“If everything looks normal, we’ll mail you a letter within a few days. Otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”
That’s what the nice young lady said to me who had just finished gently smashing my girls for a 3D mammogram. Nice to meet you, Miss Boob-Wrangler. Have a nice day.
A few hours later I was chatting with my husband about his day at work, when my phone rang. I never answer calls when I don’t recognize the number. But the number was local, and all I could think of was “…otherwise, we’ll give you a call.”
Within a couple of seconds I was listening to a woman on the phone tell me how they needed me to come back in for another mammogram and an ultrasound on both sides. The earliest appointment was a week from today, could I make that? No, she didn’t have any other information. A WEEK?? I had to wait a week to find out what this was all about? Seriously, lady? Then she said some stuff about co-pays and not wearing deodorant or lotion, and my eyes were already full of tears when I hung up. My husband was standing next to me. I cried as I relayed the very limited details.
I have cancer. That’s all I could think of. My fingers got busy googling all the way down the rabbit hole of what it meant to get a callback after a mammogram and what percentages of callbacks were actually cancer, and what types of breast cancer were the “worst” to have for women in their early forties. Researching things and trying to have as much information as possible is how I deal. How I maintain some semblance of control. It’s just my MO.
As googling medical information often does, it made me more scared. The more advanced 3D mammogram decreases false positives, greatly reducing the need for callbacks. Great. But I did get a callback. Which to me, now sounded like big, bad news.
I spoke with a few friends. They gave me all the comforting words that friends should, about how lots of women have to go back for another scan, and most of the time it’s for a perfectly harmless reason. Most of the time.
But as far as I was concerned, this would be my last normal week ever. I would go back and have my second scans and they’d probably have to do a biopsy and within a day or two we’d be talking about treatments and a prognosis and all the things you never want to talk about.
As far as I was concerned, I had cancer. And everything was about to change.
So what exactly did all this this mean for me, during these 7 days of waiting to hear the doctors speak it all out loud? How would that make life different? Would it make anything different?
For me, I can assure you that it most definitely did make things different. I woke up every day and still did the things I had to do. I went to work. I did laundry. I cooked dinner. Normal, everyday stuff.
But this week—The Week I Had Cancer—I also thought about a teacher friend who had passed away just last year from breast cancer. She was around the same age I am now. I thought about how the effects of chemo or radiation would drastically change my plans for this year. Would I need just one of those or both? My husband and I discussed thoughts about treatment based on different diagnoses and whether there would be a scenario where I would not want treatment at all. We made inquiries to some lawyers about updating our wills. We made awkward comments like “Next week I’m going to ______, I mean, unless of course I have cancer, then I’ll…” Making awkward jokes between the two of us is how we both cope with bad things. That’s our MO as a couple.
But you know what else happened? We decided that we were finally going to take that trip to Italy that I’ve always wanted to go on. If I’m sick, then we’re going right away. If I’m not, then we’ll plan it for next summer. No more waiting, either way.
Every day I noticed my hair. And instead of complaining like I usually do about how crazy and unruly it can be, this week I actually appreciated it. I brushed it slowly and realized how shiny it is and how long it’s gotten. I thought about how funky I will probably look without it, but for now, I had it.
I kept eating healthy for the most part, because we’ve been doing so great at that lately, and because I just feel better overall when I do. But I also had delicious Friday night pizza and didn’t think twice about it.
I made homemade pasta for the first time ever. I lingered longer during snuggle time on the couch with my hubs. I skipped Spanish class one night to enjoy a dinner out with friends. I made an appointment at a local spa for a massage and some relaxing time in a sauna. I took my time reading books that I’ve been neglecting. I was more patient at work but didn’t stay late every night. I savored small things like my favorite-smelling body butter and my coziest blanket. I made plans to spend a couple hours with a friend that I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. I identified some things that I’d been putting up with that I wont be allowing anymore. No time for that nonsense.
I thought quite a bit about how I literally might be dying. But at the same time, in every small way, I lived my one beautiful life. I squeezed as much life out of this week as I possibly could.
The next week finally came and I was back getting smashed and scanned. After nearly two hours, I finally got the results. Apparently the alarm had been raised due to dense tissue in specific spots on both sides. Not suspected to be cancer. Come back in six months for a recheck. Whew!
That was it. Just like that, I didn’t have cancer. In a way it felt surreal. It still does. I am so very grateful. Not only for the fact that now, I was not actually staring down a cancer diagnosis, but also grateful for this whole past week of waiting to find out, as painful as it had been. Because The Week I Had Cancer gave me a gift I didn’t expect. It gave me a fresh perspective about things. About life. And about how I don’t want to waste a second of it on things that don’t matter.
But I hope you don’t have to wait for a week where a diagnosis may be looming to figure this out. I hope you’ll read this and just start living like every single day matters, because guess what? It does.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do a little research for some travel plans.
PS: It’s not lost on me that you may be a person reading this who is already intimately acquainted with this understanding of how every moment matters so very much, because you did get that diagnosis or some other such curveball life tends to throw at us. My prayers are with you, and it’s my hope that in everything you’re going through, you’d continue to see all those tiny little moments of joy and peace.