I don’t remember his name. His countenance is fuzzy. Yet I can still hear very clearly the sound of his stool wheeling across the floor. I had just asked, “so calcifications mean no cancer?” I was on a table having a needle biopsy on my right breast, waiting to make sure the sample was enough. He had come to my left side, so he could look me in the eye as he answered. I don’t remember his long explanation. I only remember that he said I would get a call tomorrow confirming that is cancer. I smiled, I guess to show him I was fine. That smile haunts me. It was a mask to hide my fear and anger.
My first mammogram was at 37, because I had found a lump. My gynecologist felt it, and she said it was likely a fluid-filled cyst that needed aspirated. Even knowing that would be happening, I went alone. My colleague told me I should not go alone and offered to go with me. At the time, I thought it was silly for someone else to be there.
It’s funny how memory works. I remember so clearly the changing room, the waiting area, and that there was someone who looked even younger than me. I don’t remember what my technician looked like, and very little about that first mammogram. I could see the pictures, and even though my technician was very professional, I could sense something was wrong. When she led me to a different waiting room, alone, my suspicion only grew. My phone was in the locker, and I regretted that decision. I prayed for strength to deal with whatever was coming next. I can’t remember learning that I was going to have a biopsy, or much about it. From the time the doctor spoke, until I was in the lobby calling my husband, is lost in the depths of my brain, or discarded. I misunderstood him, and I thought he was on another call and could not talk. It is probably just as well that I did not tell him over the phone.
I remember the drive home so clearly. There was a lot of traffic. My mind was reeling, and I did not feel like I was really in my body. I held the steering wheel tightly, to ground myself and pay attention to traffic. For some reason, one particular intersection is cemented in my memory, watching cars merge and inching forward. I thought how it was just a normal Thursday to all these other drivers, but nothing about that day was normal for me.
When I got home, I had to pretend all was fine. Our babysitter was concerned about me, and I just told her I was a little sore. That was true. I certainly was not ready to tell my news.
I don’t actually remember telling my husband. Was it when he got home? After we put the girls to bed? He doesn’t remember either. You would think such a life-changing moment would be memorable.
The next day I was in the parking lot at the Mall of America, taking my girls to a birthday party at the aquarium, when I got the call. It was a nurse, giving me next steps, and it was Friday in the late afternoon. I had already anxiously called, worried that I wasn’t going to find out, and they assured me someone would call. My girls were in their carseats, annoyed that we were not going inside. I called my husband and said, “It is.” Then we went to the party, and I remember it so clearly. I wanted to tell my friend, but I also didn’t want to ruin her son’s party.
I don’t remember telling my parents, or other family. I know I made the calls from my bed, and there were lots of tears. We didn’t tell the girls for weeks. No reason to worry them until we had a plan and could explain it better. We also could not tell them until we were ready to tell the congregation. Thankfully, I was not present for that announcement.
All of October with all the pink ribbons is always hard for me. I remember October 2015 and the agony of knowing I had a lump and learning of others being diagnosed. I want to wear a pink ribbon, to remind people to do self-exams, regular mammograms, and support those who are enduring treatments. But I have always hated pink, and Pinktober annoys me.
This year I am extra angry. Not only did breast cancer change my life, but it devastated my dear friend’s family. Her mom bravely endured three bouts of breast cancer before it finally took her this spring.
Another cancer-versary when I feel like I *should* be grateful to be alive (I am!), but I am just angry. Six years have blurred many of my memories, and some are so vivid. Grief is not linear, and it is fine for me to be in the anger stage while everyone acts like wearing pink and buying pink products will stop breast cancer.
Whether you are male or female, do self-exams.