*M Stands For Mammogram

Breast cancer awareness

Breast cancer awareness (Photo credit: AslanMedia)

I  sit on the faded pink chairs, I know from every year before this, where the greasy stains are. The same old tattered magazines and breast cancer pamphlets are on the table. I sit in the chair facing forward as if I was on a train, leaving nowhere fast. I measure my time annually by these mammogram appointments. I can’t believe it’s been a year already.

I am given the thin, green hospital robe and the same monotone speech, no body wash, no cream soaps, no deodorant and I make the same stupid joke every year in my head (“that’s going to be worse for you than me.”)  I had a lump removed from my breast when I was 25, luckily it was benign but I remember the shock, and the experience in detail. I remember that the surgeon made me cry and the nurses comforted me. I’ve had a mammogram every year since. I am now 56 years old.

I know the instructions by heart but as soon as they tell me what to do, I forget. As soon as the nurse closes the curtain that makes that whoosh-metallic sound, I have no idea which way to put the gown on, my hands shake and I am nervous. I tell myself that I am sure everyone else here is anxious but that gives me no comfort. I wish I could be the type of person that could hide my feelings but I would need a full lobotomy for that. My feelings are seen from a mile away, they glow in neon orange lights like a flashing danger sign.

Finally it is my turn. A technician leads me into the mammogram room, I don’t complain about the discomfort ever and then I go back to the waiting room. I wait a long time, in fact I notice that all the women who I had been with have already left. There are a new batch of women here, waiting to be called in, having their tests and waiting with me. One by one they are leaving too. Now, I am really worried, this does not feel right.There are no nurses to ask, they only come in sporadically but as soon as I see one I ask her politely to please find out what is going on. She is kind (and you remember every kind word) and tells me they need two more pictures. They take two more pictures. Once again I am in the waiting room now waiting for my ultra sound. In every year before they have called me into the radiologist for the results of my mammogram BEFORE the ultra sound but not today. When, after thirty minutes, the nurse tells me to come for my ultra sound, I ask her the results of my mammogram and she says “we NEVER tell that to the patient, the radiologist tells you after both tests.” I have come here for the last fifteen years and it’s never been done like that but I am too weak to argue.

Once in the ultra sound room, the technician does a thorough job and I noticed her focusing, over and over my right breast. I asked if there was anything wrong and she laughed and said “I can’t tell you but the radiologist will give you the information.” “Don’t get dressed” she says as she leaves and I know that is a standard procedure. As if I was in a bad dream the technician comes back and says the radiologist wants a few more pictures. I have been here for three hours and I am trying very hard not to weep with exhaustion and fear.

Finally, they call my name for the radiologist. My whole body is shaking and my legs feel like jello. I hold on to the walls for support. The radiologist says glibly “You’re fine.” “Yeah, you’re fine, no changes from last year, good to go for another year.”He give me a slip of paper and with a wave of his hand he encourages me to leave. I had lost my voice. I finally managed to ask about the nodule and he said they had compared it and nothing changed.

Thinking back I was in shock; it reminded me of the time when I did have a lump in my breast and it had to be removed.I remembered having to wait so long for the biopsy, more than a week. I knew I had heard good news today but it hadn’t sunk in yet. I walked back to the changing room with fingers trembling and slowly changed back into my clothes. I was grateful, believe me I was grateful; my emotions just hadn’t caught up just yet.

*Please note that more women die of heart failure than all cancers combined. My breast surgeon told me that one day, smirking and grinning widely, telling me it was “good for his business.” Visit Carolyn Thomas’ page Heartsisters.org for more information.

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Pink, Plus

pink for the cure

pink for the cure (Photo credit: silviaON)

Some people measure time by New Year’s Eve, they stay up till midnight, drink champagne and say good-bye, hoping for a better year. I used to measure years by the start of school in September for my children. I was the queen of the mommy hot-line, until they grew up and went to college.

Now, I measure time by my annual mammogram; it feels like I was just IN this same pink room with the stained chairs a minute ago. After having mammograms since I was in my twenties, I know the drill but the nurse tells me again, what to do: place the clothes in the closet, gown open in the front and as soon as she draws the curtain around me, my mind goes blank. I forget everything: did she say the opening goes in the back or the front? I didn’t use deodorant, (their loss, I think to myself) and I can never find the tie for the robe. Every. Single. Year.

I sit in this crowded room, next to me there is a tray of free pink pens and individually wrapped pink mints. I forgot for a second, that it’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. After reading many articles about how “Pink” has become an incredible marketing tool for companies as well as a great fund raiser. Awareness for Breast Cancer is WONDERFUL but I know that heart disease is the number one cause of death for women than all cancers combined. My own breast surgeon laughed at that (I know) and said “Hey, it’s good for me.” That definitely soured me a bit. Please read *Carolyn Thomas’ information on Heart Sisters. Carolyn is a pioneer among women.

The technician calls my name immediately and I am joyful, “This will be very quick” she says and I foolishly believe her. I kept this appointment and ultra- sound a secret from my mother who I know will worry all day; I keep this from her, I’ve already inherited the job. The test is quick, I go out to the waiting room again and sit and wait. All the people who have been with me have had their mammogram, are dressed and have left. Doors slam loudly. I can’t sit anymore, I stand, I pace. I don’t go to the women’s room for fear of missing my name being called. My head feels detached and numb and my stomach feels nauseous. I try to hide my nerves but now it’s been over two hours.  I asked a technician, very politely, if she wouldn’t mind checking for me and she was kind and I was grateful. She came back after ten minutes and tells me that the ultra-sound request was lost (yes, the one they had confirmed on Friday by phone) and they needed another one. Couldn’t they have just told me the result of the mammogram first?  No.

I was led to a different chair now, for the ultra-sound, where a well-meaning but over-talkative technician gives me a detailed explanation of what she sees. “This is a lymph node” “This is something, it could be fat or could be bad like a tumor” “I have to be honest with my patients but it’s not official, official only comes from the Dr.” She is talking to the wrong patient. She is scaring me to death. This ultra-sound takes at least 25 minutes. She takes me to the radiologist to sit and wait again. After what seems to be a very long time, she comes out and tells me “Doctor wants one more picture of lymph node” At this point, I’ve pretty much lost my mind but accepted my fate and I’m calmer. She does the picture again (another ten minutes) and we go back. I wait until the technician motions me in. The radiologist does not ask me to sit down but in an off-hand way that lasted under two seconds says “You’re fine.”  I stutter as she is about to wave me out of her door “Wait, what about the lymph node, and the tumor/fat that you were looking at?” They were fine. I truly felt like I had cut into her lunch time and she was being disturbed.

I had been in that facility for over three and a half hours, my best friend and my husband who DO NOT worry, were worried. There was no happy feeling or relief because of all the time, drama and their unpleasant way. Usually I would have said something but in this situation, after this time, I found myself completely tired, numb and mute.

I spent Tuesday in bed, still not over that stressful day. I wanted to avoid a flare-up of my Fibromyalgia but I have to say I still haven’t gotten my fight back. Yet.

*For more information on Heart Sisters:myheartsisters.org/

Carry on Tuesday – Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle what happens.

Cardiac ICU

Cardiac ICU (Photo credit: Sam Blackman)

It was Father’s Day, our baby was nine months old and my husband and I had driven from Massachusetts to my parents’ condo in upstate New York. It was our first Father’s Day with our son and after two and a half years of infertility treatment, nothing made us happier than spending time with our boy. I felt blessed that I had finally gotten pregnant and every night I thanked God for this beautiful boy. I had been dealing with shots and blood tests and sonograms and depression every single day and night for over two years.

We had eaten brunch altogether, my sister and her husband and kids had arrived as well, my father seemed unusually quiet. I felt something was wrong; all those times my mom had complained I was “over-sensitive” I was just good at picking up vibrations. My mother looked concerned. Finally, my dad admitted he wasn’t feeling well but refused to go to the doctor. He did not fall over with stabbing pains, he felt bad, his chest hurt but his skin color was not right, it was almost gray and that upset me the most.

We had always had a special bond and he wasn’t listening to my mother or anyone else. I knew, in my heart, in my gut, that something was very wrong. He said that he would drive to the hospital and my mother agreed but there was no way that was going to happen. He refused an ambulance. Finally, I was so upset that I burst into tears and begged, I begged him to let me drive him and my mom to the Emergency Room in Danbury. I sobbed, “Daddy, do it for me” and he said okay.

When we arrived his blood , an EKG administered and a very superior and obnoxious young resident came in and in clipped tones told him, “You are a very, very sick man.” My father was in complete denial and refused to believe him. Apparently he had suffered a major heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. We stayed until we were literally thrown out of the hospital and heard an announcement that my car was just about to be towed. We drove back to their condo not knowing what to do. I remember my mother saying “you saved his life.”

Life isn’t about what happens to YOU, not always, it’s about how you handle what happens when situations arise. It was very late, Sunday night. My husband had to go back to work in Massachusetts, my son was nine months old and we had never been separated. There was no offer from my sister and her husband and I knew my mother could not handle this alone. We had a family history of that. In my heart, I knew what needed to happen. It turned out that my in-laws took my son back to their house, my husband went back to our house and I stayed with my mother to help with my dad. At the time there seemed like there was no other choice. The next morning we found out that he had 90 percent blockage in five arteries. He was indeed, a very sick man.

They moved him to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and in a few days he had open heart surgery. I visited with my dad and had to say good-bye before they wheeled him to surgery and it’s probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. I cried, I couldn’t stop myself and my father knew me too well, a tear slid down his cheek as well. My dad and I are so alike. My mom and I waited the entire day in the hospital, over six or seven hours, pacing the halls, waiting for his doctor to tell us the news. I couldn’t eat a bite of food all day. Seven hours later the surgeon came out and the news was great, he had gotten through the surgery and we could see him the next day. Imagine my shock, when the next day in ICU he was sitting up, shaved and wearing his glasses!

I never thought I could leave my son, my beloved first-born but sometimes, deep inside you, you know the right thing to do. I have never been sorry that I made that decision. My father lived through the operation and I remember he came home on July 4th, Independence Day.

That night I drove home in the dark, yelled “Hi “to my dear husband, dashed up the stairs and took my sleeping baby, now home, in my arms. I stood there, rocking him back and forth for a very long time.

Women experience different symptoms from men: check out this wonderful website: http://www.myheartsisters.org by Carolyn Thomas

The Somewhere Tree

Wind Damaged Tree On E. Knapp Street

Image by Shamanic Shift via Flickr

I don’t exist, at least in the same way I have existed before. You won’t recognize me; I’m hiding out. I am a thick, sturdy, massive tree and maybe I am folding someone deep inside me or around me, or in my sturdy limbs high up into the rich, blue sky. I won’t tell you. I have disappeared because this is where I want to be. I don’t know if I will come out of hiding sometime or will stay behind these thick brown roped off curtains I made myself that contain me; comfort me. If I am hidden no one will steal my heart or break it into shards of mirror glass and take advantage of me.

Maybe my silhouette or the swing of my wiry tree hair show as the wind passes by my burlap sap and brown cloak. I intend to blend in with others, or maybe hide behind them for as long as I choose; for as long as I need. I felt a lot of things that I don’t feel anymore.

It’s as if I am out of my body looking in, trying to remember who I was and why I was that way. My heart was way too open, and too big for my body. My emotions were on overdrive, my thoughts obsessed with sympathy and kindness. I sat up once, curled into myself, sobbing. This was not my fault, these were conflicts I should not have been allowed to witness. This was NOT something I did; I am innocent. Something, somebody should have been there to protect me, to draw me back out of the wind, to rescue me but no one did. This attack felt like a tsunami or a tornado.

My eyes peek out behind the outline of my shadow. They dart back and forth, to the left, to the right and then they close.  It is all black and rosy and peaceful when my eyes are closed. I choose not to see anybody. I am now a tree that has stood proud and tall with missing branches from the high winds; limbs cut off, dangling in the middle between life and death. Too many people in this world judge others, that’s not how life is supposed to be. Sit with me on the grass and listen.

Life is hard, we all know that. At my age I have experienced hardship as well. There is no age limitation on pain, physical and emotional chronic pain. Back off, please don’t try to touch me; I can almost feel you near me and I don’t want to. I will shrink and cringe if you approach me. I will go inside out.

I have helped you from my heart but that same heart is no longer here. It cracked into bits and never put away. It was not like a picture puzzle; the pieces don’t fit in the right place anymore, and they won’t. Once you have lost your heart, or it has cracked, your heart will never beat in the same way again. You will skip a beat or you will have an extra irregular beat but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take away the love that was in your heart; I am protecting my heart.  You can also feel that you are being hit, again and again, until you gasp with pain and have trouble taking a breath. I am a tree in a blizzard, fighting to stand strong, my limbs are moving, my bark is now unattached, flying into the air, everywhere but home to me.  You can still see the tree but it is not the same. I tried to show you who I was but you left, not noticing that the tree you once loved was now completely different. You walked away.