My (Terrifying) Family Legacy

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?”

Me: “No.”

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.”

“Which one?”

“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.



About Joyce

40-year-old university advisor, 10-years married with two small children, trying to do it all and have it all and still manage the occasional social interaction through the wonderful world of blogging.
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17 Responses to My (Terrifying) Family Legacy

  1. I hope everything will be fine. Your anxiety comes through clearly. I was afraid this post was going to end differently.

  2. Joyce, I really felt like I was with you. Good for you for keeping up with your screenings. It is very scary

    • Joyce says:

      For some reason I feel that it is a given that I will have to go back for a second one. And I would swear I feel something one the left. Becoming a mom has put me on hyper-alert. I have so much to life for.

  3. Thanks for posting. Please continue to eat healthy, reduce toxins inside and out, drink water, work out and stay positive. (Proactive Prevention) @IWillSurviveInc

  4. Karen says:

    Wishing you well on the screening.

  5. I completely understand your fears. Breast cancer is rampant in my family…my mom, cousins, aunts and so on. I’ve had yearly mammograms and MRIs since I was 30. At first I’d agonize until I got the results every time. Now, I allow myself a little cry immediately following every test then get on with my life. Knock on wood any scares have all ended up being nothing so far. It can be terrifying thinking that you’re living in a ticking time bomb. But my genes are what they are…

    • Joyce says:

      Ah, so you know exactly where I’m at. Have you ever had the genetic testing?

      • I’ve been through the genetic counselling process twice. Both times they reassessed the family history and redid my mom’s results using new technologies (she died from breast cancer in 1999).

        Although BRCA1 is confirmed in many of our family members, she (and some others) didn’t have that particular mutation. So their cancers were either environmental or some other as-yet undetected gene.

        Because of my mom’s results, so far I haven’t technically been “tested” because if she didn’t have that mutation, I can’t either.

        I assume I’ll go through this again in the future as technologies improve…it’s a very personal decision whether you want to know this kind of information or not.

      • Joyce says:

        There are a lot of layers to the situation, that’s for sure. Personally, if there was nothing I could do about it, I wouldn’t want to know. But since it may help me determine how vigilant I should be, I might want to be tested.

        I am very sorry to hear about your mom. I’m glad to know that you are keeping informed on the process.

  6. Oh boy Joyce! I can’t blame you for living in constant anxiety. I wish I had some words of wisdom for you to make you quit worrying about it. Unfortunately I don’t because I completely understand worrying and anxiety. It’s part of my nature. I will gladly worry along with you and commiserate on the subject anytime you need!

    • Joyce says:

      I wonder if it will be this way every year. My paranoid mind is telling me there is something on the left side. But after Monday, and probably a follow-up, I’m sure my mind will be at ease until next year.

  7. st sahm says:

    You are SO brave (and inspiring) for sharing this and wise for getting your exams. Hoping and praying you keep receiving those all clear reports!

    • Joyce says:

      Thanks! Me too. The lady conducting the test advised me that if any abnormalities appeared when compared to my last set, I would be called in for an additional screening. I’ve been checking my messages religiously and so far there has been no call, so I’m optimistic.

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