When a Routine Mammogram Isn’t
By Linda Irene on March 3, 2014
Words: 1035 Categories: Midlife Medical
Before my COBRA health insurance terminated, an inner urging propelled me to get a mammogram. It was supposed to be routine. But before I could leave the outpatient department that day, a breast care coordinator asked to speak with me. She introduced herself and explained her job was to see patients with abnormal mammograms to coordinate services between the patient, doctor and the hospital.
My head was spinning. What was she talking about? Why do I need coordinated care? I just had a mammogram? The radiologist hasn’t made his report yet. My doctor hasn’t notified me. What is she talking about? What is she saying? Why is she standing between me and the door? What is she inferring? When her lips stopped moving, I realized she had stopped talking and was awaiting a response. What was the question?
“I really don’t know what you are referring to,” I blurted.
She continued with long string of explanations, which were just clumps of words bouncing off my brain, floating midair, words I could not wrap around my mind. Every cell in my body screamed to be free of her and to run out of the room as quickly as possible, to the safety of my home.
Days later the mammogram report came, “further studies recommended.” The next step, an ultrasound. I weaved my way through the hospital lobby and climbed the steps to the radiology department where I waited my turn.
I glanced at the television on the wall, but could not concentrate. The magazines displayed on the table beside me did not hold my interest either. One by one the waiting area cleared until I was the last one left. Then the door opened and a woman dressed in scrubs with a stethoscope draped around her neck, stood in the doorway scanning a chart, which seemed to fascinate her. She looked up and with a big smile asked, “Are you ready to get this over with?”
“Ready as I will ever be.”
She led me to a tiny cubicle where I was instructed to remove my blouse and bra and slip the gown on, open in the front. I followed her to an examination room where I lay on a table while the technician squirted cold gel on my chest and began the investigative process with the ultrasound probe. The machine whirred and clicked as she continued to go over and over the same area.
My thoughts raced. What is she finding? What does it look like? Can she tell if it’s benign or malignant? Should I ask? I thought about making conversation, but the sternness of her face advised me to be quiet and still.
“Okay, that’s it,” she said when it was all over.
That’s it? Isn’t she going to tell me anything? I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and blurted, “How does everything look?”
She remained stoic. “Your doctor will receive the report in a couple days. He will notify you of the results,” she said matter-of-factly.
The days seemed to drag by, the unknown weighing heavy on my mind and body. I took long walks in the park to pray and clear my head. I fought to remain positive. I repeated comforting Bible verses to myself daily. Finally, the ultrasound results came, “inconclusive; a surgical consultation and biopsy are highly recommended.”
It had been one year ago that I had major surgery for endometrial cancer, now this. I’d been struggling for two years trying to control my raging estrogen. Did that have anything to do with my current situation? My mother had had a mastectomy five years ago. Was I going to be next? Fear reared its ugly head. One thing I knew for sure, I did not want a mastectomy.
“Not having a breast does not define who you are,” a friend said.
But she doesn’t get it, I thought. It’s easy for her to say. She is not faced with the possibility of losing a part of her body. She hasn’t seen the challenges Mom had to overcome long after the surgery or the feelings of inferiority she suffered. Never again could she look at herself in the mirror.
What would I do? I couldn’t allow my thoughts to stray any further. Except for a handful of friends I knew would pray for me, I kept the news to myself. I could not risk hearing discouraging stories or seeing the looks of pity, fear or dismay on people’s faces. I needed to surround myself with positive-thinking people. I had recently read that our body believes every word we say and responds accordingly. I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is, there was no better time to start believing and speaking to heal myself than now. It was all I had, all I could do.
“We’ll do an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy,” the surgeon said. “It’s an easy procedure. You will walk in, have the biopsy and walk out with a Band-Aid, no stitches,” he assured me.
I was stunned when he showed me the X-ray taken after the procedure. “Do you see the nodule?”
I stepped closer for a better look. “No. I don’t see it,” I said cautiously.
By now he was grinning ear to ear. “Well, that’s because I removed it completely. All that is there now is a metal clip to identify the spot for future X-rays,” he explained.
To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. Dazed, I went into the dressing room where the attending technician applied the liquid bandage to the incision. When she left the room, I bent forward to gather my clothes and shoes. I tried to straighten up, but my breast had become “glued” to my abdomen. I began laughing hysterically, trying to free myself. A technician, who was cleaning up in the outer area, heard me and peeked in to see if everything was okay. By then we both were in stitches. She helped me get unglued and dressed.
I learned more than one lesson that day: wait for your stitches to dry and miracles do happen.
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