Last year I turned 40 and told myself that it was time to get serious about regular mammograms. I had my first one at 35 after finding a small knot – or thinking I found one – and after test was found to be normal, it was treated as my baseline.
And last year I, fully confident that I was showing up for another perfectly normal mammogram, pulled out my phone in the dressing room and “checked in” to the center on Facebook. “Time for a mammogram,” I commented. “When’s yours?”
And after standing in a cold room, naked to the waist while being squeezed this way and that, I dressed and went about my life, until the next week when I stood at the mailbox and read a chilling message from my doctor that a spot in my right breast (not the left, where I had thought I had a lump) would necessitate a second screening.
The letter assured me, though, that the majority of these second screenings do not result in any negative findings – a sentiment that was echoed by several friends and relatives who I contacted. I relaxed and again scheduled my appointment.
I posted again to Facebook as I was checking in. “They want another squeeze,” I said. And I again disrobed and leaned in to the machine, complying with each request of the technician as best I could.
“Can I look?” I asked her as I put my paper robe back on.
“Yes, but you wont know what you’re looking at,” she answered, and turned her monitor toward me.
And after I dressed, I walked to the waiting room, terrified, as my images were taken to the specialist who would compare them to my first set.
I texted my friend Trish: “Large white mass in my right breast close to chest wall.”
Her: “You want me to come up there?”
And she called me and I sat there in the waiting room, whispering in to the phone, trying to calm the roller coaster feeling gripping my stomach, and then the technician called me into the hallway.
“OK, you’re fine,” she said.
“Everything’s OK. That mass flattened out on our second set of images, so it’s not cancer. Cancer doesn’t flatten out like that.” And I dissolved into tears and hugged her.
“Oh, honey,” she said, patting my back.
“I have two little children,” I whispered.
Last week I met with my doctor to discuss a minor medical issue that I have been having that may be helped by the use of hormones.
“I’m scared of hormones,” I said. “My grandmother had breast cancer.”
“Maternal. Also, her grandmother did too.”
“Have you ever had genetic testing for BRCA1 or BRCA2? That would tell you if you carry the gene.”
“No. Maybe I should?”
“Here is some information on it,” he said as he handed me a sheet of paper, “but if you test positive, insurance companies might stay clear of you.”
“They’re not supposed to, but they could.”
And there you have the makings of one of my most deep-rooted fears. My annual screening is scheduled for next Monday, and until then every little tingle is magnified until it becomes the cancer that will separate me from my husband and children forever. While reading or watching TV my hands will absently wander up to search for lumps and bumps, certain that my body is poised to betray me.