Last week I accompanied a very close friend to a follow-up diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound due to suspicious findings in her baseline mammogram. I am not going to bury the lede here, she is absolutely clear and healthy, thank god. She is the 80% that is totally clear after a suspicious finding. Amen.
Now I am going to backtrack a little. My friend, I will call her Xena (as in Warrior Princess), sent me a text saying that she was called back for a follow-up after a baseline mammogram. Without a moment of hesitation, I said that I would be there if she wanted me.
After what I have been through, how could I not offer my expertise? I wish I had someone like me to accompany me to my very first appointments. I never thought in a million years that I would have breast cancer so I went to my first mammogram alone. I would not recommend that. Never go to a mammogram alone. You just don’t know. Use it as an excuse to get lunch with your mom, sister or a pal.
Xena Warrior Princess asked me multiple times if I was sure I wanted to come. I never hesitated. Honestly, I never actually thought it through. I just knew Xena needed me and I was going to be there for her no matter what.
On the day of her appointment I was a little nervous for her. Not because I thought she would get bad results, but because I could tell she was nervous. I was not nervous for my follow-up appointment, which in my case was the biopsy, as they were able to do my diagnostic mammo at the same time as my baseline. As I said before, I never thought I would have breast cancer. At my biopsy I was peeved I had to have an awkward and painful procedure, but I was not scared. Not a bit.
We met in the lobby and headed up to the proper office. Funny side note- another awesome friend of mine’s parents’ names were emblazoned on the wall when we walked in, as they are the donors of this beautiful wing. They do a tremendous amount of fundraising and work for breast cancer in Chicagoland. You know who you are- SHOUT OUT!!
Xena is told to change into the iconic shirt/gown that women receiving mammograms all wear as they sit around together in small waiting nooks. I was the only woman in our little area not in a gown, which I found ironic as I was probably the only one who had breast cancer.
If you have been through a mammogram and/or a subsequent cancer diagnosis, you may have visceral feelings about these waiting rooms with the halfsie gowns. It is a moment of rawness. You sit there in your jeans or maybe your work slacks, but your upper half is nude under the shapeless, generic wrap gown. It is demoralizing in a way, but also demonstrates all of our humanness.
I never panicked in a waiting room like this as I never thought I would have cancer. But I did with Xena. I think I might have been having some kind of PTSD flashback moment. I was feeling my own retroactive panic via her experience. I did my darnedest not to project this, as it was not my moment.
We were there for a long time and ended up having as good a time as people could have in a situation like that. We are usually surrounded by small children or other people when we see one another so this time alone, just as women, was quite lovely.
While Xena was in her tests, I found myself alone in the small room with a revolving door of strangers in their testing gowns. I wonder if they saw my short hair and made any connections? I wanted to yell to each of them that I wasn’t just a random woman waiting for her friend, I was a survivor! That I had been right where they were only 10 months ago. That I could answer some of their questions, listen to their concerns.
This moment made me even more eager to find work in this industry. I want my experience to have a deeper meaning. I want to talk to these women in the waiting rooms. Or just listen to them with an ear of understanding and sympathy.
When all of Xena’s tests were completed and she was called into the room to be given her results, the radiologist burst in and immediately announced that she was clear and there was no longer any concern. I breathed for what felt like the first time in hours. But you know what else happened? I felt a twinge of anger and resentment. Why weren’t my reports clear? Why was I the statistic?
This in no way relates to Xena’s results. Of course I wanted nothing more than a clean bill of health for her. I don’t want anyone I love to go through what I went though. Scratch that, I don’t want anyone period to go through what I went through.
I struggled with feelings of residual resentment and bitterness for the rest of that day. I may have cried a little. I will never hear that my mammogram is clear. I will never not be a person who had cancer. I want a do-over. I want to go rewind to my mammogram and flip the script to hear them say to me, ‘you are all clear.’
The best way I can think to exorcise these feelings from my mind when accompanying other friends to their mammograms (which I absolutely plan to do, so please ask me!) is to continue to create meaningful dialogue and support for women and their families as they walk through the fire.
I have begun my search to find a career that matches this plan. My cancer diagnosis will not fade in vain. It will positively impact other people. I will find a way. Stay tuned.