would read the pictures right then and there. He took a few more peeks himself and then covered me up.
“Mrs. Gargasz, I can say that I think everything is fine, but I can’t be sure. Just one of your pictures shows a very small spot. Very, very small. So small that we have a hard time finding it. Because you’ve never had a mammogram before now, we have nothing to compare so I am going to have you come back in six months time. I don’t want you going home and worrying, but I also don’t want you to blow this off. It could be nothing. Or it could be something.”
I left feeling much better but still a bit worried.
I worried more when my gyno called me, personally again, the very next day.
“Mrs. Gargasz, I wanted to talk to you about your exams yesterday.”
I immediately went on the defensive. “The radiologist said I was okay. That there was nothing to be worried about. That it’s all up in the air right now.”
“Yes and no,” he said. “I am concerned because your pictures show a lymph node at the ten o’clock position.”
I broke down into tears.
I got off the phone with him and looked up everything I could about breast cancer. Information is all over the map and conflicting. One site says that it is unlikely that you could have breast cancer if your mother or sister didn’t have it, while the hospital told me that 75% of all women with breast cancer have no family history of it.
So, here it is, six months later. A family friend and an aunt have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. One had a mastectomy and is doing fine. The other had a lumpectomy and just got the horrible news that she has to go through chemotherapy. Guess which one’s story most resembles mine….
I called the doctor for orders to get this third round of mammograms. And I have to admit that I am stuck between a little scared and frightened out of my mind. I haven’t mentioned any of this to my kids because I don’t want to scare them needlessly. I know I haven’t been diagnosed with anything but the worrier in me is only soothed by planning for the worst, hoping for the best. Given the time of year, WHEN to tell the kids is bothering me. HOW to tell them. I’m worried for my husband because the life expectancy (which many strong women have blown out of the water) is five years or less. I’m not ready to turn in that towel. My babies won’t even be grown by then.
I know all this is putting the cart way before the horse.
I know that I haven’t been given that diagnosis that we all dread.
The fact remains, I’m terrified.
And there isn’t a damn thing I can do to calm that fear.
Not a thing.