You live a healthy life and hope you are doing the best that you can. There’s always room for self-improvement, and you make a promise to get better with each day. You go to Western doctors, you practice Eastern medicine. You eat kale and consider going gluten-free. You meditate, swim, do yoga.
And then the call comes, the one from the nurse at the radiology lab telling you the mammogram was indeterminate, that your left breast needs to be rescreened. In that moment you are stirred awake as if you were asleep, your eyes are wide open.
I wonder about the medical assistant (or nurse) on the other end of the phone. Who they are, how they do it every day. How they process the information and manage to inform all those patients on the brink of uncertainty.
I try not to think about (aka Google search) what it may or may not mean to have an indeterminate screening. And instead, I call the health insurance hotline to confirm coverage benefits.
My internist leaves a voicemail reassuring me that initial screenings like this are common in women over 40. Breast nodules are not necessarily an indicator of cancer. She notes that the nodules could be fatty tissue or a cyst that requires drainage. It also could be nothing and that it was better for me to wait for results from the next screening before getting ahead of myself.
I take a deep breath, try to calm my mind. The fear of the unknown can be exhausting. I reschedule my afternoon so that I can take a nap.
Finn comes in from outside as if he knows that I need him nearby. We cuddle side by side and drift into our dreams.
Fact: Women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 (or about 12%) lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. This means that for every 8 women in the U.S. who live to be age 85, 1 will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime.
Early detection is the first step in prevention and treatment. And that is why the waiting room at NYU Langone Medical is full at 9AM on a Tuesday. It is my annual diagnostic mammogram screening, and I pray that the radiology report comes back clean.
I know a handful of women in my life who have had breast cancer and survived. One had a double mastectomy before she turned 30; the second, a lumpectomy in her 40s; and the third, a scare in her 50s.
Cancer is the six-letter word no one wants to hear from their doctor, the word no one likes to say out loud. Because like those furry creatures from Gremlins, the word multiplies the minute it’s enunciated. No one speaks about cancer until they do. It’s still taboo until it happens to someone you love, someone they love, someone they know, someone they knew.
Flower bud @juchjn – Pixaby 2017
My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in March 1999. Chemo. Radiation. All those toxic chemicals killing the bad cells and the good cells, weakening her immune system, making it extremely difficult for a frail 71-year old woman to prepare for battle. We lost her the following January.
Seventeen years later, I lose count thinking of friends and family who have been diagnosed. For every one person who survives, there is one who does not.
I pray for them all.
Benefits of a Mammogram Screening
she’s a longtime friend.
who’ll be there in a heartbeat,
once she gets the call.
your long-lost sister
full of advice and laughter:
who knows you so well.
once upon a face
when we met, before email:
voices on the phone
two lives connecting
old-fashioned, memories shared:
the highway is still open.
despite the distance
you’re still thick as thieves.
you can’t imagine a time
when you may not be.
life, flash in the pan.
Hiroshima strikes, one word:
the world’s upside down.
shoulder wet with tears
she hides her own as you cry
and hugs you tighter.
what was it we said?
we will be invincible,
and forever young.