Saturday, April 4, 2015

No Way to Make Some Things Pleasant

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.

17 comments:

  1. I get it. I so get it, the whole pleasantness thing, and how it almost makes everything worse. My first D & C was terrifying, messy, and complicated, but somehow those were all things I associated with my miscarriage anyway. The second was planned, pleasant, still terrifying but full of comfortable surroundings and kind people. It was horribly painful anyway, and almost surreal in the dual aspects of the reality that surrounded it. I am so sorry for what you are going through, I know the anxiety, among other things, must be awful. And I hope, too, that this is not your year. I hope no year is.

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    1. Thanks. I can certainly relate to the D&Cs. Sorry you had to go through that, too. I also hope it's never my year.

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  2. Like Sharon Marie I haven't experienced what you've gone through but late last year I had to undergo tests to determine what was the cause of my infertility. The tests were carried out painlessly in a comfortable environment. But it was horrible. It was horrible facing the unknown and dreading negative results. However in my case I got lucky by the time I went back to my doctor for a follow up appointment it changed from being a fertility check to confirmation of a pregnancy. So sometimes the tests can be horrible and emotionally draining, BUT the results can be better than you could have expected.

    Take care of yourself now and know that you are a very strong woman who has handled worse than this.

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  3. I know you weren't looking for sympathy but I'm still sorry you're dealing with a stressful situation.

    The outpatient clinic I work at recently got a (small) grant to buy some art for it's otherwise very boring walls. My manager put a lot of effort into finding an artist and asking all of our opinions on what would work best. It was finally put up last week and I was pleasantly surprised so many patients noticed / appreciated it. Anything to reduce anxiety even a little in a tough situation is probably worth it.
    -Lisa

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    1. The art does matter. I'm glad your manager took that seriously. But I grew up in an art gallery so I'm more sensitive to that part of my environment than many. Thanks for your good thoughts, Lisa.

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  4. I don't think anyone can truly be prepared for facing the possibility of cancer. We can try, but there is still that moment of truth, you know? And thanks for reminding me that I need to call the doctor and ask for a genetic test.

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    1. It's a humbling thing to accept your own truth as you're living it.

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  5. Waiting can be excruciating... I haven't been through this for myself as the patient, but my husband is in the trenches and has been for some time. Waiting for the scans to come up and then waiting for the results, those are the hardest times when the mind can run wild. I'm thinking of you and hoping for the best possible outcome here.

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    1. Waiting is awful. I remember when I had my first miscarriage and we decided on a D&C that walking around for days with a failed pregnancy inside me was emotionally excruciating.

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  6. Becky and I will be thinking of you the next couple weeks. Glad to hear you're being cared for compassionately; makes me think you're being well looked after in every way.

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    1. Thanks Mark. I'm sure it will all be fine.

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  7. Ugh -- I'm so sorry you have to deal with this worry. There's nothing pleasant at all about this kind of uncertainty about something so important. I'll be thinking of you, sending big, benign vibes your way. xoxoxo

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    1. Always appreciate benign vibes! Thanks, Jane.

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  8. Doubling up on Jane's ugh. There's no way to make some things pleasant, indeed. At some level, wouldn't it be better if there could be one little annoying thing to rage at, to let your emotions tackle as a distraction from the bigger worry? That sounds silly, doesn't it?

    But the downside of the pleasantness is that all you're left with is the main unpleasant thing, with no distractions. And perhaps you'd like one. Thinking of you while you wait this out.

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    1. Maybe I should take a non-working disgraceful crappy factory violin out to the archery range and shoot it up with arrows. That might feel good!

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  9. My heart has definitely skipped a beat when I read this. I can only imagine how you are feeling despite your relatively optimistic words. From far away in VA please know that I am thinking of you and holding your hand as you go through this stressful process. Hang in there. I like the destroying a violin idea! Anything to release the tension.

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