Today I drove myself to the breast center for a mammogram and ultrasound of my left breast.
There was no drama caused by a horrible technician, like the first time I went for a mammogram after my mastectomy. Everyone was professional, pleasant and sensitive.
No, this time the drama was raging inside my head. I get very quiet on these occasions. I don’t share the test anxiety (dare I say panic) I’m feeling with the technicians. I just keep my head down and fight off tears, hoping they won’t notice.
I ask myself what I’m afraid of, because I really don’t think I have breast cancer. Of course, that isn’t the point. I’m reacting to being sent back onto the front lines after having barely escaped with my life (and losing a body part.) More pointedly, I didn’t expect to hear the words, “you have cancer” four years ago either.
I wince as the mammogram compresses my last remaining breast into a pancake. The technician apologizes and I feel like a baby for revealing weakness. As I struggle to hold it together, I wonder if the pain is actually as bad as it feels or if my anxiety creates an expectation of pain every time I walk into one of these rooms.
Three pictures and it’s over. I sit outside and wait, and wait and wait, feigning interest in a People magazine. Finally, she returns to tell me I don’t need to go back for another round of pictures (as I have done every year since my mastectomy.) Instead, I’m going to go into another room with the ultrasound technician.
I have a love/hate relationship with ultrasound. For the first four years we tried to have a baby, I associated it with the grief of a confirmed miscarriage. With my daughter and son’s pregnancies, I came to associate ultrasounds with the joy of seeing my unborn children in the womb. I try to sooth myself with those memories, but the fact is I’m back to dreading the darkened room.
The technician swirls on the lubricant and probes. Hard. I’m surprised by the pain and again worry I’m being a baby, but a part of me doesn’t care. I just desperately want this to be over and, when it seems like it’s been going on for 10 or 15 minutes, have a moment where I fear I might yell at her to leave me alone. Of course, I control my flight or fight reflexes and remain quiet.
Again I wait for the radiologist, who walks in and tells me “Everything is fine, we’ll do this again next year.” I know this is good news, but all I want to do is escape. I say my goodbyes, trying to sound chipper but feeling limp. I make my way to the parking lot, exhausted and sore. Surprisingly, my neck and shoulders also hurt.
Here’s the thing. I tried for the past few weeks to avoid thinking about today’s testing. I confessed to my husband yesterday how I dreaded it (I surprised even myself when I teared up,) but still wanted to keep it all under wraps. I was resolved to keep my head down, not talk about it, not write about it and just go into it and out again with as little commotion as possible.
Then, in the waiting room this morning. I couldn’t be silent. I grabbed my phone and wrote on my Facebook page, WhereWeGoNow as Cancer Survivors. Once I got home, I turned on my laptop and this is what I found.
Twenty-one comments wishing me luck, peace, good thoughts, hugs, prayers and hope! Twenty-one women letting me know that “sisters understand the nerves” and “are behind me all the way.”
Maybe the technicians I saw this morning didn’t understand my test anxiety, but each one of these women let me know for certain that they “got it.” I’m not a baby and I’m not weak. I’m a member of the sisterhood which, once again, has proven the importance of “Me too” in my life.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Survival > Existence,