My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of October of 2001. I was a second year law student at the time. It was a Thursday.
A week later, my maternal grandmother died of a sudden, obviously unexpected, heart attack. I wasn’t there. I was an hour away. But my mom, and grandfather, and her sister, and my sister were there, among others. This was also a Thursday.
The two events were emotionally crushing for me but that wasn’t who I was worried about. It was my mom who I worried about.
I cannot even imagine what she was experiencing. She’d been diagnosed (and later revealed) to have cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. (I don’t know the terminology but I know that much about it.) And then her mom died.
Fast forward fifteen years during which she had chemo, radiation, took five years of medication which was awful for her and her body (but seemed to keep the cancer at bay), and then repeated scans, mammos, ultrasounds and other tests, and finally two more surgeries, since then because of suspicious tissue, etc.
Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind, for her but she moved through it with strenght and bravery that leaves me in awe.
So what does this have to do with what does that have to do with me, and this post?
I’ve been getting mammograms since I was 35 or 36. I can’t remember when the first one was mainly because I don’t know if I had one while I was in the hospital with blood clots in my lungs at 35. I remember they checked all over for cancer because sometimes (allegedly) what I had could be caused by an underlying cancer, but I don’t remember specifically having a mammo done.
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter when I had my first one. The point is, I’ve had them yearly for a bit now. I know how it works and the anxiety I feel when I leave the place and wait to get my results.
As I left last Thursday (August 2nd), the tech said I would find out the results in a few days and if it took longer that, and I’m quoting her, “no news is good news.”
I didn’t hear anything over the weekend. No surprise there.
Monday I left work and grabbed my phone out of my locker and there was a message from the diagnostic scheduler to call her to set up an appointment.
It was 534pm.
I can’t have my phone at my job so, I didn’t get the message till I left.
The office was closed. Obviously.
I couldn’t call her back.
I couldn’t call my doctor because his office was closed, too.
I did have an appointment with him the next day, though at 715 am for something unrelated to the test. I’d hurt my shoulder muscle and had to have a follow up.
So, I went home. I worried and fretted.
Should I tell my mom what was happening?
Should I keep it to myself till I find something out that is more concrete?
Should I just crawl under the covers and cry myself to sleep?
Some would just wait patiently, roll their eyes, or give me that “look” I get when I’m getting into that “state”.
Well. Sorry. But that isn’t me. I have anxiety and PTSD and much of that comes from my horrifying medical history of being misdiagnosed and the nightmare that followed. I see the scars of that on my chest every day.
The scar might fade but it won’t ever go away.
So when something like this happens my anxiety goes from zero to a million in micro-seconds. I’m often right back at that place, with a doctor standing at the end of my bed saying “you have massive amounts of blood clots in your lungs, and we don’t know why. We’ve never seen this.” (That was also a Thursday, by the way.)
Two separate incidents. I know that. When I’m not spiraling down into anxiety and all of the things that come with it I get it. But when the anxiety is ramping up making sense of things isn’t easy, or even possible.
I got through Monday night with a sleepless night and worry. I went to the doctor Tuesday morning. He knows me and had been off Monday. He saw the report that morning. He reassured me. He knows my history and let me tell you–having a doctor that can and will take the time to calm someone like me down, no matter how long it takes, is rare.
But that’s him.
I got scheduled for a follow up appointment at 920am.
It was scheduled for a Thursday.
I stayed as busy as I could for the rest of Tuesday. Wednesday was a busy day at work but I fretted and things ramped up as the day came to a close. I tried to turn my brain off but I couldn’t. It’s just not that simple.
I slept on and off, tossing and turning.
And then it was Thursday.
I don’t know how I got ready this morning. I left the house and had to turn around because I wasn’t sure if I turned the stove off.
My anxiety was beating down my door. But I eventually got to the Imaging Center and made it inside.
The waiting room was packed. I’d spent time this morning writing, trying to keep my mind off things. But when I got there and saw a dozen other women, waiting, the anxiety erupted under my skin. I deep-breathed, checked in, registered, and waited.
Another set of regular films. A 3-D test of some kind (I don’t know what it’s called.) Then I was told the doctor would look at it, and then I’d likely have an ultra-sound if the doctor thought it was necessary.
Two hours later the tech who’d completed my test came out.
She smiled and led me to the locker room area and whispered I was all done. I could go.
I started to cry and she hugged me.
Then I realized I knew who she was. She was a friend of my dad’s cousin. I hadn’t seen in forever. Not since I was a young teenager and still in my NKOTB phase,, so like 25 years ago, at least. We reminisced and she said she hadn’t told me because she didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable. (She also hadn’t realized it at first either until she put the last name together with my age and then it clicked, mid-test.)
We hugged some more. I wiped my tears, thanked her a million times, and left.
It was like a herd of elephants had been lifted from my soul. I could breathe again.
I was okay. I could schedule an appointment for a year and keep up the self-exams as all women should do. (if you don’t do this, please, please, please start! There is info in the links below on how to do these.)
I called my mom and told her the good news, because of course she was my first call. She said she knew it would be fine (in fact she texted me that this morning), and it had been
I went to work, feeling better and lighter, and more focused. Another test done. Another good result.
It was another Thursday I got through without a soul-crushing diagnosis, death, and/or near-death experience to contend with. Sure, I’ve had a lot of Thursdays when these things didn’t happen. Most Thursdays in fact. The rational side of my brain knows that. It gets it. But when the anxiety takes over and I’m reliving my worst nightmares, “Thursdays” are a nightmare.
It’s like the number 5 from Where the Heart Is.
It doesn’t make sense to most. But it’s what my brain focuses on when this stuff happens. I wish it didn’t and maybe someday I won’t focus on Thursday as a negative. Or maybe I’ll work harder on scheduling things not on Thursdays. That might help me with this. A lot.
A few additional –and important– takeaways from this:
Get your yearly mammos and if you have breast cancer in your family, talk to your doctor about when you should start. If you don’t have insurance or insurance that covers there are some places that could help: the American Cancer Society; the Susan G. Komen foundation; and the National Breast Cancer Foundation; among other charities, 501(c)(3) organizations, and also local and state agencies that may have programs for free or low costs testing for those at-risk or meeting age or other requirements.
Don’t tell someone with anxiety, PTSD, or anything like that they’re overreacting and don’t give those “oh here she goes” vibes when they might be freaking out about something. You may not get it. You do not live in their shoes, or their bra, or their whatever. You don’t know their experience or why they may be reacting to something. These things are real–scary nightmare real–for many people. Be empathetic to others. Don’t be an asshole.
Thanks for stopping by!