Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Scare

On Monday, I returned home from San Diego to three phone messages and a letter from Inland Imaging - the people who had done my mammogram the week before my trip to San Diego - asking me to make another appointment. "The results of your exam indicate the need for additional evaluation," the letter said. "This does not mean there is a serious problem in your breast(s); however, you should not delay followup."

Okay, I thought. It's fine. I'm sure it's fine. How can I have breast cancer? I don't feel like I have breast cancer. And - um - well, I'm just not naturally endowed enough for a lump to stay hidden. Right? (Right?)

It was too late to call the office directly. Instead, I called and made an appointment with their main number. The soonest I could get in was this coming Tuesday. Eight days later. A long time to wait.

I figured I would call the main office in the morning, and just wait everything out until then. Then the phone rang. It was my sister. She was calling about something else. But her timing was perfect. Having just decided to share my news with no one until the next day at the earliest, I told her my news. I read the letter out loud. We processed. Just talked. I processed, she listened. We remembered that they had brought me in for a second mammogram a few years ago, and everything had turned out fine then. By the end of our conversation, I was as calm as I was going to get. And I was going to be able to sleep that night. At least, sleep a little. Everyone should have a sister who calls at just the right time like that.

At 8:05 the next morning, I called the office directly. The woman, Jo, was really nice - she had a very soft, gentle voice - the perfect temperament for phone calls from people like me - but I was not lulled. I asked questions, prodding for information; she hesitated, was general...

"Look," I said. "I'm upset. I'm worried. The way I handle stress is to get information. As much information as possible. I know I won't get answers for weeks" - Not true, she said. The doctor would speak to me at the appointment itself. And it's all vague as to reasons for changes from past mammograms, she said. That's information, I told her, laughing. As my sister said later, information is different than answers. (Which has been my question with the movie front, too - can't I get more information about where things might be headed with my stories? But that's a different issue, I suppose.)

Then Jo said a beautiful thing. I know this is short notice, she said, and it's at a different office, but would you be able to make an appointment at 9:45 a.m. this morning? "I'm there," I said, and got directions to where I'd be going. "Jo, I love ya, and it will be what it's going to be - but at least I will know," I said as I told her goodbye.

As I drove to the north side of town, I thought about getting a negative diagnosis. I was all prepared. A biopsy would come next, if there was really something to worry about. So there would not be a cancer diagnosis today. I planned out my chemo and everything. I wondered if the doctor would agree with what I'd decided (not a full mascetomy, chemo and radiation...) And then I would lose my hair, I thought. (My hair! I thought, and realized how vain I really am. For as much as I don't care about things like that....)

So there I was, almost void of emotion (except way deep down inside, where I was like a volcano), walking into the office and taking all the exams... which are not fun exams, but I was too worried about health to worry about comfort.... Both technicians were reassuring. They couldn't diagnose - that was for the doctor - but they said such reassuring things that I thought, well, nothing looks too bad... It can't, if they feel so positive about it all.

I could see the screen on the sonogram (or whatever it's called). "Well, that does look like something," I said to the technician when she reached the one area that showed up as a dark spot. Yes, but it doesn't mean cancer, she said. (Then the thing on the screen got humongous, which scared me until I realized she had probably magnified it.)

She was done with the test, and went to find the doctor. She came back. It would be a little while - he was talking to another doctor. She laughed and said she gets so possessive - he's her doctor and he isn't supposed to be occupied when she wants to talk to him. I vehemently agreed with her.

So then she found him, and he walked in, and I liked the fact that he wasn't really young (so he would know what he's doing) but he wasn't really old either (so he still had his eyesight, which is more than I can say for my own tired old eyes), and then he said, everything's fine. Everything's great. See you in a year.

So I high-fived him, and I said are you sure? And he said, yes I'm sure, it's just a collection of cysts, and I quizzed him a little more (for informational purposes only) and he said again that he was sure. And I was so glad, so glad. I thought, thank you God, that it wasn't me, this time it wasn't me...

And then I felt bad. Because think of all the women around the country - the world - who, in that same moment, were having that same kind of conversation with their own doctors, and who were getting a wholly different kind of answer. No amount of information can erase the stinging, ringing words that they were getting, in that exact same moment. Or hour. Or day.

And I know it isn't wrong for me to get a good answer even when they aren't. All the same, I felt their angst and pain in the midst of my relief. Right in the very middle.

I have friends who have had cancer. They have been brave and extraordinary. One of my friends, Gay Edwards, took the illness and turned it into good for others in that she put together a series of healing meditative CDs that can be found at her website, What a gift she is to the rest of us. If I ever got cancer, I'd look to my friends like Gay, who have gone through it, for guidance on how to get to the other side of it.

So that's my saga. It's part of the reason I haven't blogged this week. Between traveling and this (and a busy week overall), I've been completely wiped out. But happy. How can I not be happy? What great news. A new lease on life, as the expression goes.

And next year I won't wait the six months that I waited this year to get my mammogram. And from now on, I'll actually do those monthly exams that they tell you to do. And in the meantime, maybe there's something I can do for the women who had different news on Tuesday about the results of their exams. I don't know yet what that is. But I've been thinking a lot about them.

UPDATE: I emailed my friend Gay to let her know I'd made the preceding post. She emailed me today. Here's what she said.

Hi Kiddo,

I just read your Cancer Post. What an amazing story. This is a story every one, yes, man and woman should read. This crappy disease effects all of us in one way or another. So many people will face this first hand, as I did almost 4 years ago. Beth, I'm not glad I had cancer, and sometimes the possibility of a 'return' of this disease scares the beegeebers out of me. And, yet, my experience with this particular life challenge has left me a much better person than I ever could have become without the catapulting effect of the Big C. For You, My Sister, I am just so profoundly pleased that you will not face this. Stay healthy, and happy, my friend.

It was nice to read about MY STORY through your words. Thanks for the plug and your sincere words about my experience. You are a lovely, huge-hearted person.

I recommend these books for your reading on this topic:

Anticancer...David Servan-Schreiber
The China Study...T. Colin Campbell
Cancer Free...Bill Henderson

They are all excellent, and each author will give you his 'take' on how to remain cancer/heart disease free for life. Amazing studies! In-Joy...most you can get on Amazon.

Love you, Thank you,



Anonymous said...

I found this post by Googling the words I got in my letter today. "The results of your exam indicate the need for additional evaluation..."

I am so upset, but pray that my call tomorrow at 8:05 am, as soon as they open, will end the same way your story did. Please God, I have five children.

Thank you for sharing this.

Beth Bollinger said...

I am wishing the best for you -