April 1, 2021

abnormal mammogram
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Neal E. Johnson

Three months ago, I was not cool, calm, or collected.  In January, I received word of an abnormal mammogram.  What made it worse was having to wait two more weeks for additional testing.  

On the day of the diagnostic mammogram, I felt fairly calm.  I was called back to the exam room for four different x-ray views.  But after waiting thirty minutes (and getting more and more worried) I found out that the results were inconclusive.  So, I was called back for an ultrasound.  While the technician performed the test, she assured me that everything looked normal.  The radiologist also performed an ultrasound.  She too, thought the breast tissue looked normal.  Finally, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  But then the radiologist wanted to know more about my family history.  When I told her that my mother died of breast cancer, she recommended that I have an MRI with contrast dye.  Really?  First the mammograms, then the ultrasounds and now this.  January was a miserable month and from what it looked like, February was going to be no better, and all I wanted was for this journey to be over.  

I had a telehealth appointment with my physician, hoping she'd say an MRI would not be needed.  No such luck.  We talked about my risk factors and though the chance of getting cancer was low, she wanted me to go ahead with the MRI.  It would be a more definitive test.  My doctor reassured me that everything would probably turn out alright.  She prescribed an anti-anxiety med that contained an antihistamine in case I'd have a reaction to the dye and she told me to take Pepcid and my migraine medicine.  Eh...I wasn't so sure this combination of meds would keep me from getting queasy.  Believe it or not, that was my biggest fear about the procedure.

The MRI would be in ten days.  In the meantime, I tried to psych myself up.  I'm BRCA (breast cancer gene) negative.  I'm not overweight.  I exercise and don't drink much alcohol.  I've calculated the risks and the chances of cancer were low.  I sent good thoughts into the universe.  And still, fear crawled into my brain, poisoning my tenuous hold on positivity.  As I waited for the date of the MRI (February 5) to roll around, I tried to stick to my writing routine, but it was hard to concentrate.    

The night before the MRI, I set out a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and tennis shoes.  Afterward, I got this feeling that the meds would work and keep me from being sick to my stomach.  In fact, the next day, I woke without feeling anxious.  I ate a light breakfast and took my medicine.  Then, my husband drove me to the clinic because the anti-anxiety med could cause dizziness.   

In less than fifteen minutes, I was called into the exam room and was given the option of removing my face mask.  The head rest had been sterilized so I chose not to wear a mask since I would on my stomach for twenty minutes.  The tech gave me headphones to drown out the noise.   

I climbed onto the metal bed and tried to get comfortable, but lying on the hard surface strained my back and pressed against my chest.  I gave myself a pep talk:  you can do this, it's only for twenty minutes.  I calmed down and then the procedure began.  And then...HOLY CRAP!  I hadn't bargained for this kind of noise.  It blasted louder than a fire alarm.  No volume of music could drown it out.  The only thing that helped take my mind off the racket was to visualize peaceful images. 

After the test was completed (HALLELUJAH) the tech helped me to my feet.  I put on my mask, got dressed and joined my husband.  He was relieved that I wasn't nauseous, though I had stuffed a plastic bag in my pocket just in case. 

The results would be reported in four days—on February 9th, the death anniversary of my mom.  That totally sucked.  I did not want to receive news that day.  So, a day earlier, I checked the patient portal for test results, hoping that they'd be there.  They weren't.  

I checked on the ninth, hoping there would NOT be any results.  There weren't, thank goodness. I would have broken down if I had heard bad news on the day my mother had died.

I expected to hear something on February 10.  I didn't.  So, it was time to muster up courage and check in with radiology.   Damn, I hated making this phone call.  My heart was beating a mile a minute.  I waited for the nurse to find the results.  And then she read the report.  It was negative.  Negative!  Finally, this worrisome journey was over.

Many of my friends and most of my family stayed in touch and sent texts to check up on me as I waited on the results.  It's funny how something as simple as I'm thinking about you can mean so much.  For those who reached out to me, thank you.  I'm forever grateful for your kind thoughts and prayers. 

Two months ago, I began a journey that I wouldn't wish on anyone.  But after the experience, I found there were opportunities to be thankful, to reevaluate goals, and to realize strengths.  There were opportunities to reach out to friends for support.  And what they said surprised me and warmed my heart.  They told me I should not have waited to until the end of the journey to tell them my story.  They told me I should have shared it with from the start and every step along the way.  

À la prochaine!