Star Weiss was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. Eight years later, she reflects back on that diagnosis as she goes for her annual mammogram.
Two things happened yesterday to remind me of my dark night of the soul eight years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
First, my sister called and said she’s going for genetic counseling this week, and wanted to know if I’d been tested for the “bad gene” that indicates a much higher risk of breast cancer. She wanted to be able to tell the doctor when she goes for counseling.
And you know it’s strange, I’m pretty sure I was tested, and it was negative. I do know that it was felt at the time that despite my mother having breast cancer, and now me, my daughters were not statistically at much greater risk, and they didn’t need to go for genetic counseling or tests themselves. I remember being both skeptical and relieved by that advice. Wouldn’t you think a mother and grandmother with breast cancer (mine of the high risk category) would be enough that it might affect my two daughters (and now two granddaughters) and that they should be followed?
It seems very odd to me now that I can’t remember for sure which tests I had…it was so very important to me back then, so vital, so life changing. However, thank God, that’s what happens with time….life gets back to normal, you forget those urgent moments of crisis that overwhelm your life when you’re going through them, and you re-focus on your “normal” life.
And just now, as I was writing this piece, I got a call from the Cancer Clinic. They told me the tests I had and now I can pass that on to my sister. Nice to rely on the official record and timely help from the CC!
The second thing that happened yesterday was much more ordinary, mundane even. I went for my annual mammogram. I should say right up front that my breast cancer was first spotted via a routine mammogram in 2003. When I was asked to go back for a second one because they had seen, according to my GP, an “architectural distortion” on my first image, I wasn’t overly concerned. Even my GP was quite sure it wasn’t anything serious. But it was.
When they called me into the little room where they explore the situation further with an ultrasound and biopsy, I was sort of in a state of shock. The doctor showed me my ultrasound, and I saw this perfect little round “basketball” sitting there, and I asked even then, “So, what do you think it is?” He answered, very frankly, that it looked like a tumor. Slowly it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t routine anymore.
When he did the needle biopsy, however, I was still in denial. He asked me if I had any questions, and I asked again about what he thought he was working with, and he again told me it looked like a tumor, but couldn’t say definitely if it was cancerous at that point. (Later I found out he was pretty sure that it was, even then, and he paged my GP immediately to let him know he didn’t like the look of this.) I’m grateful that he didn’t try to minimize the seriousness of the situation. But the giveaway was when the nurse assisting him gave me a hug as I left. Uh-oh.
So, bottom line is: I’m very glad we have mammograms, and am a firm believer that every woman should get one every year. It probably saved my life, as by the time they discovered my lump, the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes and was becoming, as my surgeon poetically put it, “adventuresome.” Yes, I’m very glad I had that mammogram.
But I have to admit that ever since then, this annual exam is fraught with tension. One year the nurse asked me to come back in the little room so she could repeat the procedure and my knees went weak. Everything was fine, as it turned out. But mammograms now take an emotional toll that I’m not always prepared to admit.
So, when the nurse came into the waiting room yesterday , after “reading” the mammogram , to tell me I could go, I was weak with relief. I felt so exhausted I could barely go on to do my grocery shopping. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s a fact. I felt as though someone had drained out my blood and left me empty. But I did the shopping, came home, and retreated to read in bed.
And to celebrate another ordinary, uneventful day.
Photo © Star Weiss. All Rights Reserved.