“I sat in the waiting room, naked from the waist up save for the hospital green awkwardly tied in front. This was a call back: not the kind you pray for after an audition.
“In nine out of ten times, it’s nothing,” the voice had said over the phone. She added they wanted to do a spot check and an ultrasound.
The first was really just another mammogram, only focused on one area. I had been in and out quickly for that one, but now I watched the hours tick by, and other women come and go.
“I think they might have forgotten about me,” I flagged down the first technician I could find.
She asked my name, disappeared, and a short time later another woman appeared with what looked like a clipboard.
“Let’s find a private space,” she said leading me into an empty examination room. She handed me a booklet.
The only words I caught before my heart started to race were: Breast Cancer.
“We found something,” she started to say. “We are still going to do the ultrasound, but only to make sure it hasn’t spread to both breasts.”
The rest of my appointment was a blur. The second breast appeared clear, I do remember, and there was something about a biopsy. I sat in the car and shook before pulling myself together enough to drive home.
Two days later, I was called for the biopsy.
“Your doctor will have the results within ten days,” I was advised. This waiting was killing me – too much time for the imagination to run wild.
“I just went through the same thing,” a friend told me later. “Had the biopsy and everything, but they are just keeping an eye on it. No cancer.”
That sounded good to me. I could live with that.
The doctor called me in. “I’m sending you to a surgeon. You have abnormal cells and that is worth checking out.”
“We’ll perform a lumpectomy to remove the area, possibly followed by radiation.”
“Can’t we just watch it and wait?” I asked, thinking of my friend.
“No!” the doctor and her resident said in unison. “This is far too aggressive. We are scheduling you for the first available surgery.”
Christmas was approaching, and as a teacher, I had a lot to do before sending the students on holiday.
“Can we at least wait till the summer break.”
“Six months will be too late,” the doctor said kindly, then: “December 13th will be your date.”
I had a few weeks to prepare a substitute, finalize my Christmas shopping, and get the house decorated. Thank God for distractions.
The downside was that once I had the surgery it would be five weeks before I’d know the results, due to the holidays. Five weeks of waking up in the middle of the night, terror gripping me. Five weeks of trying to convince myself and others that all would be well.
“You should have told them to remove both breasts while they were in there,” a co-worker had told me. Her cancer had recently come back and she’d had to have a second breast removed. “Better to do it all at once, then bit by bit like me.”
“There is no breast cancer in our family,” I discussed with my cousin’s wife. She too had been battling breast cancer for many years.
“There wasn’t in mine either,” she said.
Once the ‘C’ word presents itself the anxiety becomes a permanent cloud. It’s been six years since that Christmas of fear. The lumpectomy was successful – I didn’t require any radiation. I receive yearly checks now – so far, so good. And yet, every once in a while, a sudden pain or twinge will catch me wondering.
Does the fear ever go away?