“Do you feel that, there?” The doctor asked me carefully, while I lay on the exam table.
I was in a precarious position in my yearly exam with my arm over my head. My mind went from hoping there wasn’t too much embarrassing anxiety sweat for her to deal with, to complete process overload of what she just said.
“Uh, yeah.” I replied, a little taken aback. I’d been focused on the ceiling tiles above me, retreating to my happy place, when everything seemed to go blurry for a moment. I wasn’t breathing anymore. There was a lump just off center, on my right breast. How had I missed it?
So, yeah. I just wrote the word “breast”. It’s a little toe-curling, and has an unpleasant ring to it because it’s such a serious word. So anatomical. I’d rather use the word ‘bewbie’, or something else equally dumb if I’m being totally honest, because I cope with irreverent humor.
“Is this normal for you? Do you know how long it’s been there?” She asked me.
Is this actually happening?
“I’m not sure,” I stammered. Still reeling, trying to rack my brain.
“You do your monthly checks, right?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, a little dumbfounded that I hadn’t been more thorough. I mean, I check, in the shower via some antiquated illustration I saw once in some women’s mag my mom showed me. When I remember, I wanted to add. My own thirteen year old is more self-aware than me. I’d just taken her in for a spot she was concerned about, and here I was, splayed out on the table feeling like a complete idiot.
But let’s rewind for a second. Because I’d put this doctor’s appointment, along with all my others, totally off. I’d been ‘too busy’ to come in. I know. Go ahead and eye-roll. I run my own business. I’m swamped with deadlines and projects, and Jamin and I were too overwhelmed shuttling our own kids to the orthodontist, dermatologist and regular health checkups to do our own appointments. Let’s not forget the dog – she just tore her ACL and received her very own plasma treatment. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately with some ridiculous things I’d like to pretend aren’t happening. And now I was catching up with all things doctors’ appointments: a necessary inconvenience so we can all make sure we’re not dying. Isn’t that what it comes down to? Both a luxury and a total first world problem. A real catch-22.
As far as these particular lady doctor checkups are concerned, I’d been all one-two, skip a few, APOCALYPSE, and I’d fallen behind on everything. It was to the point where I felt shameful about it. From the dentist to the dermatologist, I just hadn’t been.
We scheduled the mammogram for the following day. I shook from a combination of cold and nerves beside the machine, trying to shut out horror stories I’ve heard in the past, since this was my first. As soon as I walked into the room, I’d burst into tears. I apologized while the radiologic technician gently talked me through each step. She asked me questions about my kids. I asked about hers. Just two humans, in this awkward situation. This is something that happens every day, I told myself.
I asked lots of questions while they completed an ultrasound, afterwards. I froze when they found something else on the screen. They were straight with me: You have dense tissue. This is probably just that. But one edge is suspicious and we need to make sure. They gave me an option: Biopsy or wait and see.
I went with my knee-jerk reaction, and opted for biopsy. The radiologist immediately told me that was a wise choice.
I couldn’t help but wonder what her immediate response would be if I’d chosen ‘wait and see’, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. But know thyself, and I wasn’t willing to wait. I’d come this far. It was a short wait vs. a longer one. Rip off the proverbial bandaid and nuke it early, fight hard if it’s actually cancer.
Of course I lost sleep, because the next morning I was convinced I was making a mistake. Another doctor called and followed up with more information, and more praise. “Wise choice,” they kept saying. Chances are this is nothing. But they need to make sure.
It wasn’t lost on me that it’s breast cancer awareness month. It’s like that moment when someone mentions a yellow car and then all you notice for the next few weeks, are yellow cars. I thought of all the women I know that have boldly gone before me, and received not-so-good news. Friends shared their testimonies on social media, of their mothers’ experiences, and their own. Women battling it now. Women in the news newly diagnosed and fighting stage 4. There are no words. They’re so brave.
The worst part, is the waiting.
I tried to be present with our children at the dinner table while my kids told us all about their day. To bury myself in work and choose the perfect paint color for a client. I tried to remind myself that the little things still matter, even when it feels like they really don’t. It’s a struggle to remain composed when you just want to cope with a well-timed trip to Italy to escape reality. I withdrew and isolated myself because I didn’t want to be anxiety girl in public. Then the anger came, along with little feelings that crept into the edge of my daily life while I tried to grasp normal. Because as minor as this seems, it was a big deal to me.
I even had a little bit of that brain-washed southern guilt that told me “This is what you deserve” like I’m living in some real life cautionary tale. We dangerously try to rationalize the things that are happening to us, like there’s a hard and fast set of rules to follow. I feared that this is the price I have to pay for putting my health on the back burner. I’d made time for hair appointments and yoga class. Why hadn’t I checked in with something so basic as the doctor? Shame is a dangerous, often unnecessary feeling that creeps in and dominates our lives in little ways, if we’re not careful.
Tuesday was the day of the biopsy, and while it was intimidating, they handled me with grace and kindness. They talked me through it. Answered all my questions. Coached me through the small burn, the needle, the startling staple-gun click. No biggie, I just kept telling myself.
The phone call came late Friday afternoon when I’d assumed I’d have to wait through the weekend. There was a pause while she pulled up the results and my heart nearly leapt through my throat while I tried to breathe: It’s quite insane to think that in the simple moment like a phone call, everything can change. The results are a fibroadenoma, which means it’s benign. They’ll make a plan and monitor from here. But in the meantime, I’m good. I’m not taking it for granted.
Why did I just take you all the way through this frustrating narrative of the sleepless nights I was put through, for the last 2.5 weeks?
These are the things no one really shares because they’re honestly just an unpleasant part of life. I thought that maybe if I could help one person feel a little less alone and ‘normal’ it was worth sharing it all here. Writing is my greatest form of therapy, so here I am clacking away on the keyboard in the early morning, thinking there’s a chance no one will actually see this if I never hit ‘publish’. But here we are.
It’s been a while since I’ve been personal here because I’ve been battling a lot of things behind the scenes, just like everyone else. We all tend to only share our highlight reels and Instagram best. But I decided that sharing is important, even if it includes the word breast. It feels a lot like “Do Not Pass Go Do Not Collect 200 Dollars” a-la Monopoly, when you’re waiting. Sometimes it’s a long exasperating process, but an important step because we only get one body. One life on this earth.
So, I’m sharing in case someone needs to hear this. Don’t put it off. Make the appointments, if you’re able. For your own peace of mind. For the love of yourself and your loved ones. Get a physical. Do the blood panels. Let the dermatologist check your moles. Do the swab with the stirrups which are horribly uncomfortable when they tell you to ‘scoot down a little more’, one more time. That was a lot of stress that I had go to through, and it would have happened anyway, whether I put off the appointment, or not. But I’ve been on a health journey for the last few months, from eating better to getting all my checkups in because I’d put it off for so long. So take back your own narrative and empower yourself. Shame is a dangerous emotion that can really hold us back and take over everything, if we’re not careful.
Know your options. Ask the questions. Do the thing.
To simply live life every day without the stress of health issues is a DAILY gift, and an actual freaking luxury. Going through something small like this is nothing compared to what others have endured. I know that I have so much to be grateful for. But I also don’t want to minimize the importance of just checking in, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s been a huge, jarring reminder of an emotional rollercoaster for me, not to take the little things for granted. And I’m sincerely grateful.
We’re all human. We’re all just living here, one day at a time, breathing through it all. How many times do we get irritated with someone on social media, angry with a stranger in traffic, or even a friend? Cancel culture is dangerously rampant. We’re so busy judging everyone with our finger on the trigger, it’s exhausting. So how often do we neglect to think about what’s really going on behind the scenes in someone else’s life? How often do we pause to think about how we can change our own perspective?
These last few years with the state of our world, along with the way I was treated over these past few weeks, have been a poignant juxtaposition for me. From the few friends I actually told about this, to professionals who handled me with dignity and empathy, thank you. You’re a balm to the soul, walking me through this one moment at a time.
I was a bit breathless on the phone with that woman who was able to deliver some happy news, which I know doesn’t always happen, for her. I fought through tears to tell her what I felt was important. I said, “You hear a lot of horror stories in these situations, about the way people are treated. All of you were so gracious and patient with me. I can’t tell you how much that means. Thank you so much.”
She said they don’t get to hear that very much.
So, handle with care. We’re all just doing the very best that we can.
photo by light by iris