In a few hours, I’m walking back into the mammogram clinic to find out if my life will change forever.
It sounds dramatic. It feels somewhat less dramatic.
I’m embarrassed to take it too seriously, and afraid to not take it seriously enough.
Six months ago, I went for what I thought was going to be my first, routine mammogram. They told me it was normal to get called back in for a follow-up if the images weren’t clear enough, so when I got that call, I didn’t think too much about it. I was there voluntarily, pro-actively. I hadn’t felt any lumps, wasn’t showing any symptoms of illness; I just thought that it was time I got the girls checked, just in case. The thing is, I never really thought much about the “in case” part. In case of what?
So when they wanted me to wait after this routine follow-up scan until they could get me into Ultrasound, I started to get a little nervous. When they laid me on the table and squirted the cold gel onto my breast, my heart was pumping hard. When the technician tried and tried and tried to see something, I was barely able to hold it together. And when the radiologist STILL wasn’t convinced and came in to manipulate the ultrasound wand herself, I was panicking. All on the inside. On the outside I was taking it in stride, trying to appear normal, confident, willing to rely on the collective expertise of this group of women in white lab coats.
At the end of the appointment, they said it would be best if I came back in six months. They explained that the way mammograms work is incremental: they compare your new scan with the last one. But when it’s your first one, and there is no history to look at, they compare instead your two breasts, one against the other. And in my case, the comparison was not what they expected. One of the girls is evidently denser than the other, and this caused some concern. In the months since, I’ve wondered how much concern it really caused. They made it sound like it wasn’t really a big deal, but you never know. I’ve learned (in the months since) that doctors will often downplay the seriousness of something until they can verify it, confer with colleagues, make room on schedules.
The last six months have been something of a private hell for me. Cancer seems to be everywhere, taunting me. One friend going through devastating and almost hopeless chemo and another diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy all within the span of a couple of weeks. The principal story line in one of my favourite tv shows is about a young mother, dealing with breast cancer. Magazines are filled with articles about how to relate to sick friends; survivors’ stories are popping up all around me like targets on a shooting range.
It feels like karma is setting me up for the news. Get ready, Koot; prepare yourself.
I find myself acting as though I’m already a patient. Who would I tell? How long could I keep working? Would my weight loss go from being an achievement to a side-effect of the drugs? What will my scalp look like when I don’t have any hair to cover it?
But then I am afraid that if I think too much about it, I will somehow make it happen. They say that attitude is the best defense; if I’m convincing myself that I have cancer, surely I will get it, right?
Better to think positive. This will be nothing. I’ll go in, get a clean bill of health, and move on. Right?
Although, being cocky can get you into trouble. The universe doesn’t like you to become too complacent. If you’re not afraid or humble, it can come after you and bite you in the butt. RIGHT?
When left to its own devices, my mind gets going on a terrible monologue of competing thoughts. When I (privately) accuse my sister-in-law of being a hypochondriac, am I setting myself up for a fall? When 2 of the other March Mommies have been diagnosed, does that make me statistically more, or less, likely to be diagnosed as well? Is THIS the shoe that I’ve been waiting to drop on my seemingly perfect life? Don’t be so negative! Stop planning your future or you might not be lucky enough to have one. You’re going to be fine. You’re making mountains out of molehills. Will Gee leave me when I become damaged goods? How can I keep this a secret? Can I get well without my parents finding out? You’re being melodramatic. How are you going to feel when you have to come back and post that everything is fine. You should spend your energy worrying about people with real illnesses. But maybe that won’t be the result. Maybe this post is the first post of the next chapter (the Cancer chapter). And on and on and on and on and on…
So here I am: 4 hours away from the appointment, already afraid. Already not wanting to talk to anybody for fear they will sense the knot in my chest; already prepared to reject the words of comfort, knowing they are platitudes, knowing that hopeful words don’t kill tumours. The only thing I know is to expect the unexpected, but that of course is impossible. And seeing that it’s impossible, I just want 2 o’clock to arrive so that I can get it over with, and get on with … whatever.