My friend texted me in a panic.
I adore this friend. I wanted to put her at ease. I left work to meet her. Working for a breast cancer non-profit organization, I felt it was my job, literally, to be there for her.
I know mammograms are extremely stressful. I know mammograms cause anxiety. I know the “what if” scenarios that play through the head. I know the waiting is the hardest part. I know these things because I’ve experienced them. I know these things because I got the call no one wants to get, “You have breast cancer.” I got that call 3 weeks before my 30th birthday.
May 23rd is my cancerversary — the day I had a double mastectomy and my first reconstruction 15 years ago. I haven’t had a mammogram since 2002. As I prepare to celebrate being “cancer-free” next week, I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office with my friend waiting for a mammogram for the first time in over 15 years. It feels weird, yet familiar in some odd way. I tried to ease my friend’s anxiety and answer her questions.
“Will it hurt?” It may be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt. My, G-d, woman – you breastfed 3 kids, trust me, you can handle it!
“I chose this place because they give immediate results. I was just told the radiologist isn’t here today! I am going to die of anxiety waiting till tomorrow! The tech won’t be allowed tell me anything! How will I know if something is up?” I can only speak from my experience, but if they do 2 images on the right side, 2 images on the left, 2 images back to the right, then 4 more images of the right breast while asking you to change positions, something is up!
“Why did they have me fill out an envelope with my address ahead of time? Do they know something already? Are they sending my results through the mail?” Many states have mandatory breast density notification. We live in one of these states. A letter detailing your breast density provides you the opportunity to get additional screening that may be more effective in detecting cancer in dense breasts than a standard mammogram. Hopefully, insurance covers it with a letter. You filling out the envelope is a way to save them time. (I made up the last part, but it seemed like the logical response).
I could see that she was becoming more comfortable simply by us talking. So, we continued to discuss things. Thankfully, she has no family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate nor colon cancer. She breastfed 3 children, each for a considerable time, so she certainly gained the added benefit of breastfeeding to reduce her risk for breast cancer. Although she is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, again, there is no family history. Eventually, they called her back and said she would return to the waiting room in 15 minutes. As a mother of small, but loud, children, I would gladly wait for her in the peace and quiet of the office.
I began to reflect about my diagnosis, which I don’t do often anymore:
“15-yrs cancer-free! I am so lucky! Things have changed so much in 15 years. Genetic testing has come leaps and bounds. 3D Mammography. Precision medicine. I have learned so much working for Breastcancer.org and launching Breasthealth.org. I am able to share this knowledge and help my friend. Hopefully I can help many more.
I am so blessed to be celebrating 15 years “cancer-free.” I put cancer-free in quotes because we will never be 100% sure I am cancer-free. There could always be that one rogue cancer cell that has yet to make an appearance. But, I choose to live a positive, healthy and hopeful life. I have crazy, awesome kids, my husband, my family and my friends to celebrate life with, day in and day out. I want this for my friend. I know she’s fine. I feel it in my bones.”
My friend emerged from the back. She reported the tech did 2 images on the right, 2 images on the left. The tech said one image was blurry, so she redid that one image. A nurse met with her to discuss genetics and my friend was done. “Do you think there was an issue since she redid the one image?” Nope. I think she had a blurry image and she wanted to retake it.
The call came the next day. Her baseline mammogram was clear. Later that day, her self-addressed letter came. She does not have dense breasts. My friend is in the clear for a year!
While life may seem blurry and out of focus at times, 15 years later my life is more clear than it has been in some time. I am blessed!