Monday, October 13, 2008

My First Mammogram

Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings back memories of my first mammogram. I pretended this was no big deal, routine baseline and all of that. I chalked it off as worth it and checked it off as done. The doctor would call if he saw anything out of the ordinary. I was quite content to be “ordinary.” With no family history of cancer, I promptly forgot about it and threw myself into November, including Thanksgiving dinner for 15 a few weeks later. Plenty to be thankful for….Nannie, age 90, all the way down to our Sarah who was 3. We each placed a kernel of corn into the dish passed around with our statement of thanks. I had a whole cob of thanks; my life was so beautifully full as a wife and mom and community and church volunteer!

Each guest left full of good food and fellowship and a generous helping of “leftovers.” With the last dish finally put away, I sank into my pillow happily exhausted, knowing I could “sleep in” the next morning! The phone next to the bed rudely changed that plan! It was my doctor. “Good morning, Phyllis, how was your Thanksgiving?” Now my doctor and I have never chatted about Thanksgiving nor any other holiday, and I’m kind of wondering if this is a dream…but I come up with, “It was wonderful…, yours?”

This was weird. Instead of the questions I usually rattled off for him, we’re talking about Thanksgiving. It was short lived. “I have some bad news for you. I’m looking at your mammogram and I don’t like what I see.” “WHY are you calling me the day after Thanksgiving? I had those tests weeks ago.” “I didn’t want to ruin your Thanksgiving.” “Ok…now what?” I would take the huge x-rays (yes, this was some years back) to a breast cancer specialist. I had lined up the highly acclaimed surgeon he recommended to address a women’s group about early detection that fall. That eased my angst somewhat.

My “wake up” call opened a whole new world, one into which many of you have ventured even further than I. The x-rays, the doctor told me, revealed a “highly suspicious mass.” What does that mean? He had worked in this field for decades and said it looked like cancer. I would need a breast excision. I was fairly stoic, not just because I don’t like to cry in front of strangers, but because the doctor didn’t seem too upset and his nurse had come with him to my women’s group and was very sweet and encouraging. I walked out to the car holding up the big brown x-ray envelope to block Niagra Falls and drove straight to my husband’s office where he said a prayer. I was pretty scared. This was all relatively new to me. One out of 10 women at that time were experiencing the same thing. But I didn’t know them.

Little did I know how many doors this dilemma would open. My pastor suggested “laying on of hands” to my women’s Bible study group. It’s not something we do all that much in our church, but he knew about it because years before he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. His church-school kindergarten teacher had shared her insights on the Biblical concept of “laying on of hands.” The day before surgery, they took the final x-rays. The tumor was gone. Of course, that got his attention!

He explained this was not twisting God’s arm, demanding special privilege, but rather pulling out all the stops, as it were, asking for strength for me to trust Him for whatever it would be, for the doctor’s hands and mind to be guided, etc. Just a few women were comfortable enough to place their hands on my head or shoulder to say a Bible verse and pray as I sat in a chair in the front of the room. I didn’t “feel” anything. But I was thankful to be prayed for, that’s for sure.

The next week I entered the hospital for outpatient surgery, chose local anesthetic and spent hours in the very cold section for pre-op procedures. This was not my favorite part. After having four children, you’d think I’d be used to exposing myself to people in white. Not. I was assigned a nursing instructor and one of her students from the minute I entered the process to the minute I left the building. This was a surprise, but then I had no choice and the whole thing was a surprise, so bring it on. I actually paid no attention to these two women as they pleasantly took notes and observed. I thought of it as kind of donating your body to science, but beforehand.

I was on pins and needles while having pins and needles put in place to pinpoint the incision location. Each room, each technician, each long wait in such a cold area seemed interminable. I was somewhere between “I can’t believe this is happening – Get me out of here- and Lord, you promise to be with me always….this would be a good time for that, right here and now.” I repeated Bible verses I had memorized, especially “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and of power and of a sound mind.” My mind needed that verse more than any other part of my body.

Time for surgery. They wheel me in on a table, give me the local, surround the area with a tent-like apparatus and I am aware of the doctor doing what he does. In a while he says the mass does not look malignant after all, but that tests will tell. I’m back in my dressing room, receive post-op recovery instruction and am told my husband is waiting. I’m free to go home. But not before the nursing instructor and her student stand before me wide-eyed. I’d nearly forgotten they were there, except to feel them in an ethereal sense, almost like white garbed guardian angels. “Thank you for allowing us to be with you,” the instructor spoke softly. “Oh, thank YOU, for accompanying me,” I replied. She continued, “We’ve done this many times for the class we’re teaching right now and we’ve never seen anyone so calm throughout the experience. Most women break at some point, which is normal. You never wavered.” “Oh dear, if you only knew,” I told them. “I was very frightened, actually. I just kept taking my fear to the Lord in prayer. So what you saw was what He did with and for me. I’m glad we were all there to see it!”

It did turn out to be benign. I have faced other situations even more fearful than the breast cancer scare. Into each one I’ve carried the lesson I learned from those moments: to trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. He directs me in the way I should go. Whatever you’re facing right now…, illness, weakness in another area of your life…my prayer for you is to take it to Him, lay it at His feet. He comes to you with answers, with options, with hope and comfort and peace. You can read about my friend Gigi’s breast cancer story this month in my E-Newsletter. You can also get additional breast cancer resources here. Do you know what I’m talking about? Send me your story. Do you want to know more? Send your request.

Remember, you’re not in this alone!

1 comment:

Melanie Wilson said...

Don't know how I missed this post before, but it is SUPERB. I'm so glad to see you writing regularly. It's a blessing!