Diagnostic Mammogram – Wake-up Call

At my annual check-up yesterday my doctor felt a nodule at nine-o’clock in my left breast. I had already scheduled my yearly mammogram for that afternoon at the clinic across town. Doc said that was good. Then she mentioned she was changing it from a ‘screening’ mammogram to a ‘diagnostic’ one. “They’ll just take a few more images,” she said, “and after that they may want an ultrasound.” When I arrived at the clinic the intake clerk took one look at my paperwork and said, “Oh, we don’t do diagnostic imaging here anymore. You’ll have to go to the Piper Center for that.” She called and I was scheduled for the following afternoon.

Today at 3:00 I arrived at the lovely, serene surroundings of the Piper Breast Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. I was offered an array of beverages. I asked for coffee with cream and sugar. It was served to me in a beautiful china cup and saucer (the kind with little pink roses all over it and a gold handle like grandma used to have) and everyone was over-the-top sweet and accommodating. The decor was impeccable aqua blue with a pussywillow theme adding touches of nature in soft browns. I can’t really explain the feelings as I waited in a white pique cotton robe with forest green edging. I was trying very hard not to think morbid thoughts, but the front page of the magazine facing me said How to Die, and the article I flipped to in the Ladies Home Journal was something about caring for the terminally ill. I quickly paged past that one. Several times during the wait I felt emotionally close to tears.

The technician was very thorough with the images (I thought). My breast was squished and manipulated and stretched for photo after photo. Finished, I was sent to the waiting room with more coffee, cream and sugar and another magazine that I carefully chose for its lack of content. After a short wait the technician retrieved me. “We just need a couple more peeks at that left breast…” Back to the machine for more of the same then back to the waiting room. Another short wait and the tech reappeared. “The doctor wants an ultrasound, just a little extra precautionary measure…”

Now I was concerned. Scared might be a more accurate word. The tech positioned me on the table and proceeded with the ultrasound while telling me that the doctor would do it again when she (the tech) was finished. Why wasn’t the doctor doing it now? I closed my eyes and attempted to sink into a mindful meditation with deep regular breathing to help me relax. The tech finished and left the room. A few minutes later she reappeared with the doctor. A woman. I was grateful for small favors. She adjusted me slightly and then repeated the moves on my left breast that the tech had just executed. I held my breath as she finished. Turning to me she said, “Well, I don’t see anything to worry about,” and after a few pleasantries, she told me I could go. Relief rushed through me and I felt lightheaded. I left quickly, with a huge appreciation for life and good health, and drove straight to the nearest DQ for a 16 oz Cappuccino Heath Blizzard…the ultimate in self-nurture!

But I think about what if. What if the story had a different outcome for me today as it has for thousands of women, some of whom are my dear friends. Even though I tried very hard NOT to think about those other scenarios I couldn’t avoid them completely. I have a clearer understanding of what it must have been like for my friends when they first suspected there might be something wrong. But I have no idea how they cope, day in and day out, with chemo, radiation, fatigue, nausea, loss of hair, and all the other life altering changes that accompany a cancer diagnosis.

I know that breast cancer is treatable with a high success rate when detected early. It had been 21 months since my last exam. That is too long for someone in my age group. From now on I will schedule religiously every twelve months. I have been blessed with incredibly good health all my life. I’ve taken it for granted. I cannot afford to do that anymore. I love my freedom, my independence, and that is only possible with a healthy body and mind. Today was a wake-up call. I’m paying attention.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gloria Cullins
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 06:14:54

    So glad it turned out the way it did, Sherry! I had that same scare a few years ago in Greenville, SC. I had to go as far as a biopsy but it turned out great. After my heart surgery (of 26 years ago August 6th), I feel I’ve had my share…but unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Today I am healthier than I’ve been in years so guess I’m doing something right. Sounds like you have it all under control. I agree, a healthy mind and body are imperative to freedom and independence! I pray we both maintain both!

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  2. Barb Garland
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 12:07:48

    Sherry, so glad all is well and you are committed to regular exams. I went through the same experience as you, but mine lead to having no breasts now. No chemo or radiation since it was caught so early. I am blessed and so are you !!! xoxo

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