I should have trusted my gut. I shouldn’t have minimized what I felt, but I’m a woman and we tend to do that.
We put ourselves last, we worry about worrying too much, we ignore our fears when they have to do with our own lives and, yet, when it comes to our children, our pets, our loved ones, we will go to the end of the Earth to protect their well being, immediately and without question.
I knew I felt it and it was exactly as I had learned from the time I was 17 during my first visit to Planned Parenthood for the education I was seeking about becoming a woman, a young woman anyway. But there I was 32 years later, a grown woman, and questioning myself. “Maybe I’m a hypochondriac, maybe it’s not what I think it is.”
I tried to get my daughters to see if they could feel it, but honestly, what girls in their 20s want to feel their mother’s breast? “Eeewweeee” was all I remember them saying, and we laughed about it.
Richard couldn’t feel it either and yet it was so obvious to me….but maybe it was all in my head. I went for my mammogram (See “The Mammogram Maze”).
When asked if I had any abnormalities, lumps, bumps, anything unusual, I responded with “No, everything is normal.” I lied to them and I lied to myself.
The mammogram would catch it if there was something suspicious, I thought. It didn’t. I’ve learned since then that mammograms are important but not perfect.
One year and four months later, I went for another mammogram. For four months I put it off past the year deadline, in spite of the regular reminders in the mail that I was overdue, because work and life and projects and bills and laundry took priority over a mammogram that would probably just serve to end with a letter reading “See ya next year.”
It didn’t work that way. In fact, this time, the mammogram caught it and the biopsy confirmed “malignant” the word that no one ever wants to hear.
If I could have a redo I would have trusted my gut, I would have been honest with the radiologist, I would have told my doctor, I would have been proactive and insisted on an ultrasound.
But I didn’t. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. There is no going backward in life. Now I move forward into an abyss of fear, not knowing the stage, only that it is invasive and I have to act now.
My head is spinning with emotion and information, phone calls, emails, texts, doctor visits, and the fact that I feel as if when I talk about it, I am talking about someone else, not me. But it is me.
There will be a roller coaster of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, hormone treatments for the next five years, possible mastectomy, and the hell my family will live through while dealing with my gamut of inappropriate jokes, breakdowns, pity parties, anger, grief, laughter, and singing, that I am still alive, still here, still breathing; emotions changing now as quickly as the weather.
Looking back, I remember mentioning the little pea size lump to a few friends and neighbors. Women want to comfort one another, we seldom say "Oh my God, it could be malignant, go have it checked!" No, instead we use words to comfort "Oh, it's probably nothing." "Well breasts are lumpy you know, I wouldn't worry about it."
All these comforting words which were meant in kindness threw me into a false sense of security. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that we should trust our gut. So often we wait for validation from others to believe what we know all along, and without others nodding their heads in agreement, we readily dismiss the obvious.
Never ever, dismiss your gut. It is usually right even when you want to believe that it is wrong.
I can’t turn back the hands of time, and I cannot deny this journey in front of me that was never written into the plan, not by me anyway.
Yet here I am thrust full speed ahead into a future of survival mode with no amount of charm or mercy allowing me a “Get out of jail free card.”
Truly, I am scared. But I have learned from statistics and experiences that the happiest of people on Earth are those who have learned to adapt to the unexpected and even, as difficult as this may seem, embrace it... and so for this I strive.
Somebody once said, “It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”