I'm going to start off by saying I'm fine. I'M FINE. This is not a plea for sympathy. In fact, sort of the opposite, as odd as that seems, because I'm finding this easier to write about than talk about with anyone. I don't want to talk about it, but I still have thoughts I need to sort through, and that's really what this blog is for.
This week I went for a followup mammogram. The one I got just after my birthday was with a new "3-D" machine and it apparently sees more than the old machines, so the new pictures essentially became the new baseline, and they needed to look at some things more closely. Most of those things turned out to be cysts that they are not worried about. One small nodule requires a biopsy to be sure it's benign.
There is a long history of cancer in my family. My mom had breast cancer. My grandmother had a mastectomy. My grandfather died of colon cancer. My official risk assessment that the hospital compiles is off the charts so in my mind my getting cancer is more a matter of when than if. So I get my yearly mammogram and keep an eye out for anything weird and assume at some point the news will be bad and I will deal with it. I simply accepted that long ago and figured I was braced for whatever happens.
But emotions don't work like that. I believe in being prepared and thinking through possible scenarios so that instead of being paralyzed with inaction when blindsided by something I can be productive. That works to a point. However, reality includes the ineffable component of feelings that can drag you any number of directions and render all intentions moot.
The place they could get me in for the earliest followup mammogram was at a branch of the hospital far north of us. I left early to beat morning traffic and found the place out in an affluent suburb where everything looks more spread out and the same and people drive more carelessly. The hospital is across from a golf course and looks vaguely like a ski lodge.
I was struck during my visit (which lasted for about three hours) by how much thought was put into making everything as pleasant as possible. That's good. Even in the best of circumstances people don't want to be at the hospital, so the environment there should not in any way make things worse.
There was free valet parking. The art on the walls wasn't terrible. The lighting was flattering. The people were unfailingly kind. There was free juice. They used a vibrating beeper system in the waiting room for our convenience. Seating was good. I did not hear the usual disturbing amount of beeps and alarms that tend to come with hospitals. The wallpaper was attractive. I thought the oval shaped mirror in the exam room was pretty. The gel they used during the ultrasound was warmed. I can't fault anything there. Except for the reason I was there.
I was fine for most of it. I was annoyed at having to miss swimming for my appointment, but I did a puzzle in the waiting room and emailed with a friend. I was fine during the actual mammogram which hurt, but I was expecting that. I was fine during the first ultrasound.
But when the doctor came in and spent a long time in silence examining my right breast, eyes focused on the screen, hand slowly moving the ultrasound device against my body, I started to worry. I don't think this is my year for cancer. Not yet. But can someone ever really be ready for that?
Eventually the doctor showed me what she was seeing. There was a mass about a centimeter long that she couldn't even feel from the outside that she was sure was nothing, but that needed to be biopsied to know for sure. She explained the routine procedure and assured me that she didn't think there was anything to worry about, but I suddenly felt my eyes welling up. It surprised me. I was glad the lights in the room were dim. I was even gladder that the doctor and the nurse either didn't notice or pretended not to. I just wanted to be alone.
When they left me to get dressed I cried. I hadn't expected to cry. I didn't cry a lot, but enough that I scouted around for a box of Kleenex and decided to wait in the room for a moment until my eyes were less red. I'm an unusually speedy dresser (and when I pack up after orchestra I'm quite sure I'm on the road before half of the group has even gotten their chairs put away), so I figured I could take my time in the exam room for a change without anyone noticing.
A nurse explained everything I'd need to know for the biopsy and arranged an appointment for a couple of weeks away. She was pleasant. Everything was pleasant. Except sometimes pleasant doesn't help.