Wednesday, February 3, 2016
What it's like when you go back for the recall mammogram
The weekend before the follow up was okay. We went to a new restaurant and went to an antique store that had an old photo booth in it. I decided we should cram ourselves in there and take some pictures since that used to be our thing when we were dating. When the pictures spit out five minutes later and I looked at this strip of smiling and goofy faces, I wondered if it would be the last normal picture of us. If this is the strip we'd look back on and say "that was before we knew."
The night before the mammogram, the Mr and I played a hearty game of Boggle and finished up around 10:30pm and he insisted we get to bed early (for us) so we could get a good night's sleep. I was having trouble getting to sleep since it was earlier than normal for me. Around 12:30am, the phone rang. Well unless you're in college, you know no good comes from middle of the night calls. It was a friggin' robo call!! The Mr was livid. I just tried to keep calm and get some rest. We put the phone on do not disturb and got 20-30 minutes here and there throughout the night. It was not restful. The alarm went off and I hopped in the shower, ate breakfast and we got on our way. I spent the 30 minute drive singing some of my favorite songs like Uptown Funk because who can be scared or nervous belting that out? Then we pulled into the parking lot about 10 minutes early and sat there listening to the radio. The Mr asked how I felt and I said I wanted to barf. I kept that feeling at bay for the long haul but now it was right in front of me. When I walked out of that building I would either be relieved and life could resume as normal or my life would be forever changed and a new level of terror would set in.
Me being me, I baked and brought cookies. What can I say, it calms me. They pretty much took me straight back and I didn't properly get to say goodbye to the Mr. They directed me to the 2nd waiting room where all of the ladies waiting to get their boobs smashed sit with their robes on and reading magazines to distract themselves. I came out and there was one other woman in there. It was probably about 10-15 minutes, I'm not sure because they don't have clocks back there. What is this, a casino?
When the tech came out, she was obviously sick and shouldn't have been at work that day. The last thing I needed was to catch her creeping crud. I told her to squash that thing flat as a pancake, I could take it. She obliged and the first scan went fine. I glanced at the screen and saw my original 3D mammogram on the screen and could see the parts they were looking at...no tumors from what I could see but it looked like a few tiny dense areas or possible calcifications. Then the new image of what she just scanned popped up beside it and it looked significantly less white to me and almost like the rest of the tissue. I was relieved. "They just needed to squish harder" I thought. Then came the second scan and when it was over, the machine released but she didn't tell me to move. She kept looking at it and I said "should I move or stay here?" and she said "stay there for a second."
"Great, she saw something. What is she seeing? Why isn't she clearing me to walk away?" Thirty seconds passed which is 10 minutes in anxiety seconds and she finally gave me the okay to step away. My confidence was shaken. She led me to a two seat waiting area where I would be told if I needed to be re-scanned or if they were going to take me in for an ultrasound. It was right next to a glass door and it was cold. A few minutes later, a woman came out from the staff door with my box of cookies and asked if I made them. I said yes and as she read the thank you note I attached, she asked me what made me do such a nice thing. I told her I had nurses in the family and I knew it could be a thankless job and I just wanted them to know I appreciated all they do. She was so tickled and gave me a big hug and said she was going to share with everyone. I felt good and was glad I did it.
As time passed and I sat there surrounded by rag mags, muzak versions of "Your Song" and "I Believe I Can Fly" and mounting fear, I started fearing the worst. Twenty five minutes passed and my shaken confidence was dipping to a new low. How long does it take to look at a scan when the guy is right there? I can't imagine recall patients being forced to wait a second longer than they have to but here I was and I was falling apart inside.
When another recall patient, who was clearly annoyed at having to be there given the way she was speaking to the technician, was seated beside me in the shoebox waiting area, immediately hopped on her phone.
"Tick tick...tick tick tick." Bloop.
"Tick tick tick...tick tick tick tick...tick tick tick..." Blooooooop.
Five minutes of this along with her phone ringing and replaying the pissy attitude I heard from her to people who were there to help her and I was ready to belt her out the window. I wanted to say "YOU are the reason I had to bake cookies! Women like you who come in here with your attitude like they enjoy calling you back and throwing a wrench into your day!" I refrain. Thankfully, it was about that time, a woman came around the corner and asked my name and I told her and she told me to come with her. This was it. The next thing to come out of her mouth was going to potentially change my life or allow me to exhale for the first time in 9 days.
"You won't need to be scanned again and no ultrasound is needed today. The radiologist looked and your results are negative, there was nothing suspicious found."
Insert bursting into tears, slobber down the lips ugly cry of relief with profuse apologies for my reaction. She smiled and hugged me tight and said it was okay and perfectly normal to feel that relief. She said my breasts are going through all kinds of things from a hormonal standpoint and those changes are normal but it's always best to be safe when there is a change from the baseline mammogram. and I wouldn't need to come back for a year.
I got dressed and headed out to the waiting room where a nervous Mr stood to greet me and put my coat on for me. I said goodbye to the receptionists who were thanking me for the cookies and we walked out and he said "so?"
I smiled and said "everything's good!" He breathed a sigh of relief and I told him all about it when we got to the car. I've never been so relieved in my life and I will make a note to the technician for every future mammogram that my right boob is apparently a troublemaker and will need an extra squish because I don't want to be going through that every year.
The Mr's take:
"That day’s good news is so relieving and so happy but I’d remiss if I didn’t mention that I still think about the other possible outcomes. I feel deeply sorry for anyone out there who didn’t get good news and I pray that they find happier times ahead as well. To Anele I just want to say that it, well, goes without saying that you truly are my world and I do not know what I’d be without you. We’re best friends and there’s just no words to convey how much you mean to me. So I’m thankful that you’re good to go on this one. But even more thankful that you do the right things now to get healthy and keep up on things like mammograms, etc. Keep that up!"
90% of recall mammograms are perfectly fine and not cancer. But I am more than aware that someone has to the be 10% and to that 10%, my hats off to the survivors and my heart goes out to the ones lost. I was safe this time but may not always come out that way and treating your body with that respect by getting your yearly mammograms is so very important. Remember if you have one bad experience with a mammography that is not how everyone does it. Search for a women's health center that specializes in mammograms and keep going until you find a place that knows what they're doing.
For most, the mammograms don't even hurt, they're just a little uncomfortable because the technician is whippin' yer biscuits. Yes, it is scary to think that they could find something but wouldn't it be better to find it early than to put it off and lose the battle because you were worried about 4 minutes of awkward? I have a friend whose mom died of breast cancer, she watched her fight it and flat out refused to get mammograms because she was scared. Well, she ended up with it 10 years later but it was through self exam and had been there a while. She went through a lot and I wonder if her fight could've been easier if she'd just gone yearly.
If you are currently awaiting your first follow up and need some good information, these sites helped me during my waiting period:
If You’re Called Back After a Mammogram (via Cancer.org)
The Dreaded Mammogram Call Back (via OncoLink)
Called Back After A Mammogram? Doctors Are Trying To Make It Less Scary (via npr.org)
When was your last mammogram? Have you ever had a call back mammogram?
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