I was not expecting The Call.
Eleven days after my annual mammogram, Radiology called to inform me I needed to come back for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. Half numb, I made the appointment for three full days away.
Once I got off the phone, I had a panic attack. My first of several, it turned out.
While some insurance providers don't offer mammograms without referrals for their female patients until they're 50 years old, mine thankfully does. All I have to do is call the appointment line, and I can schedule one. Since my mom has had breast cancer twice (she's doing great!), I've made it a point to get annual mammograms and breast exams since I was 40.
I do not enjoy mammograms. Because of my mom's history, they're emotionally stressful. But they're also flat out uncomfortable. I'm small in that department and sometimes that machine pulls me up onto my tippy toes while I'm twisted back like a gymnast so they can get a good shot.
Unlike most women who get two pictures taken of each side, I have three pictures taken; it's been this way for a while now and I know to expect it. When we finish with our six pictures, the tech always tells me I'll get a letter in a week if everything's fine or a call within 3-5 days if the radiologist sees something. The usual spiel.
Until now, I've received the letter--although not usually within the week. Usually, my letter thanks me for using their Radiology department, tells me I'm fine (in that order!), and then says I have dense breast tissue, which gives me a slightly higher chance of getting breast cancer.
I hate it all, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for mammograms. They save lives. They saved my mom's twice now, as well as the lives three women I know who are fighting or recently fought cancer. (One is younger than I am. And I should note, all are fine!) But the annual stress is difficult.
When The Call came that I needed to come back in for further evaluation, I did not handle it that well. After telling my husband and praying, I called my parents and cried. They, like my husband, were wonderful, telling me no matter what, It Would Be Fine. They were there and would help me, and my kids would be ok, We would all be ok.
They also reminded me of what I would spend the next few days reminding myself:
- God is with me and will not abandon me, no matter what.
- I am blessed with a wonderful family, friends, and church who would love and support me. I am also blessed with good insurance.
- The reason I go in for mammograms each year is so that if there is a problem, it can be found early. If I had a fight on my hands, it would hopefully be against a smaller enemy.
- The vast majority of call backs for diagnostic mammograms and ultrasounds turn out totally fine. Only around 10% of those who are called back go on to be biopsied. Of those, most are benign--cysts, etc.
Sometimes, those reminders were enough to allow me to concentrate on work or a TV show or book. Other times, not so much.
I'm a writer. My imagination is wild. I was asking a lot of What If questions and creating scenarios. I ran ahead of God into Dangerous Territory. I didn't sleep, couldn't eat, and had a difficult time functioning some moments.
Waiting, as they say, is the hardest part.
At last the day of my appointment arrived. My husband drove me to the Radiology office. Clutching my olive-wood cross from the Holy Land, I checked in at reception and received a wrist band identifying me so I couldn't switch places with a doppelganger or something. The TVs in the waiting area were showing The Price is Right and the contestant made the right choice, avoiding the fate of bringing home hot sauce-flavored mouthwash.
I didn't have to wait long. The female tech who I'd seen a few weeks ago called me back. I asked if my husband could come, and she said she'd find a spot for him while she explained things but he couldn't stay during the exams. Fair enough.
I changed into a gown and put my clothes and purse into a locker. Then the tech called us into a mammography room. My earlier pictures were up on the board. The "problem" was hard to miss, a definite white, round shape in the center of my breast. It was big enough that I wondered how I missed feeling it myself.
It was also big enough to frighten me. I fully expected to need a biopsy.
The tech told us she would take new pictures, close ups focused on the area, and then I would have an ultrasound. After the ultrasound, it would take a few days for the radiologist to inform my doctor of the results.
She excused my husband and then we began. We took three pictures of my left side, with me in various uncomfortable postures, praying all the while. Then she told me to have a seat in the little chair in the corner by the sink and she would go ask the radiologist, if he was available, if the pictures were sufficient or if he wanted more. She asked if I had questions and I shook my head.
I waited for a few minutes, praying, wishing I had my little olive-wood cross, but I'd given it to my husband to hold onto. When she returned, she had my husband with her. She shut the door and said she had good news.
Apparently, there was no sign of anything in the new pictures except dense breast tissue. She said sometimes the way the breast is compressed in a mammogram, dense tissue can look suspicious or create a shadow...and frankly after that I couldn't really process anymore, so I don't remember what she said. All I knew was that she said the round spot was gone in the new images.
She said the radiologist was so confident in his findings that he canceled the ultrasound, something that never happens. Usually they do the ultrasound just to be on the safe side.
I'd get another letter to explain the findings, and the radiologist might want me to come back for another mammogram in six months, but otherwise, I was free to go.
I cried with relief, but to be honest, even as I write this I'm still in shock. I think it'll take a while for the adrenaline to wear off. I'm praising God, thanking Him, thanking those who prayed for me, and counting my blessings.
In addition, I realized that I couldn't name anyone I knew who has had a call back for a Diagnostic Mammogram and Ultrasound which turned out to be ok. Is this because the matter is private and personal to some, so they don't share? I can understand that, as I didn't put my appointment up on social media, either. Another possibility is that many of my friends haven't yet had a mammogram because of insurance or other issues. Either way, I haven't heard these types of stories.
That's why I decided to share my story. This was a scary, nerve-wracking experience, but it ended ok. Someone might need to know that. I might need to know it myself, again, after a mammogram and I'm waiting on that letter, hoping not to get The Call.
I may not be in the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors, but I do feel like I'm in a new sort of sisterhood, one that's brushed the border. I pray for you, dear Sister, if you are struggling after The Call, to take courage. You aren't alone.