The Measure Of Time

English: Woman undergoing a mammogram of the r...

English: Woman undergoing a mammogram of the right breast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people measure how quickly time goes by with the start of a new year, January 1st, others by  their birthday, or the start of school. I measure how quickly the year goes by at my annual mammogram appointment, where I sit in that same musty, intolerable room, sweating with the other women, waiting for our names to be called.

I am not the measure of confidence, breezy, smiling with designer shoes and handbag when I go in but I admire the women who seem to be that way. Count me out. I go, this time with soft, well-worn gray pants, and a loose striped shirt, my hair in two short pig-tails to get it away from my face, my face showing fear and anxiety. The day before this I had a grueling day at The Balance Center so I thought, perhaps, I could catch a break today. Yeah, right.

They call my name rather quickly and for that I am grateful, I have a friendly technician who realizes I have lost weight, by the size of my breasts? Whatever. She finishes the films and I sit down and wait for my name to be called, imagining my relieved smile, walking out the door, perhaps celebrating with a pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks. No such luck.

After waiting another fifteen minutes, they call my name again and I proceed to the doctor but unfortunately that is not where they want me to go. Another technician tells me the doctor wants a repeat of some of the films, actually of my right breast and my heart plummets to my feet. I feel weak so I try to hang on to the bar on top of the machine and I try to ask  the technician questions but she gives me no answers. I am already trying to accept my fate and think of myself categorically planning the next step. Why me? Why not me? No one is exempt from this horrible disease, I don’t have any lucky charm or special karma, it’s really a number’s game, isn’t it?

The free pink pens and pink peppermints on the table don’t do much to help my nerves or anyone else’s, I don’t see many people taking the free samples. I take a pen and pop a peppermint in my mouth for the sugar. After another twenty minutes, yet again, a different technician calls my name and I steel myself for the news of the radiologist good or bad, I will be strong, I will cope, not that I have a choice.

Instead of seeing the radiologist, this technician whisks me into the ultra-sound room and focuses heavily on my right breast. I’m not an idiot, the doctor wanted extra pictures of my right breast and the technician is spending 80 percent of her time trying to get clear pictures of my right breast. I timidly ask politely from the technician if there is anything she can tell me. Cool as a cucumber, she says, somewhat haughtily, “the doctor will tell you the results” she looks like she’s 15 and I know it’s her job but again, patient sensitivity is sorely lacking.

She tells me NOT to get dressed (not a good sign, I think) and she will show this to the doctor. I get dressed anyway. After ten minutes she comes in and says she will take me to the doctor. I don’t remember walking there, I just remember being there. Inside a jovial sounding man who I can now image only as Owen Hunt from “Grey’s Anatomy” says “take a seat.” I remain standing because I cannot move. He said ‘you’re fine.” “What?” I ask? He repeats  in a casual, breezy tone, ” you’re fine.” I find my voice and say “what about all the extra pictures and the ultra sound and the emphasis on the right breast?” He leans back in his chair and laughs, “Oh, you have a lymph node there but you’ve had the same one for the last ten years, nothing to worry about. Come on now, not even a smile?” I just stare. Once again, he asks “can I just have one smile before you leave?” I turn my back, and walk quietly out the door.

I’m still in shock but I am grateful.

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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/

Simple. Sweet. Joy.

Happy Day

It’s been a long time since I’ve had good news so when I got some today, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. It took a moment to process, I think I was in shock. It took thirty seconds to register, settle in and then feeling came back to my body. Dusty old joy  spread through my body in seconds, like warm, milk chocolate melting in your mouth.   I had been subconsciously waiting for another bad thing to happen since I had known nothing else in a very long time. I had prepared myself for more bad news; after all when you have had month after month of bad news every single time without a break, that is what you expect.

Today, there was a new ripple in the water, the new crescent of wave turning over in my mind. The ocean, my image, of all that is good and strong, minus the sharks that are taking bites out of innocent swimmers. Yesterday, just yesterday I was at the veterinarian’s office with my dog, Callie. I found a lump and told the vet that I was not going to leave until he found it, because I couldn’t find it again. My dog was also itching and scratching everywhere like crazy. The veterinarian finally found it and I was with my dog as the doctor pulled out the incredibly long syringe and plunged it into the back of my dog. “If it were any other place, I wouldn’t even biopsy it but since it’s right on the lymph node I want to be safe…..” I nodded weakly. I admit, first I turned around so I wouldn’t have to look at the long needle but then I swung back sharply and held my dog’s paws and looked into her scared eyes. I wanted to be there for her so I kissed her on the neck and held her still.

The doctor told me to call Wednesday or Thursday, Thursday to play it safe but today, a mere one day after the procedure there was a message from the receptionist that said my dog did NOT have cancer. I played the message and then I called the office, just to be sure, really sure. I thanked them about thirty times and I was so grateful that they had called. I hung up and I was silent. Then, I whooped for joy, hugged my sleeping dog and cried. I cried with happiness, a feeling that has been lost to me for such a long time. I understand that I will know sadness again, of course I will, but today I felt happiness, sweet happiness, in the purest form. Thank you. I appreciate it more now, but you probably know that already.