Disclaimer: This post covers sensitive medical and wellness related topics involving breast cancer and preventative procedures. If you feel uncomfortable discussing or reading about these topics, please skip this post. I won’t be offended because I know you’ll be back! Additionally, I am NOT a medical professional. I am simply a patient giving my opinion on how to be proactive with women’s health issues. Please consult your own physician before attempting any medical procedure or self-diagnosing.
Posts like this never get easier. It’s just the nature of the subject. But it’s important for me to continue to write about my experiences in dealing with my own health after losing my mother to stage 4 triple negative carcinoma (the worst case scenario as far as breast cancers go) four years ago. And because some of you may be facing these same high-risk circumstances, my hope is that I can bring you comfort, knowledge and the confidence to take control of your situation with proactive, preventative measures in order to live a calm, happy and healthy life.
Last January I went in for my annual women’s wellness exam, which included a pap smear and breast exam by the doctor. Because I perform monthly self-breast exams (SO IMPORTANT!), I was ready to talk to her about some changes I had noticed just below the surface of my nipple area. I had discovered something that felt like a hard pimple. She guessed that it was some type of sub-dermal cyst. She had me monitor it and what we noticed is that it seemed to go away when I wasn’t menstruating, then reappear right before my cycle began. This lead her to believe, even more so, that this was a cyst.
Erring on the side of caution, considering my mother’s history, she ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound to at least investigate what the bump could be, and have a baseline for future screenings. I left that conversation confident that all was ok and that this first mammogram would truly be a precaution and a baseline.
It took me months, MONTHS, to schedule those appointments. I wasn’t emotionally ready to face my first mammogram at the young age of 36. It was something I didn’t think I had to do until I was well into my 40’s and the thought of it terrified me. Not only the process itself, but the possibility of the bad news it could bring.
The prescription was burning a hole in the drawer it was in. Every day I would walk by it thinking to myself “I need to make that appointment and get it over with.” But each time I would sit down to finally rip the Band-Aid off, dread would set in and take over. This happened daily for those months. It was all-consuming and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t overcome it.
I watched my mom die. I was there, in the room, and witnessed her taking her last breath because of breast cancer. I watched her suffer, for a whole year, because of breast cancer. I was in the hospital room when the doctors came in and told her there was nothing else they could do for her. I will never forget the look she had on her face.
I can’t help but think those same things are going to happen to me. I can’t help but feel that same fear and terror. I can’t help worrying and stressing over it. It is the ugly side of grief that I rarely talk about because I know it’s not good for my mental health. And it’s certainly not good for those of you reading this. But it’s my truth, and it’s something I struggle with daily.
Last Friday I received a phone call from my doctor’s office. I let it go to voicemail. They wanted to know why they hadn’t received my mammogram results. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It took me 20 seconds to dig out the prescription and make the appointment.
Deep breath…Start from where you’re at Stephanie…
I couldn’t change the months that had gone by. I couldn’t change my fear and my anxiety during that time. But I could take what I had, and start from there. So I did.
Today, 4 days later, I walked into Tower Diagnostics with my loving fiancé by my side to do one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in quite a while. As I waited, I thought about anything and everything except the “c word.” And when it was my turn to head to the back room, I dug deep into the bravest parts of my soul and did what I know I needed to do.
The mammogram itself only took a few minutes. The technician wasn’t very talkative and got straight to work. I wanted to tell her about my mom. I wanted to tell her about my fears so that she could calm them. I wanted to ask her if Brian could come back here with me. But instead, I listened carefully to her directions and did exactly what I was told- focusing only on her words and counting as the machine imaged each of my breasts. When she was done, she left for a bit and returned telling me she needed to redo my right breast. That was a bit unnerving, but again, I went through the motions and it was done within 6 seconds.
I was then moved into another room and waited for the ultrasound technician. It took a bit longer, and after 20 minutes, I was directed to a dimly lit room. This technician was a bit friendlier and walked me through the process of what she was doing and had me point out the small bump of concern. This too only took about 10 minutes and before I knew it, I was almost ready to go home. The ultrasound tech said that before I left, she was going to take these results to the doctor so that he could compare them to the mammogram and see if there were any additional areas to scan while they had me there on the ultrasound table.
Those five minutes felt like forever. I had been so brave and calm up until that moment. I thought about the results. I thought about my mom. I thought about how drastically life changes for someone who gets those three little words “you have cancer.” I prayed for them, for me, for my mom.” As I waited for the technician to return, I couldn’t control the tears.
There are times when I think I’m done with the grieving process, but then I’m reminded that grief is something that becomes a part of you. Forever.
When the technician returned, she informed me that the doctor didn’t see any reason to have to continue the ultrasound, and that my regular gynecologist would receive the scans and read them as well. She had me get dressed and sent me on my way. I walked out of the building feeling a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I had done it. I survived my first mammogram. It was over, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought it would be. Yes it was an emotional moment for me, however the process in itself was easy, and that’s what we need to focus on.
This simple, fast and painless diagnostic tool can be a life saver. Between annual mammograms and monthly self breast exams, we can catch cancer early- which increases chances of survival drastically.
Facing something like breast cancer is scary. But it’s important to stay proactive and positive. To know your body and recognize changes if they occur. To trust your doctors as the experts. And to never, ever lose hope that everything IS and WILL be OK.
To be brave, even when you think you can’t. #TeamJudy
Update: The results of the mammogram and ultrasound came back perfectly clear! I’m very relieved!