Mammograms and What Could Have Been

It’s funny how your life can change in just a second. One little second can turn everything you ever knew upside down. And, before you read any further, I want to let you know that I am FINE. But, I almost wasn’t.

Saturday night as I was brushing my teeth, I realized I hadn’t done my monthly breast self-exam. So, before going to sleep, I went through the motions I do every month. Only this time, something was different. At the top of my left breast, I felt a lump. And a substantial one. Immediately, my stomach dropped. I had never felt anything like this before. I made a mental note to call my general practitioner and spent the next day and a half freaking out.

I called my doctor first thing Monday morning, explained my situation, and they wanted to see me immediately. So, by 2:15 that afternoon, I was topless on an examination table. And, the doctor solidified what I already knew, I had a lump on my left breast. And, even worse, she wasn’t sure what it was. So, from there I was given information on breast cancer, told my next options, and told that I would be scheduled for an ultrasound ASAP.

And, I cried.

And, I cried.

And, I cried.

At 27 years old, I never thought this would be something I would deal with. Cancer is something that people much older than me get. I have no history of breast cancer in my family. I’m young. I’m healthy. So, why am I going through this? And, I know people go through much worse, but one minute I’m enjoying my Saturday and the next I might have breast cancer and there’s no in between. 50/50 chance.

So, I waited. By the end of the day, I was scheduled for an ultrasound for the next day. The hardest part was waiting. And, pretending like I was okay. Going to work and going through the motions knowing I had what could be a ticking time bomb beneath my shirt.

On Tuesday, I walked into the Radiology office. The tech was pleasant and chatty and not at all aware of how nervous I was. So I said, “I’m a little nervous.” Her response, “Don’t worry, everyone is when they come in here.” Thanks. Comforting. For 20 minutes, she took ultrasound pictures of my breast. Then, she shipped them off to the doctor and left the room. And, I was left alone. Again. Topless on an examination table.

After what seemed like an eternity, she came back and informed me that the doctor still wasn’t clear on what was going on and couldn’t 100% rule out cancer. And, she said it as if she said it a dozen times a day. Like it was no big deal. And she chuckled when she said I would have to have a mammogram. She chuckled even harder when I asked if mammograms hurt. Like I was supposed to know. Like this was an everyday thing for a healthy, 27-year-old girl.

And then, I walked down a cold, empty hallway in just my gown to the room to get a mammogram. And, I was scared. And, I was alone. And, again I waited.

The next 30 minutes were a blur. I know the technician ran the tests. I know she told me what she was doing and walked me through the process. I remember her name was Izzy because I just started watching Grey’s Anatomy and I thought it was funny. But, everything else seems sterile and cold.

Again, my images were sent off to the doctor. And, I waited. Breathe – in and out, in and out.

“Everything looks fine.” and she walked out. Nothing else. I had to honestly stop and yell at her for her to answer my questions. “What is causing the lump then?” “We don’t really know. Might just be tissue. But it isn’t cancer.” And then I was dressed, out the door, and on my way home.

I would be lying if I said the world didn’t seem a little brighter. Like trees didn’t seem greener and the sky bluer. Dinner tasted better last night. And, I got my first good night’s sleep since Saturday.

And, I cried.

And, I cried.

And, I cried.

I’m not writing this to make you feel sympathy for me. Or, to make you feel sad. Or, to make you angry that I was so upset by what could have been but actually wasn’t.

I’m writing this because the first thing my general practitioner said to me when I sat up from the examination table was that she was proud of me for being diligent with my self exams. Because most women my age don’t do them regularly. Because most women let cancer spread and get too far before they come in. Most women my age think they are invincible and have an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to their health.

Which made me wonder how many women my age or even a little older don’t take control of their health. Who don’t do self exams. Who don’t get regular check ups. Who don’t even have health insurance in the case that something does happen. Who put their spouses, work, or kids above themselves. Who could be on the negative end of my situation some day.

Whatever you do, don’t put your own health at the end of your list. Don’t roll your eyes when your doctor tells you the risk of something. Don’t think you’re too young to get cancer. And, don’t forget to do your monthly breast self-exams. Because you never know when that lump may be something more.

One in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. That’s 12% of the women. And, 1.6 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. But, your survival rate increases by 15% if you catch it early enough. And, 78% of people who catch it early enough have a 15-year survival rate.

Take five minutes of your time once a month. Perform your breast self-exam. Be diligent about your health. Don’t become a statistic.

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