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breast tissue

“We Found Something. You Need More Follow Up Tests.”

As a Newlywed

Many years ago I had a health scare. A routine exam turned into, “go to a specialist to get this checked out.” Many phone calls and appointments were made and  many big scary words were uttered.

Between the onset of this foray and its resolution, I became a raving lunatic. I didn’t do well with living in suspension and fear. My greater fear is of the diagnostic procedures rather than the verdict, only because I can’t seem to get past the fear of procedures, not because I have no fear of the verdict.

During this time my new husband was patient with me as I pitbulled on my plight. After weeks of my hand-wringing and histrionics, he finally said in exasperation, “I can’t deal with all this drama! You’ve got to find a way to calm yourself down!”

Instead of taking it as a rebuke, I chose to take it as one of those interventions that only a loved one can offer. I chose to believe that he wanted me grow up and, not exactly to be a better person, but become a better version of myself. Was I up to reaching for that?

The needle aspiration revealed nothing alarming and all was well.

Freak Out, Take 2

Years later we relived a similar scenario. Though I didn’t score quite so high on the histrionics scale, I would say I was still past yellow, well into orange. I told dozens of people — family and close friends. And maybe the occasional dry cleaner or barista. It was important to me that everyone was thinking of me, rooting for me. At the time I had a strong victim mentality and thrived on such attention.

After a few weeks, this near-crisis resolved through a core needle biopsy that revealed no malignancy.

Dealing a Third Time

A few years after that, again I got to spend an entire summer chasing down knowledge of my own health as I visited doctors, specialists, radiology departments, and finally the surgeon who performed a two-part stereotactic biopsy. This time I had small children. I was a still a wreck, but I was able to keep more of the anxiety inside.

follow up mammogram

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.
(Not my images.)

It was not only the diagnostic procedure that was causing me angst. It was also the scary thought of going through treatments while parenting and the even scarier thought of leaving my kids behind as one possible ending of this story arc. Though I kept the outer drama down for my kids’ sake, inside I was churning churning churning.

My coping mechanism this time was to make deals.

  • Dear God. If you make this OK, I’ll ____________.
  • Or I’ll give up ____________________ if I get to keep my health.
  • Or I promise I’ll never ________________ again if Benign is the word.

Benign WAS the word the surgeon delivered and I was flooded with relief. I can’t actually remember any of the deals I made so I don’t know if I fulfilled them.

Life went on.

Growing Up

Just this spring, I found out I needed a follow up mammogram, possibly with an ultrasound.

I’ve been through a lot since that last time. I’ve moved fully into the role of Mom, which caused me to grow up and stop being the child (not to say that people who don’t mother don’t grow up; just that it made a difference for me). Now I am the one calming others down, helping them face and release their fears. Plus, I’ve discovered yoga and meditation, and I’ve practiced for thousands of hours of bringing my mind back to the present moment, a moment in which all is well.

So when I got the news I’d need more tests, I was annoyed that I’d have to add phone calls and appointments to my ToDo list — but I didn’t feel  debilitating fear.  I knew I was healthy (well, I was pretty sure). I know my body; I live here.

And I wasn’t crazy about the hefty price tag for additional testing — several hundred dollars, funds that already had a line of claims on it. I saw this as money I’d have to pay to have someone outside me tell me what I already knew — that I was OK.

But  I wasn’t fearful.

Should I spend the time and money for certainty? I had to decide.

Without the fear, this time I had no need to tell everyone. Instead, I wanted to make a private decision. I knew what virtually every other person would tell me to do, implore me to do. But the decision needed to come from inside me, not outside me.

Without the fear, this time the specter of treatment and beyond did not overshadow my days. In fact, I rarely thought of it for several weeks.

Eventually I made a a decision with my wise mind, not just my emotional mind (to use DBT terms). Last week, I got squished again.

The waits  from check-in to radiology and from dressing gown to actual squishes were not too long. Neither was the wait to have the images read.

Without the fear, during these waits I did not make deals. I stayed present. I breathed. I didn’t anticipate all the possible futures I could be facing in mere moments when the verdict would be in. I remained drama-less. I remained alone and calm, knowing I’d have the resources to face whatever I’d need to.

“All right, Lori,” said the very kind squisher after about 15 minutes. “You’re all set. It’s just extra tissue. Go ahead and get dressed and I’ll show you out.”

I texted “all clear” to the few people I’d told on my way to the appointment. None of my loved ones were in suspense for very long, except for my husband.

When I told him the news, I flashed back to our first time at this rodeo and was astonished at how different I have become — thanks to him, thanks to becoming a mom, thanks to the passage of time, thanks to my own efforts.

No matter what the results might have ended up being, I can attest that the process is a lot more manageable without the fear.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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15 Responses

  1. I need to channel some of you right about now…. I am still somewhere between red and orange.

    I’m glad your tests came back all clear.

  2. I’m am in awe to see how you have evolved over the years. I hope that some day I can be where you are in all, if not most, things. Thank you for continuing to teach and inspire me.

  3. You already know how relieved I am that the test came back okay, but this post is really interesting: how your reaction to the same type of news changed over time. Do you think some of it is attributed to having all-clears in the past, or is it more life outlook? I’m an equal opportunity freaker-outer, so I’m looking to glean from you 🙂

    1. Both! By this latest go-round I’d had a lot of experience with ultimately hearing the news I’d wanted to hear. I’d had no conditioning to hearing bad news, so I bet that did color (ha!) my ability to head toward green.

  4. So, so relieved to hear you are OK … the subject had my heart in my throat.

    Sometimes I think I’ve become MORE prone to freak-out over the years, not less. But I’ve also become more private about the freak-out, and I’m wondering now if those two things are related. It’s probably a lot worse in my head than it is in reality, and if I talked it through calmly with someone I trust, I’d see that.

    I had my first mammogram this year, and was sent back for additional testing, too, less than a month after a third friend in as many months shared a cancer diagnosis. I do have a family history, so it’s not completely out of the question. And I told no one. Luckily, it turned out negative, but in the meantime, I turned inward, half in complete denial, half in resignation. It would have been better if I’d told a few close friends who could have been supportive.

    I hope I will take a page from the Book of Lori next time around.


  5. Your engrossing post (at least for anyone who has experienced a mammogram call back), made me think about my ultimate medical “come to Jesus” moment. I was on my third paragraph in a ridiculously long comment when I realized that I was actually writing my own blog post on the subject. I hope you’ll read it when I finally get it posted. I will acknowledge that you provided the writing prompt.

  6. I’m glad it came back negative
    I always want to skip the mammogram and go straight for the sonogram and biopsy but of course the mammogram picks up other things

    My friend recently had a routine mammogram. Went in without a care in the world. Came out finding she has stage two breast cancer—-and it’s complicated. So….

  7. Wow! That is some serious mindfulness right there!!! I’m a total freaker-outer. My nails go from being long to being absolutely raw. I’m amazed at how you handled things. Positive self-talk is so so important. I teach it to my students all of the time…I need to follow it more often.

    Glad to hear you are in the clear…again. 😉

  8. What an interesting journey of growth and development.
    I’ve certainly learned over the years to live more in the moment, and not get so stressed over things I can’t control.

    My mother got called back multiple times, and after her second or third biopsy (all of which were clear), said to her surgeon, “can’t you just cut them off?” because she was so sick of the stress! lol

    I got called back for my last mammogram, and was the only one in the waiting room (full of women who were called back) without a support person, as I decided I’d had bad news on my own before, and could handle it. I “got squished” yesterday actually, and I’m now waiting for my results. But it’s all on our public health system (part of a national screening programme), so at least I don’t have to deal with that.

    Anyway, I’m very glad you got good news. Sending hugs.

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