When you have Multiple Sclerosis it is easy to become enmeshed into thinking that your whole world including all health issues revolve around this disease. I hate to break this to you but although it may seem that way, it isn't true. You can still get sick with other things having nothing at all to do with MS Just because you have MS doesn't mean that you get a break from colds or even cancer. It seems terribly unfair to think that we still have to take the time for other medical tests and procedures. Please do not let other important medical testing go by the wayside just because you have Multiple Sclerosis.
I had one heck of a week this past fall where in one week I had an MRI and then a couple of days later I had a repeat mammogram. I was floored to be told that they had found something during my first ever mammogram. I just didn't think it possible because I already had a disease to contend with. It just didn't seem fair to me. Yet our magical notion of fairness has nothing to do with our vulnerability to sickness and disease. Many people out there are dealing with multiple health problems and even more than one disease.
Although us women are supposed to get these mammograms once a year starting at the age of forty, I had neglected to get mine done basically because I was dealing with so much of the MS stuff. I put the mammogram on the back burner. But then it nagged at me so much this Fall that I just went ahead and did it and I am so glad I did.
I want to now share the story of my first mammogram experience and also urge you to please keep up with any medical tests and procedures which are unrelated to MS. These might include your yearly physical check up, getting your cholesterol checked, and for women a yearly PAP smear and gynecological exam as well as a mammogram. It is easy to let things go and slide to the back burner. But don't delay. These routine tests and procedures could ultimately save your life.
And now I present to you my story entitled, "The Waiting Room"
If you live enough life, you undoubtedly will have spent a good portion of your time in waiting rooms. Sometimes you are waiting for the miraculous to occur such as the moment when a baby is ushered into the world. Sometimes it is merely for the purpose of the mundane...a teeth cleaning or to get a prescription renewed. And sometimes you are waiting for the news which could threaten your life as you know it.
I was called back to get further imaging of my breasts based upon the first report. They had seen "something" on the mammogram. They wanted a more magnified view.
This news was totally unexpected. I had endured my first ever mammogram that week and thought that would be the end of it. I had done my duty and was ready to come back in a year, not in a few days.
So there I was in a waiting room filled with other women waiting to go back for their scans. Information about breasts was everywhere. On the bookshelf next to me were brochures with smiling women and instructions. There were instructions of how to do breast exams. There were pamphlets about the stages of breast cancer. There were ads for head scarves. And there were photocopies of information about terms I had never heard before like "microcalcification." I am glad I read the information as this term would prove to be important.
After exhausting all the breast reading material, I sat there and zoned out. I began to think about my friend who had just undergone months of chemo for breast cancer. One of her photos came to mind, the first one after she shaved her head bald. She joked that she was a human cue ball. My thoughts were interrupted by the call of my name. They always ask how you are doing. What if I told the truth? "I am a big baby and I'm scared to death." I opted for polite protocol instead and muttered, "fine."
I was led back to an area with multiple dressing rooms and lockers. This very teeny tiny elderly lady showed me a dressing room and she told me the rehearsed speech. "Everything off from the waist up. Put the gown on with the opening in the front. The lockers are over here." At that she was gone. I quickly put my green hospital robe on and chose a locker...lucky number four. As I put my clothes in the locker I began to pray, "Please God, please god, please god...make everything be okay." Then I looked around to find so many ladies were back there waiting. I felt bad for my selfish prayer and included everyone in that waiting room as well.
I found a chair which was opposite a huge poster of a breast with a band-aid on it. It was an ad for a new type of biopsy where there is little to no scarring. There simply was no room to hide from breasts. They were simply everywhere. I glanced at the other ladies in this waiting area. We were all perched upon our chairs like pigeons roosting, beaks down, staring at the ground. It seemed so surreal like a mammogram assembly line. They would call someone back and you could hear the squeaks and whines of the mammogram machine. I fully understood that some of us today would hear good news and some would hear bad news. At that moment in time, all possibilities existed at once.
Another woman several seats away was approached by a nurse. I overheard the words, "a biopsy will be needed." How many of us in this waiting room would eventually hear the words nobody ever wants to hear, that they have cancer? We were living statistics in a world full of odds. In this small waiting room where women come and go all day, someone would become the next statistic.
My name was finally called. I followed a pert little lady who told me she would be doing my repeat mammogram today. I felt an air of confidence from her and I liked it. She was business like and professional which I appreciate when I am feeling emotionally insecure. While in the testing room, I was given the reason for my having to come back. I had this microcalcification I had just been reading about, in both breasts. It was explained to me that I had tiny flecks, much like grains of salt, in my breasts. Sometimes this means nothing at all bad and sometimes it is the beginning of cancer. It would depend on their shape and size and how they congregated. They would need to take more pictures and possibly even have to do a biopsy to see what was going on.
I braced myself emotionally and physically. The first mammogram had been downright painful. I asked her shyly, "Four seconds a photo right?" This is what the first technician had said to me to calm me. This technician seemed puzzled, "Four seconds? Do they last that long? I don't know." My previous calculations of 24 seconds of pain for six more scans went right out the window. I very hesitantly approached the machine. I lowered the gown off my right shoulder as she manipulated my breast to fit between the glass. It squeezed but not that much. I was delighted that this machine was better and I would not have to endure being flattened to pancakes like the last time.
After doing the right breast, she was ready for the left. The gown, half way off anyway, slid totally off and I whisked it onto a chair. "Okay" she laughed, I guess it just gets in the way anyway. Bare chested I stood there in between scans. She asked if I was cold. I think she was maybe uncomfortable with my upper nakedness but I didn't care. I felt defiant almost. I was going to face this boldly like some wild female warrior. She told me I was doing very well and that she was getting some good pictures. When I asked if the scans showed good news or not she told me she wanted to keep her job so she was not allowed to say. Usually I could solicit some information from techs but this one was silent. I tried to read her demeanor but just got her professional vibe.
After the scans were finished I was presented with three possibilities which might happen next. I would wait in the waiting room to hear either that things were fine and that I could go home, or that they needed to do more scans, or that they would need to do a biopsy. I was further told that this information would be given to me within the hour.
There was only one chair left in the area. I sat next to an older woman who was now sitting where I had sat previously, across from the breast with the band-aid. My waiting companion was quick to strike up a conversation. "Are you waiting for results too?" she inquired. "Um...yes...I was told to wait here." I responded cautiously. I really didn't feel like talking but I didn't want to be rude. She asked why I was there and I muttered about the microcalcification and then quickly dismissed it with, "It might be a little something." She was quick to sharply retort, "No...it is either something or nothing. It is never just a little something." At that I turned my head away but she kept talking. "For me, I have already had a lump." I hesitantly asked, "So...you have cancer?" She told me that she had a lumpectomy and some chemo and was waiting to hear if the cancer was gone or not. "I'm an old lady...what can you expect? These things happen." She seemed sad but accepting. At that moment a tech came back to tell me my news.
"The radiologist says everything is fine. Just come back in six months for another scan."
The words seemed to come in slow motion. Everything was fine. I yelped with relief. My smile became stilted when I saw my waiting room friend still...waiting expectantly for her news. I immediately felt guilty for my pleasure and wish to escape. I apologized for my good luck, "I just got diagnosed with MS not even a year ago...I just couldn't deal with something else." She nodded silently. I raced to get dressed and told her I hoped she would hear good news too. I will never know if my hope for her came true.
In my mind she will always be waiting.