Mammograms, Breast Cancer, and Me – Part 1 

 November 2, 2018

By  N. J. Lindquist

"With over 3 million women battling breast cancer today, everywhere you turn there is a mother, daughter, sister, or friend who has been affected by breast cancer."

Betsey Johnson

Winner of The 2019 Word Award for an individual blog post.

When the unexpected happens...

I'd been feeling the odd mild stab of pain for a couple of months, but I assumed the cause was indigestion. Acid reflux. I do get that now and then. 

When I got the postcard indicating I was due for a mammogram because it had been two years since my last one, I made a face. We had a three-day retreat coming up, and a three-week trip to Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island booked. I already had a ton of things to do.

I put the postcard on a shelf. But then I reached for it. It would be better to get the mammogram over with right away. Just in case the stabs of pain I'd been having weren't because of indigestion...

The dreaded machine.

I can't say I've ever enjoyed going for a mammogram. I mean, seriously, having sensitive parts of my body squished between two cold pieces of metal or plastic isn't my idea of fun. But I've never hated it or found it horribly painful the way some women do. So I didn't feel any dread. In fact, remembering those stabs of pain, I almost felt relieved. 

Mammogram 1

I called the number on the postcard for an appointment, hopeful I could get it done before our trip. To my surprise, the woman who answered said they had just had a cancellation, and she could book me for that week, Thursday, August 16th.

So off I went. (I should mention I can walk to our local hospital in ten or twelve minutes.)

The technician was a woman who showed no emotion. Not that she was unkind at all. It was sort of like being looked after by a robot. She merely gave instructions: "Do this.... Do that..." Nothing else. But we were soon finished, and after she said not to be concerned if I was called back I went on my way. 

Within a few days, I got a call from the Breast Health Centre telling me I'd been booked for another mammogram on my left breast for Friday, September 7th. Oh, and I'd need an ultrasound, too. 

Okay, then.

I wasn't worried. Some years ago, I'd had a cyst, so I thought it very likely that I had another one. At that time, I'd seen a surgeon who removed the cyst with a large needle. All had been well since.

Mammogram 2 and Ultrasound 1

I had a different mammogram technician this time. She carried on bits of conversation with me in between instructions, and she assured me that getting called back happens a lot, so not to worry. But she was still very professional. I felt I was in good hands.

The ultrasound technician, another woman, was also very nice as well as very professional. 

Much easier than the ultrasounds I had back when I was pregnant and they made me drink all that water!

Off to Our Retreat

A week earlier, Les and I had booked spots for a three-day writers' retreat in Guelph, so we drove there on Monday, Sept. 10. It was great to see other writers, some of whom we hadn't seen in person for a few years. And I've always loved the grounds and the feeling of actually being away from it all. 

However, early Tuesday morning I got a phone call from someone from the Breast Cancer Health Centre telling me that, based on the ultrasound, the doctor (the same one who had taken care of my earlier cyst) would like to see me at 9:15 the next morning. Oh, and they'd also scheduled a biopsy for the same day. Was I able to come? 

I hesitated for about three seconds before telling her I'd be there. 

Love this place!

Such a restful place!

Yes, we'd be missing part of the retreat, but we had tickets to fly to Newfoundland early Sunday morning. The sooner we knew what was going on, the better. Of course, we'd cancel the trip if necessary.

We stayed at the retreat until after supper; then drove home Tuesday night. I told a few people what was happening, and several of them prayed for me, but I still wasn't overly concerned. 

I Meet the Doctor

Early the next morning, I walked down to the hospital to meet the doctor. He told me that based on the mammograms and the ultrasound, there was definitely a mass, but the fact that he couldn't feel a lump and the fact that the area wasn't painful were both good signs. He said I had a 50-50 chance of having cancer.

Of course, I was still holding out for its being a cyst!

He said he'd see me the following Wednesday to tell me the results of the biopsy, and recommended that I bring my husband or someone else with me. I thought that was funny. Did he think I was going to faint or get hysterical? If so, he didn't know me. But I assume that's what they recommend for everyone. And it is good to have support if the news isn't what you want to hear.

I told him we had tickets to leave on Sunday for a three-week trip to Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island and asked what we should do. He said to go ahead as planned. He was actually from the Maritimes and had just been there for a visit. He recommended a few places we should see. Then he asked the nurse to make sure he called me on my cell phone the next Wednesday morning. 

The Biopsy

After making sure I was comfortable, a female technician I hadn't seen before used ultrasound to isolate the problem area and then called a radiologist to come in.

The radiologist explained what he'd be doing—freezing the area before inserting a needle into the mass to collect three or four tissue samples that could then be tested for cancer.

Yes, the freezing was a bit painful, but I wanted to laugh (but restrained myself) because he sounded exactly like my dentist when he puts freezing in to work on a problem tooth. I wondered if they'd had the same person train them. 

I can't imagine how much work it is to look for minuscule cancer cells! 

The needle (?) he used to do the biopsy made a clicking sound, like a stapler, when it cut off and collected the tiny bit of tissue, but I felt no pain.

The radiologist and the ultrasound technician were both very nice and I felt at ease. It was as if everyone was part of my team, and they were all rooting for me to be okay.

They told me that the area of the biopsy might be sore for a while, and I walked home. I'd done everything I needed to do. Now we just had to wait. 

Life Goes On

The next day (Thursday) I had two dentist appointments for different things, as well as an unrelated appointment with my general practitioner.

Friday, I washed and packed and got a new (Les's old) iPad ready to take with me on the trip so I could use Scrivener (program for writers) and update my websites without having to lug my laptop along. 

Saturday, I spent several hours being interviewed by one of my daughters-in-law about various things related to my adoption and my life. Then I finished packing and watered my indoor plants.

Sunday, we got up at 4:00 a. m. and Son #3 drove us to the airport so we could fly to Newfoundland, the only province we hadn't visited.

Although I couldn't forget about the biopsy altogether (mostly I was black and blue and it hurt!), I managed to pretty well ignore the reason for the biopsy and its possible results. I've always known that God is with me (see the memoir I'm currently writing for the reason), and I knew that whatever happened, He and I could handle it. 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

  • Again we are in similar circumstances. In 1982 I had a left mastectomy. My doctor said the lumpectomy surgeries had not been proven effective. I took me a year to really believe that was the end of it. Now 38 years later, I am still cancer free but the time for another evaluation of right side is due. My only regret was that I didn’t get both sides removed at the same time. I love reading your short stories of your life and wish that it would be possible to meet you in person.
    Bev Swanson, Renton, Washington.

    • Oh, yuck! So sorry you had to go through that, but so glad you’ve been fine since.

      Yes, I’ve heard other people say the same thing – better to do the double.

      Thank you for enjoying my stoires. I should do a vidoe or something one of these days. Not quite meeting, but sort of. :)

      N. J.

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