Since summer break began, I have already had two “firsts.” Last weekend was the first time I ever participated in a Komen Race for the Cure. And, coincidentally enough, a few days before that I had my first-ever mammogram! Whee!
I’ll spare you the up-close and uncomfortable details of the mammogram, because let me tell you, they are up-close and uncomfortable. But, since I’m not 25 anymore–or even 30 anymore–my doctor said it was time to get a “baseline” done so that when I hit 40 (the age at which boobies begin to change faster), they have a younger picture to compare it to and identify any potential areas of concern. No problem. Especially since the imaging center was efficient, courteous, and running on schedule. The technician told me I would receive a letter in about a week with my test results. She said about 50 percent of the time patients are asked to come back for a follow-up test because the doctors want to take a closer look, and it is really nothing to worry about if that happens to me because of that 50 percent who have to come back, like, over 90 percent are given a clean bill of health. Okay, duly noted. I am not a worrier-over-nothing by nature, so I was cool.
So off I skipped away from that appointment noting how funny it was–these coincidences. Six weeks ago when my mom asked me if I wanted to walk in the Komen Race for the Cure with her this year, I had no idea that my doctor was going to recommend a mammogram. Funny how these two firsts would happen within 72 hours of each other.
The Race was, to put it simply, amazing. I live near a major metropolitan area, and this city’s annual Komen Race is one of the largest in the country–as in over 64,000 participants, over 4,900 survivors, and millions of dollars raised for breast cancer research. I was walking that day with my mom, a few of her good friends, my uncle Eric, and my uncle’s wife, Brenda, who is a two-year breast cancer survivor. The significance of this event was not lost on me. First, just the sheer size and energy of the crowd is enough to make an impression. Then I began looking at all the t-shirts. There were teams with t-shirts bearing the images of women, young and old, some with children on their laps, with the words, “In loving memory of…” These women were beautiful, vibrant, even joyful in their pictures. Some people wore the names of individual women and men on tags pinned to their shirt. No pictures but names…. “my beautiful mama Joyce,” “my auntie Suzanne.” One woman had five names listed on her tag. Five. All in all, it was a joyful atmosphere, but one could sense an underlying solemnity in some of the groups and teams that gathered. I saw some teams shedding tears together. Some teams were jubilant. Babies, survivors in their pink-shirts, men, women, young and old, all colors, all ethnicities. Mom and I were impressed by how many how many young men were walking in groups together. You know, guys who were old enough that their moms could make them be there, yet they were not walking with girlfriends, moms, aunts, whoever. Maybe they were there because their employers sponsored a team. Who cares? The point is they got their butts out of bed at a crazy early hour on a Saturday to get downtown to walk with 64,000 other people the the heat. They were there.
Once the walking part of the race got underway, because you know 64,000 people aren’t all going to run, just the movement of the group and jockeying to stay with your team becomes the focus, but everybody was very sweet. Once the crowd found its pace, and spread out into comfortable groups, it was possible to separate the walkers from the bystanders, and the bystanders cheered for everyone as if we were actually running. Everyone had pink in their clothing, but all-pink shirts are reserved for breast cancer survivors, and when a survivor walked by, the bystanders really cheered like crazy. It was wonderful to see my Aunt Brenda get that kind of support and affirmation from complete strangers.
At a certain point in the route, there is a slight hill, and I could finally see what was ahead of me.
This is what I saw behind me.
All those tiny, white dots? That river of white up ahead and behind? Those are all people. And that wasn’t even everybody. At that point in the race route, some people were already past the finish line. This was the point where the goosebumps and the tears came for me. It was amazing to see so many people from all walks of life, young and old, every color, every ethnicity, some walking because their employer sponsored a team, some walking because their families and friends have been stricken with this disease. In the end, it doesn’t matter why a person was there. Everyone was united for a common cause for a few hours that morning. That felt so very good to my heart and spirit.
Four days after the Race, I got my letter from the imaging center. My mammogram showed an area of concern. I wasn’t worried, like they said, no need to at this stage. I was more bummed that I would have to make two more phone calls and schedule another appointment. My first call was to be to my regular doctor. Her nurse talked me through the whole need for the follow up. There is an area on the left side that is of some concern. It is probably just thickening tissue which happens as we get older. The radiologist just wants a clearer look at the area. She assured me that there was no need to worry. “I understand,” I told her. “The technician who did my first test told me this happens quite a bit with baseline tests, so I wasn’t too surprised about the letter.” “Oh, good,” the nurse replied. “Okay, well if you have any follow up questions, just call us. Go ahead and schedule the appointment for whenever it’s convenient for you. This is not an emergency, so don’t worry.”
Didn’t I just say I wasn’t? I know they probably have to give this same news to a lot of women who jump to scary conclusions, so they’re just being professional and doing their job and being reassuring, I get that. In fact, they probably say it out of habit, really. This is what I told myself as I hung up with the nurse and dialed the number for the imaging center to schedule my appointment. The scheduler is an old acquaintance way back from my softball years and is very nice. We set the date for the follow up, and she told me that the radiologist would read my tests that day and I would leave that appointment with my results. She too assured me not to worry.
Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of an emotional rebel, but the more I’m told not to feel a certain way, the more I’m going to wonder if I should be feeling that way. Again, I know that these women are being kind, and I take their kindness as such. I’m not criticizing them at all. I’m merely pointing out that telling someone not to worry often has the opposite effect of what is intended. But even still, I wasn’t too worried. All these assurances of don’t worry made me curious how other women took this news, and if that was why the assurances were offered so quickly and readily at every point along the way.
Thanks to the freedom of not working in the summer and a dad who is retired and can watch the kids anytime, I was able to get my follow up mammogram scheduled for the very next day. Again, my experience at the imaging center was smooth, efficient, professional. The technician was very sweet as she hurt me and made my body into shapes that I never thought possible all in the name of good health care. At least her hands were warm. As promised I got my results back in a matter of minutes.
The “girl” looks okay right now, but they want me to come back in six months just to make sure nothing is changing. And this time, there was no don’t worry assurance.
Huh. Which, okay, this is good news. Clearly, if they were still concerned about what they saw, they would have given me an MRI that day (they told me so). And I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, because as I learned at the Komen Race, hundreds of women receive a much more serious and heartbreaking diagnosis every single day. Still, what should have been a baseline test for five years in the future is now a baseline for six months from now. I’m not worried, but I would have preferred the result that goes, “see you when you’re 40.” Ya know?