I have always thought that us women have an unfairly big load of physical pains, inconveniences and responsibilities to deal with throughout life: from the early menstruation, the non- acceptable hair on body parts (that I won’t list here) that needs to be removed or zapped in painful and expensive ways, the tremendous disfigurement that happens during pregnancy, varicose veins, the greying hair that is -in some cultures- not cool or appealing and the hysterical and hot menopause. And just recently, I have added to this list the ever present threat of cervical, ovarian or breast cancer. Family history or not, is it always in the back of my mind. Always causing fear and anguish at the slightest pain or discomfort.
For a couple of years now, I have experienced some breast pain, sometimes more than others. The pain hasn’t grown as much as my worry and concern have. So I decided to take action and dig deep into it with my doctor. After 3 clean mammograms I insisted on an ultrasound to shed some peace of mind. So two weeks ago, with an excruciating headache and sweating hands I went to get it done and over with.
While an X-ray is a total mystery for hours or days before you get actual results, an ultrasound has the advantage of showing the imaging right there, live, a black and white screen that while it is hard to read, still lets you peek and see what the technician it’s looking at. I found this thrilling and exciting when I saw my babies for the first time on a monitor. Little heads, little hands and feet and if you are lucky you can identify the gender too. But I felt far from feeling excited that morning. The technician was thorough, took plenty of time with her “digital notes”. I couldn’t help but look at the screen the whole time. So I was quick to notice several black spots on the screen as she pressed down hard on my skin. She carefully took measurements: width and length, location. I felt sweat on my hands and back even though I was very cold, lying half dressed on the table. As she switched sides, more black spots appeared, more measurements, more notes. Total silence. No Spa-like chat; the doubts and questions were drowning me and I finally broke the silence and asked her: “what are those black spots you keep finding and measuring?”. She cordially replied “I need to discuss all your images with the doctor and then we can talk about your results”.
That was like a bucket of ice cold water poured down my naked back, a slap in the face, a penance for an action I wasn’t even aware of. So she left the room and there I stayed. In the flimsy half gown, terrified, with nothing but my splitting headache to keep me company. Immediately after she left, I started thinking of the big WHAT IF.
What if I have breast cancer? A sudden but quick glimpse of my last 20 years started taking the form of a documentary in my mind. Have I done enough? Have I been a good daughter? Mother? Wife?
Have I given back to this sick world some of my gifts, my time, my talents? Have I made healthy choices and taught my kids the same?
If I am ill, would I stop working and spend more time with my family? Or would I keep working so I don’t drive myself crazy with fear? Who would I tell? Who would I call?
I started feeling sick to my stomach, my pillow, I noticed, was wet with tears, and right at that moment, all I wanted was my mom. Her comfort, her scent, her “it will be ok”, her slow moving hand stroking my face and my untamed hair.
I snapped out of my daydreaming and conscientiously thought of the millions of women that are diagnosed with some type of cancer every day. The pain and fear they go through, what their loved ones go through. What brave souls they are, they have to be. I realized that these women are fighters, and the ones that survive are molded and sculpted into a stronger and more resolved human, with a perspective towards life that some will never share, or understand.
Those 20 minutes I patiently waited for my results were reflective, didactic, intense.
The door finally opened, and the technician’s first words were “sorry for the long wait, you are free to go! “.
Free to go? I was mad! I wanted to talk to someone, to discuss my dreaded images, those horrible black spots, and here was this lady all smiles while my head was about to burst.
I guess she saw the question marks on my face, along with the run mascara, so she sat down and explained I had a lot of cysts. All filled with fluids, nothing to worry about. They come and go- she said.
A considerable decrease in caffeine intake was recommended to avoid breast pain. Other than that, I was left there again to put my clothes back on. After getting dressed I went into the bathroom with an empty bladder, but full tear glands and a headache that erupted in sobs. I let go of the stress and worry that had been eating me up for months. I thanked God for my health and ever since that day I have added to my daily prayers THANK YOU FOR ONE MORE DAY.
Someone very dear to me is going through Radiation therapy, I see her fear, her sadness, her exhausted eyes, but I also see her optimism, her huge love for her family that seems to be fueling her to keep going- one session at a time. I admire all cancer fighters tremendously, even more now.
The 20 minutes I spent thinking of my life under another circumstance shifted something inside of me. For the better.
I now have more people to remember, to pray for and to help whenever I am fortunate enough to make a difference.