Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Staying Abreast of Health Issues

Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon

At first, she didn’t recognize him. Sitting in the waiting room, he looked different, but when she opened the door, her neighbor turned to his wife. “Look who’s here!”

After she checked in, she sat near the couple and chatted about the weather and the phone calls her first grade daughter had received from a classmate—a boy. They all shook their heads. What was the world coming to?

Then it was her turn. The nurse took her back to a warren of curtained cubicles and instructed her to remove all clothing from the waist up.

She changed quickly and put on the blue apron, opened at the front. Her mother had warned her it would hurt a little. The ’ole squish and squash, she’d said.

After it was over, the nurse said they call tomorrow if they needed more pictures.


When the call came the next day, she kept her voice calm and made another appointment. In the changing room, there was a sign advising her not to panic. People were called back for all sorts of reasons. Interference was common. Her husband said it was probably nothing. Her mother-in-law had gone through the same thing. No big deal.

Still, her heart was thumping away—bam, bam, bam. She tried to look at the magazine sitting on the bench next to her, but it was impossible. Then the nurse came. They only wanted pictures of the left breast this time. The specificity was unnerving. This time she knew how to hold her arms, how to freeze for a good shot. After six different pictures, the nurse sat her on a chair. There was a fountain behind her, one of the little desktop ones, and a bamboo shoot in a glass container. It was supposed to be relaxing, spa-like.

The image on the computer’s widescreen monitor wrecked her chances for serenity. The x-ray of her breast showed three bright white blotches of various sizes. She didn’t know squat about radiology except for one thing. Bright white was bad. She stared at the blistering-white amoeba shapes and wondered why the nurse had let her sit where she could see them. On the way back to her cubicle, she passed three women—Doctors? Nurses?—whose eyes skipped to her face and then to the floor. Was that pity? What did they know?

Now her heart was beating in her ears and she had to face it. She might have cancer. Her brain immediately assumed the worst—death, her two daughters growing up without her. They were still so young—four and six. Then she thought of the three women she knew who had beat it. She could do this. Chemo and vomiting? Not a happy thought, but she’d ralphed daily through her second pregnancy. Loss of hair from radiation? That would suck, but the wigs they made these days looked real.

Another nurse came in. They wanted to do an ultra sound. She didn’t say a word during the procedure. The nurse kept saying she didn’t see anything. She thought about the bright white spots on the mammogram. What did this mean?

They put her back in the cubicle and a doctor came by. The mammogram showed calcifications, he said, but no tumors showed up on the ultrasound. She had two choices: needle biopsy or another mammogram in six months.


She thought the needle would hurt more than it did.

They had her face down on a table with a cut-out at her chest. Her left breast hung down, pinched tight between two metal plates, making the mammogram seemed like a lover’s caress. She was warned not to move for the next thirty minutes.

There was nothing to look at except a set of white blinds and white walls. As the local anesthetic was injected, she stared at the silver bulb of the blind pull and willed her body still. Compared to the hell of breastfeeding, the pain was anticlimactic and then she felt nothing.

The procedure was quick. Once it was done, she couldn’t hold back and let the coughing fit fly. The pull on her anchored breast was agony. The doctor couldn’t get the titanium marker in until the third try. At home that evening, she carried a load of laundry up the stairs and opened the wound. With her daughters scrambling for gauze and Band-aids, she pretended it was no big deal.


Since the biopsy happened on Thursday, there was a good chance the result wouldn’t be in until after the weekend, but she found a message from the doctor Friday afternoon on the machine. The children were decorating the kitchen with Play Doh. She called back with her finger jammed in her left ear.

It was negative for cancer, but they would schedule a six-month mammogram to be safe.


To paraphrase Lennon, I am she and she is me and we are all together . . . Hey ladies, if you or someone you know is turning forty, encourage them to schedule a mammogram. Here's more information on a needle biopsy.


  1. woah, that is so scary. I'm glad you're okay and thanks for the reminder that it really can happen..to anyone and getting a mammogram is a MUST. thanks.

  2. That will make your heart stop! Thank God it wasn't cancer.
    And thanks for the reminder that I am due for my yearly breast-smashing.

  3. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, it was a terrifying experience but also a good wake-up call for what's really important: health, family, not sweating the small stuff.


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