The Last Mammogram

The nurse made an X with a black magic marker so that the radiologist could pay special attention to that spot.

That Friday in late November, five years ago, when I had my routine mammogram scheduled, I was not worried. I had been going for mammograms annually for the past five years, since I was forty. I was not overweight; I ate a healthy diet, exercised moderately, and had no history of breast cancer in my family. I had three children, my first when I was twenty five. I breast fed them all.

I was not worried.

I waited in a beautifully designed waiting room of my woman’s health center, looking though magazines and exchanging pleasantries with other women. When my turn came, I went willingly, as though I was receiving a haircut. I changed into a hospital gown and stepped into an exam room.

Before the mammogram, the nurse examined my chest area. This was a routine step in the process. As I chatted with this soft, motherly woman, she stopped and looked at me. I knew that there was no lump; I would have noticed it myself. “Have you noticed how different your skin feels right here?” she asked. No, I had not, and I wasn’t sure what she was referring to. She took my hand and led me to a spot on the upper side of my right breast. The skin felt different there – softer and spongier. Even though there was no lump, I knew right away that something was not right.

The nurse made an X with a black magic marker so that the radiologist could pay special attention to that spot. Then I went in for a mammogram.

While I waited for the results, I called Jeff to let him know that I would be late, and that he needed to leave work and pick up the kids from school. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Just running late,” I told him.

The nurse came back and said that the doctor wanted to take another X-Ray. They took another X-ray. I waited in a room full of women in hospital gowns. I didn’t look at magazines. I didn’t speak to anyone. Finally, the nurse called my name and told me that the doctor wanted to see me. I stood up and tried to be brave. I straightened my back, pulled my shoulders back, and followed the nurse.

The doctor was a man my age, and he was looking intently at my X-Ray. He asked me to sit down. He told me that they rarely told women bad news without any preparation, but they believed that they had found a tumor in my right breast. They wanted me to come in for a biopsy on Monday. On Monday! How will I live through the weekend?

I asked questions. What did he see? What were his suspicions? He held the cards tightly to his chest. He revealed nothing, except that the news was probably not good. As I left his office, I felt that my reality had shifted completely. When I exited those sliding front doors of the woman’s center, I was a different woman.

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