Ever since my breast cancer scare a few years ago, I have come to approach mammograms with a combination of gratitude — for access to one of the best breast centers anywhere — and dread — for the obvious.
And so it was that I sat in the breast center waiting room last week, apres mammogram, trying to chase the spectre of doom out of my head.
“You’re all good!” said the nurse to the woman next to me. The woman who’d had her mammogram after mine.
How come I’m not all good? I asked myself, as I watched the woman sail out of the waiting room. Shouldn’t I have been all good before she got to be all good?
The ultrasound technician, who looked to be all of 22, summoned me to a darkened room for my second screening procedure.
Supposedly, combining a breast ultrasound with a mammogram increases the detection of breast cancer by 30%, so I get both.
I laid on the table and watched the screen as the technician slid the probe up, down, and around my gooped-up breasts. The images on the screen looked lurid and ominous, riddled with black ovals and white specks.
I glanced from the screen to the technician, who stared at a close-up of a black oval.
Is she frowning? I wondered. Why is she frowning??
The technician stepped out of the room and came back with the radiologist in tow.
“Your mammogram looks fine,” he said, not with the level of enthusiasm I’d hoped for, but I wasn’t going to poke holes in good news.
He moved the probe over my right breast, the breast that had the benign tumors a few years back, and the breast that contained the weird oblong thing now magnified on the ultrasound screen.
The two of them studied and squinted and volleyed opinions back and forth.
“It’s long,” she said.
“Yes, but it’s dark, and has no echo,” he said.
“The shape seems unusual”, she persisted.
“Not really, not if you look at it from this angle,” he said.
He turned to me and told me that I was chock full of cysts, most of them small simple cysts, none of which looked problematic, despite the 22-year-old technician’s opinion.
“Keep doing your monthly breast exams, and come back in a year,” he said.
I exhaled a few hours worth of pent-up breaths. The exhale exhaled by every delivered good news after sweating out the wait.
As I put my clothes on, I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me. Gratitude for the gift of evading cancer for at least another year. Gratitude for learning how to suck the marrow out of every day when you realize that today is all you ever really have.
A few days later a letter arrived from the breast center, confirming what I’d been told, and for which I’m profoundly thankful.
No evidence of breast cancer.