Twelve Twenty-Six

Posted on: December 26th, 2017 by

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.

Breast cancer.

Innocence shattered.

My world would forever be changed.

Puzzle Pieces

How did you find out that you had cancer? Please feel free to share your story.

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4 Responses to Twelve Twenty-Six

  1. Nancy Stordahl had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    So many dates, so many memories. Between my dates and my mother’s dates, let’s just say, the calendar is peppered with way too many cancerversary dates that I will never forget. This post is so poignant. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through all this. Your last sentence says it all. xo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      I know that your calendar is unfortunately filled with your and your mother’s dates. I wish I could give you a hug because you and your family have been through so much.

      Yes, cancer forever changes our lives. I know my life has never been the same.

      Sending you hugs.

  2. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Oh dear Beth. I felt cold reading your post. And I remembered my experience which was one of the scariest moments of my life. You said, “Innocence shattered” when you were given your diagnosis. That is exactly what happened to me. It’s like my eyes had been blinded for all these years. It sucked and it still does! Can’t get that denial back.

    I felt my lump sometime in Dec. I like to believe I forgot when, but if I look at the calendar, I can point it out. It was hell for me, because I always knew I would eventually get cancer. I went for vacation while waiting for the biopsy. I was miserable! I had a sonogram and results were labeled as BIRAD 5, which I didn’t know until after I came back. But I sort of knew from the start it was BC. Never forgot the # of clicks of that damn sonogram and the look on that technician who tried hard to hide it. UGH!! I never shook the way I did during those days in my entire life. And I will never forget it.

    I am grateful for the two of us to still be here. But survivorship is no picnic! I am stuck in between life and death. It’s pretty much how it feels to live with cancer for me. Hard, hard, hard to do.

    You stay well, my friend. Hugs to you. And have a healthy and kind 2018. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a chilling one. The sonogram and technician’s facial expression must have been nightmares. You are right about survivorship; it is difficult.

      Thank you for your well wishes, and I’m sending hopes for a peaceful 2018 filled with good physical and emotional health.

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