Ironic that I got the phone call on October 1st. October, the month of ghouls, ghosts, mischief and Breast Cancer Awareness.
I wasn’t expecting this call. I had forgotten that I had a mammogram a few days before. But here I was, four days later, thrust into a jarring mortality-realization moment that took the form of a cheerful female voice telling me that I needed to come back in for additional views and perhaps an ultrasound. There are dense areas that weren’t there last year or the year before, she said. The computer scan may have picked it up, she wasn’t sure. The radiologist felt I needed additional views. This was what the lady with the perky voice was telling me.
My heart stopped as I processed what this Messenger of Fear from my gynecologist’s office was saying, and not saying. There she was, telling me that the referral would be ready for me to pick up tomorrow. (Do I really need it that soon? What’s the rush? Translation: This must be bad.) She wasn’t saying I had cancer. She wasn’t saying they thought I had cancer. She wasn’t saying I didn’t have cancer. She was just saying that they couldn’t tell if there WAS cancer or something else in my right breast. WTF.
I sat dumbfounded. Suddenly the plans I had for the day were replaced by more pressing matters. What does “area of density” mean, anyway? What are “additional views” and why would it take one-to-three hours when my original appointment was less than 15 minutes? Internet searches ensued, leaving me more bewildered than before I started. Too much information can make a wild imagination run wilder. In a flash, I imagined losing my breasts, my hair, and my life. Who would come to my funeral? I snapped out of the mini-nightmare when the phone rang. Damn telemarketers.
Cancer would explain how I’d been feeling — a bit off, tired, not fully present – I thought to myself. No wonder I don’t want to do the laundry. It all made sense. Unexplained fatigue can be a signal that cancer is lurking. Even though there were other plausible reasons for my fatigue, such as having coffee at 7 p.m., going to bed at 3 a.m and getting up at 8 a.m., I feared the worst. I had read about fatigue and cancer, so it must be true, right?
Frankly, I read a lot of things. Calcifications, microcalcifications, carcinoma in situ, all these terms in a language that I never wanted to understand or even hear, for that matter. This language did not romance me. This language did not comfort me. This language scared the hell out of me and it made me more anxious and panicked. “Why the hell did I start reading this stuff?" I berated myself for not remaining more level-headed.
“I cannot do anything until I really know what is going on,” I chanted as mantra, trying to calm the inner turmoil that the Messenger of Fear had stirred.
In that moment, I decided not to waste my time supposing this or that when I don’t know what MY situation is. Of course, before I had made that decision, I already had read enough sad internet breast cancer stories to populate my imagination for a long time. Too long. So I stopped looking online for ‘what-ifs’ and started living as if I was fine. Trouble will find me soon enough, I reasoned. I can’t sit around and wait for the shoe to drop when the shoes are still on.
SO I WAIT.
With just four days until my repeat mammogram views and ultrasound, I have time to contemplate what I will do right if I have cancer (Get the best doctor/surgeon. Take better care of myself.) and what I will do right if I don’t have cancer. (Take better care of myself.)
Either way, I have given myself permission, for now, to worry, ponder and assess where I am right now in my life. If I think about it that way, the phone call can be a catalyst, with or without any disease.
I hope for the best.
Update 10/13/09……I am fine. Repeat tests were normal, although I am returning in six months, which is standard CYA protocol today. And yes, I am taking better care of myself. All because of one phone call.