Of course, maybe not funny at the time. File this under, even the best laid plans can be undone.
I had been preparing mentally for my mammogram over the past weeks, and everything was going smoothly. I had a nice mammographer, not overly chatty, very matter of fact. There were video screens on the walls of the mammography room projecting peaceful nature scenes for me to watch as I got squooshed, as if ocean waves would make me forget that my breasts were being clamped in a mechanical vice.
Then, finally, I was done and back in the intimate waiting room. There were only two of us women there (along with my husband, who, since my breast cancer diagnosis, no longer lets me get scans alone). The other woman’s mammographer came out and told her that everything looked good and she was free to go; they’d see her in a year. She happily left.
Several minutes later, my mammographer came out and said something along the lines of, “The doctor is looking at your scans. I’ll bring you to the consultation room so that we don’t have to talk out here.”
Had I not just heard the exchange between the other woman and her technician, I would have been fine. But since I’d heard it, my heart started to pound. My husband and I were led to a cozy little room…with an array of informational pamphlets about biopsies and breast surgeries on a side table, and you can imagine where my mind went.
Forget mindfulness, forget non-attachment, forget letting go of expectations. Forget three years of daily meditation. I was terrified. I tried slowing down my breathing, but it only made me feel like I was being starved of oxygen.
I unloaded all my fears on my husband, who up to that time, was not experiencing the same level of concern.
“I don’t feel good about this. Why did they bring us into this room?”
“They always bring us into a separate room.” He was right, we always went to a consultation room for the results. But the other woman hadn’t.
“Why are all those pamphlets there?” I motioned to the biopsy pamphlets on the table.
“They’re always there.”
“Why did they tell the other woman out in the hall?”
“Maybe because you’re having a 3-D mammogram so there’s more to look at, or maybe because you’re a cancer survivor, and they probably bring all the former cancer patients in…”
Yes, he was giving me solid, rational explanations, but I would have none of it. I was in the middle of a “fight or flight” moment and struggling to regain composure, but it was too much.
I simply could not let go of intense feelings. They were too much like what I’d experienced three years earlier, at a time when I so desperately feared bad news. And then got it. It’s difficult to articulate what that feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but if you’ve been there, you know exactly what I mean.
Throughout all of this, however, there was a small, reasonable piece of my brain that was collecting data. I had noted the time when the other woman had received her news (1:20pm), so I would have a better idea of how long this was taking. I sensed the tightening in my muscles and attempted, with difficulty, to release them. I’d been frozen into a block of ice and was trying to chip my way out with a butter knife.
Then at 1:27pm, the radiologist knocked and came in.
In that first fraction of a second that I saw her face, my brain ran a scan of it, and it told me…nothing. I’m betting that doctors are honing their “stone-face” look, so as not to give a clue one way or the other. My radiologist said hi and stretched out her hand, I shook it, and she told me everything looked good.
Just like that.
The rational part of my brain exhaled, but it took hours for my body to shake off the hype. By the evening, I felt like I’d gotten a year’s-long extension on a tenuous lease. So, I thought, I have another twelve months do something useful with my life. Go!
A week later, when I told my oncologist about this mammogram episode, he explained that as a cancer survivor, I get diagnostic mammograms from now on, and those always involve a consultation with the radiologist afterwards.
Oh. I’ll try to remember that for next time.