Excerpted from The Single Gal’s Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis (June 2009)
Over the last three years, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a range of different medical tests and procedures, including X-rays, MRI’s, bone density scans, echocardiograms, peripheral vision tests, and more. If I’ve learned anything through my adventures in Doctorland, it’s that you pretty much can’t go see a doctor without having some kind of test ordered. Between having RA, a heart murmur and migraines, I thought I had most of them covered, but a year ago, I got to scratch another superfun procedure off the list: a breast ultrasound.
One morning in May, I noticed a denser-than-usual mass in my right breast. It didn’t feel like a lump exactly, and truth be told, I didn’t feel worried about it, but given that I take freaky drugs that alter my immune system, I thought I should do the responsible, vigilant thing and bring it to the attention of my midwife. At the appointment, she squunched and squished my breast around to try and see what was what. Though she didn’t feel a ‘lump’ per se, she did notice that this area felt particularly dense and, well, lump-y. She wasn’t alarmed at all, but she wanted me to go ahead and get an ultrasound to see what it turned up.
I calmly made my appointment for the ultrasound, but in all seriousness, I didn’t feel the least bit nervous, worried or scared- just responsible and cautious. I didn’t mention I was going to have this done to most of my friends. The one I did happen to mention it to volunteered to come with me just in case. I agreed, even though I really didn’t think it would be necessary. Then, with the appointment a few weeks away, I mostly forgot about it.
Time passed, and the appointment arrived. I practiced some yoga and then headed off to the address I’d written down on a post-it note. As I walked down W. 15th street, I suddenly saw a huge sign appear with the words "COMPREHENSIVE CANCER CENTER’ written on it. I gulped and realized this is where I was headed.
I don’t know why I thought I was going to go to some small, nondescript little clinic, but that is what I had pictured in my head the whole time. I had not pictured this giant, bustling, serious-looking center with the word CANCER looming ominously above it. I stopped short of entering the huge sliding glass doors to wait for my friend to get there. I suddenly felt intimidated and didn’t want to go through those doors alone into a CANCER center. I was grateful my friend had insisted on coming with me.
Standing there watching others come and go, most much older than me, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and aware that I didn’t want to be associated with anything that was happening ‘in there.’ It all felt strange, and I wondered how the hell I had ended up standing outside a cancer center on such a nice, summer day. In a flash, I felt myself get really angry at the mere thought of having cancer. I mean, if I got cancer on top of having stupid rheumatoid arthritis, all before the age of 31, I was going to be seriously angry at humanity, the gods and anyone else who got in my way. It suddenly felt very unfair; this couldn’t be happening to me. But isn’t that how I felt when I was waiting for my diagnosis of RA?
My friend arrived, and together we walked through the big sliding doors into the lobby. Beyond the lobby through another pair of sliding doors, I could see doctors, nurses and patients rushing around like it was the set of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. I told the security person I was there for a breast ultrasound, and he pointed to a small door I hadn’t noticed in the corner of the lobby, motioning that I was to go through that door. I felt relieved that I was able to bypass the big, scary epicenter of the Cancer Center. It seemed like a good sign.
I passed through the small door into a waiting room that looked fairly innocent and much more like what I had pictured. I checked in and dealt with all the paperwork, then sat back and waited with my friend. A little while later, I was called back and shown where to change into the lovely gown and wait. I felt self-conscious, but figured at this point, there wasn’t any point in getting all worked up. A curly-haired technician came through the door and called my name. She brought me into the room and had me explain and show her where the problem area was located. I laid back, topless once again (will anyone EVER buy me a drink first?) and she squirted cold jelly all over my boob. Awesome.
She began to move the wand around, and I began to scrutinize every flicker of expression that glided across her face. Did that sudden creasing between her eyebrows mean she had seen something bad, or was she just squinting? I couldn’t really tell, but I was on pins and needles waiting for her to say something. Instead, she just kept rolling the wand over my breast and peering intently at the screen. By now, I know enough to realize that this procedure is completely run of the mill and a routine part of her job, but when you are the one on the table, it’s impossible not to read into everything and feel anxious and scared. When she paused the wand over the part of my breast where I had felt something, my heart began racing faster and faster the longer she kept it hovering over that spot. Finally, she put the wand down, and said she didn’t really see anything, but that she wanted the doctor to take a look. She left the room, and I hung out, literally, and waited.
I had no idea if this doc was a man or a woman, so I felt very relieved when a woman walked through the door and introduced herself. She examined the spot for a little while, and then handed down the verdict: ‘We don’t see anything problematic, but I’m going to recommend that you get a mammogram and see a breast surgeon.’
Wait. Was that good news or bad news? I couldn’t tell. I asked again to be sure, and she reiterated that they had, indeed, not seen anything ‘problematic,’ but she wouldn’t say the words I really wanted her to say, which were, ‘you’re completely fine, and you definitely don’t have cancer.’ Instead, she explained that the next step was for me to check back in with my doctor to discuss the results, but that she was recommending the mammogram because I was 30, and it was a good idea in general to go ahead and get a baseline image. Seeing a breast surgeon would be a good idea so that they could also examine me as a way of getting more information and another opinion. Hmmph. It wasn’t the total absolution I’d been looking for, but I felt adequately assured that I was fine, and that, big surprise, I just had to get some more tests done- so what else was new?
I left the Cancer Center behind, and after a few more appointments, including a mammogram, I was pronounced fine, that is, except for the RA.
Read more of Sara’s writing at The Single Gal’s Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.