My first mammogram was an abnormal experience at 37. It was diagnostic, but instead of having a cyst aspirated, I learned I had cancer. Since I finished treatments, mammograms have been a yearly task to prove that I am still well.
This year was a little different. I went in with my usual good attitude, and I even took a selfie in the waiting room. Each year I use my mammogram to remind others to schedule theirs. During the pandemic especially, many women did not have their annual screening.
It ended up that I had my cardiologist appointment the same afternoon. As I was waiting to be seen, myChart notified me of a new result. Of course I checked it immediately, and waded through all the medical jargon. What I did understand was “need additional imaging evaluation.” [expletive]
For the next twenty minutes while I waited for my cardiologist, I googled every bit of information I could find, and read all I could. My anxiety level began rising. Instead of thinking positive, I was immediately thinking about the last time, and how it would compare to this time. How would I tell my husband? My children? My family and friends? Then I would switch to positive thinking, briefly, and try to convince myself that it was nothing. Callback are normal, and most of them are nothing.
I told my husband and one friend. I could not be fully present that night with my family, as my mind kept playing out possible scenarios. I did not sleep well, and in the wee hours of the morning, I saw the official letter from the radiologist, instructing me to call the next day to schedule an appointment. As soon as everyone was at school, I made the call. It was a Friday, and the next available appointment was Tuesday. I knew the weekend was going to be hard.
Of course I had told several people about having the mammogram. When they asked me about it, I did not want to lie. I tried to be evasive with one friend, but she would not accept that. I did not want to talk about it. Every time I did, it seemed more real.
By Saturday, I was a mess. I could not stop myself from thinking of all the implications if I had cancer. I reached out to my clergy covenant group, and a couple other friends and asked for their prayers. Specifically, I asked them to pray for my mental health as I waited. Patience is not one of my virtues, and my overthinking brain was getting the best of me.
I tried to distract myself and stay busy. When Tuesday finally arrived, I appreciated the support from my friends and kept my phone with me after changing into the gown. After the mammogram, I had to wait for the ultrasound. I decided to write what I was feeling. Here is what I wrote:
Mammo done. Ouch. More painful than usual. She showed me the spot. And she told me not to let my mind go to dark places. I said too late. Sitting here scrolling to distract myself. Wondering About other woman waiting.
What does it mean to be well? Or sick?
Sat I let myself go to the dark places. Sun and Mon better. Trying to be distracted. I imagine my future with cancer. It isn’t bad. I am strong enough.
After reading J’s post-funeral post about missing her husband, I know I’d rather have cancer than lose M. Or have a child sick. Or have him be sick.
I usually tell my fam everything. It feels weird to censor myself. And I didn’t want to tell.
Next was the ultrasound. This time I got to see my Thursday mammo compared to the one that just happened. I could not tell anything, of course. The ultrasound technician finished, and said she was going to return with the radiologist. I moved to my back and looked at the ceiling. There was a mobile, and distracted myself by thinking about how much the girls loved their butterfly mobile when they were babies. The tech returned, alone.
“It looks better,” she said, but I didn’t know what that meant. She explained that the new images provided a clearer view, and that all was well. My next step was an annual mammogram next year.
“That’s good news,” I said, trying to digest it and making sure I understood her correctly. She led me back to the changing room, and I was fighting back tears of relief. I did not want to cry in the changing room. I did not want the other women waiting to hear, and I just wanted to get to the safety of my car. By the time I arrived there, I could not cry anymore. So I began the texting. “All is well.”
Then I felt ashamed. Guilty for asking people to pray for me, for making them worry about me needlessly. I felt bad for sounding an alarm, when nothing was wrong.
However, it was a challenging experience. Many women have had to worry about callbacks and go through the agonizing waiting and wondering. Like me, many women keep it to themselves. Some do not tell anyone and carry the burden alone.
I share my experience for two reasons. First, a call back from a mammogram is normal, and it is usually nothing. However, that does not take away the fear. I want to normalize talking about it. It is ok to worry. You do not have to worry alone. It is ok to share, whether it turns out to be something or not, the fact that you have to endure waiting is hard. Please know that you can always reach out to me. I can hold your truth confidentially. I will walk with you, pray for you, and be a support. What is routine to our medical providers often does not feel routine to the patient. Be gentle with yourself. I’m here for you. And don’t forget to schedule your mammogram and other preventative health screenings.