The answer machine blinked…1…1…1…1. Having just returned from running errands in town I didn’t know what to do first—check the message, hug my just-arrived son, or extract Pudgy from my ankle. I selected hugging my son first. After some chit-chat with him I idly pressed the button to hear the message. “Mrs. Gates, this is the clinic calling. Your mammogram results are in and we’d like to talk with you.” Oh oh.
When I had my mammogram last Friday I was told one of two things would happen. I would either get a letter in the mail within a week stating everything looked fine, or, I would get a call suggesting something needed further testing. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be getting the letter. I felt great. Okay, there was that odd purplish area on my left breast, but I felt I knew what that was all about. When I was in Tibet last July, I had packed as lightly as I could. Most of the time I wore the same bra—one that was underwired and rigidly shaped—and some chaffing had occurred. Upon returning home to Minnesota I noticed the bruised looking spot on my breast and stopped wearing underwire bras for awhile. The purple area faded but didn’t go completely away. During my annual check-up my doctor noted the area and did a focused evaluation. She told me she didn’t feel any suspicious lumps, but did want me to get a mammogram sooner rather than later. Hearing the message on the answer machine made me face my feelings sooner rather than later too.
I called the clinic and they said they had time to do additional mammogram views this afternoon if I was available. Panic started brewing. Were they being honest about “just happening to have open time,” or were they trying to get me in fast? Mental demons were dancing on my shoulders as I drove to the clinic. I decided that no matter what the diagnosis…good or bad… the one and only thing I wanted was to make my situation useful to someone else along the way.
The technician smiled as I tried to retain a placid demeanor. She explained that she, too, had had to go through extra testing. “I’m afraid the views I need to get will be more uncomfortable than the first set.” I nodded, and the squishing and zapping commenced. After the required films were taken, the technician asked me to have a seat in the reception area. “Leave your gown on in case I need more views. I’m going to have the radiologist look at these right away.” I was alone in the reception room. The lights were dim. Calming piano music played on the speakers. The quietness of the moment gave me time to evaluate my feelings. I felt oddly at peace. In a woo-woo way, when I first noticed the purple area my mom had come to me in a dream. She told me not to worry, that it was just a cyst and would go away. As I sat in the room waiting for the technician to return I looked to the ceiling. “Mom, you promised me this was nothing. This is not the time to be kidding around.”
A few moments later the tech returned and said the radiologist wanted me to have an ultra-sound too. My faith rippled a bit as doubt entered the pond of hope.
The ultra-sound technician was young and perky. We chatted about my time in Tibet as she pressed the ultra-sound paddle hard into my offending and by-now sore breast. “Is there any family history of cancer?” she nonchalantly asked. I told her my mom had passed away from cancer, and her breasts were involved. I was not sure where her cancer had originated. “Hmmm,” was all the response I got. After a number of clicks and dinging sounds, the technician said she had what she needed and was going to show the results to the radiologist. “Sometimes he likes to come in to do a follow up ultra-sound himself. Please do not freak-out if he comes back with me.” Now I was really starting to waver. Why had she said that? I began counting all the blessings in my life and felt pretty dang good about how it had all played out. The minutes ticked away and I remained surprisingly upbeat. Footsteps approached. The door creaked and she returned. Our eyes locked. “Put your clothes back on, Gail. Your breasts are awesome. See you next year.” I tried not to dance, but there was music swelling in my heart. “Thank you, God,” I whispered, followed by, “I owe you one Mom.”