This week’s blog picks up where we left off in Pt. 2: Mammograms and Misplaced Paperwork. Join It’s The Journey Director, Stephani Tucker, for this blog series as she journeys through her personal experience with inconclusive mammograms, a family history of breast cancer, and missing paperwork.
Third time is a charm some folks say.
I headed back to the physicians to get my 2nd mammogram here in Georgia. The fear of that conversation stuck with me- just hung there in the air as I kissed my husband goodbye for the day. He wanted to go with me, but I figured even if the “inconclusive” mammogram turned into something, I would need a biopsy before we would know anything worth worrying him about. I just kept thinking about the irony of coming to work for It’s The Journey at this exact time in my life, where Randi Passoff’s picture greets me every morning. I couldn’t help but think that if this “inconclusive” mammogram turns into something, then it was divine intervention that I get to work here, where I can learn from the many others who have gone down that path.
This time I was given an arm band and more detail about what “inconclusive” means, and led back to the same waiting area. I slipped on another pink gown, and I was on my way to a bigger room with what looked like an even bigger machine. My breasts were really put to the test this time, squashed and moved into positions that were uncomfortable and humbling all at once. Each time I was told to hold my breath and yet I can’t remember ever actually letting it out.
After the radiology assistant took 4 or 5 pictures of each breast, I was lead to the waiting room and told that the doctor would read the photographs while I waited. So I waited. I checked a few work emails, watched “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” and thought about all of the celebrities that have spoken up about the BRCA gene and breast cancer. Would I be joining them? (I only thought of celebrities because the tv was on). I thought of my mom and my best friend’s mom and my sister and my nieces. And because I have kids, I instantly started tearing up that here I was facing the unknown and how would we tell them if my results *were* positive?
Something is nothing until it becomes something, then it becomes everything!
The assistant walked back in with a semi-smile and said the doctor needs a few more views, so we went back in. It’s cold in that room, cold like when you walk bare footed across a tiled floor after the air conditioning has been running all day. The assistant one again took out “the girls” for another round of imaging, pressing them harder into the cold machine and telling me to hold my breath while standing on one foot, with one arm in the air and turned sideways with my head on backwards (not really but you know that is how it feels when you are in there). After 3 more shots of each breast, we went back to the waiting room. If the doctor doesn’t like what he sees, we would then move on to the ultrasound. At this point, I’m feeling particularly uncomfortable.
More “Kelly and Ryan,” more emails, more silent footsteps as she comes back and says we are heading for an ultrasound. Now we pad down the hall with her leading the way to my destiny, and I can’t help but think again of how many seconds it takes to walk down that hall, how many will it take to get this view of the inner workings of my breast… and how many seconds will it take before I can breathe again.
I’ve had many ultrasounds. I had just had a hysterectomy about a year ago and in order for that to happen I had to have several ultrasounds. I’ve also had 3 children, so ultrasounds where you get to see baby feet and little legs and feet are fun. An ultrasound where you see little dots inside your breasts that define your future are not quite as fun.
The ultrasound tech was laughing as I told her where I work and I took a picture so I could share it in this blog. We laughed as I told her she should come out and do the walk with me, that we raise money to make it possible for others to have this same procedure that I’m having even if they don’t have the insurance to pay for it. She stopped laughing when she hit the button to take the photos of what he wanted to see and that made me stop in mid-smile. Frozen faced, like right after you tell a joke that fails and no one else is laughing. She tells me to pull the gown back on, sends them off to the physician and tells me to wait. Wait without a smile. Wait with the unknown hanging over my head. Wait with my husband texting me every 5 minutes wanting to know the answers. Wait until I heard the knock on the door.
The doctor walks in and in 30 seconds says magical words, all is good. It looks like something we’ll have to watch, just some tissue overlap, but that I would have come back in January for an another day of views to see if it moved, changed, got bigger, smaller, disappeared. You guys all know that relief. That tear that builds up in the corner of your eyes not for sadness, but for relief and yet a little bit of guilt. You are safe for now but so many have gotten the opposite news. So many women (and a few men) have gotten that doctor who comes in and says we have to do a biopsy. I got that look 2 years ago and it was nothing. But how many times, with my family history will I get that “all clear” sign? And how many of the walkers I will see in a few weeks didn’t get that?
I find it scary that 2 women and 1 man whom I’ve never met held my fate in their hands. Held the rest of my day in their hands. I was happy and relieved and joyful and yet I knew that in 6 months I would be going through the same thing. And because I have the BRCA1 gene, I will be doing this every 6 months. And I can’t decide if I am happy that I have to do this every 6 months or sad. I guess I’m happy that every few months I’ll get to let out my breath, as long as the results stay the same as this visit. But what if they don’t?
As women, we all face that. Once you reach 40, getting that mammogram and hearing those scary words. We all feel that instant fear and tear up and think about the ones we’ve lost. We can’t help it. But now, with It’s The Journey and advances in breast cancer research and treatment, we can start celebrating the ones that held their breath and came out on the other side. Treatments have come so far that the whispered words “breast cancer” are no longer a guaranteed death sentence. It’s a sentence of some sort, but when you come out the other side, you get to walk along with the strongest women I’ve ever met… survivors.
And even though I got an all clear, I reached out a friend of mine from high school, who does this for a living and sent her the file so she and her team could make it personal. We were very close in high school and her guidance would be much appreciated on this journey. Stay tuned for her response to my file and what comes next.