I don’t remember all my cancerversary dates.
But I remember December 26 all too well. Like it was yesterday. It was the beginning of my cancer nightmare.
Weeks before this date, I found a weird-but-subtle dimple on my right breast during my monthly breast self exam. My doctor said “It is probably nothing,” but he wrote a referral for a diagnostic mammogram “just to be on the safe side.” I clung to his “It is probably nothing” as my new mantra of biblical proportions, so I felt a bit wary but somewhat confident going into the diagnostic mammogram on December 26.
The mammography room was cold. I shivered in the paltry gown the staff had me wear.
I waited awhile for the technician, so to pass the time, I picked up one of the available magazines. One featured a story about a woman in her 30s who died of breast cancer.
“Oh fuck,” I thought.
I was also in my 30s.
The “It is probably nothing” mantra started fading away, and I started feeling colder. I shivered again, staring at the mammography machine that would reveal my fate.
Then the technician came in, smiling and friendly. I liked her immediately.
She took shots of both breasts, but particularly my right one. I expected that. She then left the room.
Then, the unexpected.
She came back, saying: “The radiologist wants me to take more shots of your right breast.” Panic cut through me as she worked. My brain worked overtime. Do I have cancer? Why are they taking so many pictures of my right breast? No, I told myself, they are just double checking, and once again I clung to “It is probably nothing.”
Or will I be like that woman in the magazine who died in her 30s?
The technician smiled again, said she would be back soon, gently patting my shoulder. She left me sitting with my thoughts and staring at the mammography machine. I didn’t want to read any more magazine articles.
The technician interrupted my thoughts and said the radiologist wanted to see even more shots of my right breast.
As she worked, I felt sick. I wanted to pray. But prayers stuck in my throat. I was choking on fear.
I wasn’t a person someone read about in a magazine.
This was happening to me.
And in an instant, I saw my life shatter in a million puzzle pieces.
I wished this was a nightmare from which I would soon awake. But this was cold reality. And, who knows, perhaps someday someone in a room like this one will be reading about me, as someone who died from breast cancer in her 30s.
The technician returned and escorted me to a consultation room where the radiologist would meet with me. At that point, my gut told me all I needed to know: I had breast cancer.
The radiologist soon appeared. “There’s been a change since your last mammogram,” and he put a film of the mammogram a half-year ago and the one from today next to each other. (I had a mammogram earlier than recommended because a half-year before I thought I had felt a nodule on my left breast. My report said my breasts were dense, but nothing was found. Negative.)
As the radiologist spoke, my body moved mechanically to take a look at both films. All I saw was white everywhere in each of them. He used the back of a pen to show me a growth in today’s films. “Your breast tissue is highly dense, so it’s really difficult to see what’s going on,” he said kindly. “But there is a definite growth there. It could be benign. You have to have a biopsy to make sure. He then told me that the technician found it; he boasted that she had keen eyes.
I didn’t know whether to thank her for finding my tumor or to scream.
Numbly, I was led to the locker room to put on my clothes.
I cried all night. I knew I was seeping through the mess called cancer.
And in January, sure enough, biopsy results indicated that the mass was malignant.
My world would forever be changed.
How did you find out that you had cancer? Please feel free to share your story.
Tags: breast cancer, mammogram, mammography and breast cancer