A year has passed since I had a normal mammogram and a normal ultrasound. It was time to go back last week.
A few weeks ago I had received a generic letter explaining to me the importance of mammography screening and how I needed to make an appointment to get one! Yeah right, the medical betrayal of sorts ,the false security that a normal mammogram have given to my surgeon and I, that test. The test that for lucky ones leads to early diagnosis and treatment, the test that can diagnose stage 0 or 1 cancers.
I thus grudgingly returned to the breast center. What I was unaware of was how much of a disturbing process it was going to be.
I have treated many patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, very aware of how places, things even scents can trigger memories, memories that the mind tries to suppress but instead they flood with overwhelming intensity. Being a psychiatrist did not render me immune to such processes my self, whether I understood it theoretically didn’t affect didnt matter.
I was calm until I changed into the gown, put my stuff in the locker. This time as I hung up a bra that was a mastectomy bra with a prosthesis.I slammed the locker shut but it didnt do much to the gates that were starting to open.
Then I sat in the waiting room. As I sat and waited, a wave of emotion started to rise, a scalding mix of anger and melancholia , at odds with each other, the kind of emotions that ball up in your throat to the point that the windpipe can no longer freely move and the air struggles to go in and out.
The kind of emotions that get the whole body riled up in mutiny, with muscles being tense and the stomach in knots. A “why” slowly tried to rise in my mind which my rational brain promptly suppressed.
This last year, nothing in this room has changed, the chairs are in the same spots, the carpet looks the same, the walls and paint, exactly how I remembered and then I thought of this year as I experienced it and nothing seemed the same.
I was suddenly face to face with how life has moved on and is still the same for many and will continue to be.
The technician peeked her head calling my name. This one looked like a sub, for I had not seen her before.Excruciatingly matter of fact and dry and her demeanor matched the feel of the room just right …cold and distant. And then “squeeze time” arrived.
My only breast, squashed between two plates like a specimen on a slide, literally. My mind flashed a picture of my deceased breast after the biopsy and the mammogram squeeze that led to bleeding from the biopsy site.I saw blood spread underneath the acrylic plate.
I so wanted this to be over. I don’t want any more mammograms please,I wanted to scream, I just wanna go home.
The technician disappeared to review the images with the radiologist as was taking shallow breaths. She reappeared still stoic, we need some additional views.
Now I really wanted to just leave. I wanted to tell her, “Listen I have seen the worst, I have gone through the worst, it wouldn’t be fair if you saw more”
Some more squeezes later, I was let go. My heart refused to respond to any zen thoughts my mind threw towards it and it remained defiant. I was not ready to hear another sentence starting with “I am so sorry”, I have done that.This cant be happening.
.As I then proceeded to see my breast surgeon my anxiety spiked.He presented with smile and told me that “it was nothing”.
I am not sure if I did feel relieved . Is every thing really normal? That is what he said “last time” but was it… My throat was dry, my mind felt drained.
But what is the other choice? This is my fate as long as I live, monitoring and scanning, missed beats and shaky hands. It comes with the package. Fear is the side served with cancer, and periodically you get seconds even when you are full. I just hope I am done with the main course …for good.