I was chatting with my gynecologist as he performed my annual pap smear and check-up last June when he suddenly grew quiet. His smile faded, and his face took on a serious look.
“Connie, how long have you had this lump?” he asked.
“What lump?” I asked. I do monthly breast exams but I never noticed any lumps.
He showed me the lump – smaller than a pea. I could barely feel it.
My doctor told me he was referring me to an oncologist to have the lump checked out. I must have looked frightened because both he and the attending nurse smiled encouragingly.
“Don’t worry,” my doctor said. That’s easy for him to say, I thought.
An Important Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when the spotlight shines on a disease which kills approximately 40,000 women annually, according to the New York Times This year Breast Cancer Awareness Month takes on a whole new meaning for me based upon my experiences back in June. I wondered if I would become one of the nearly 140,000 women who get diagnosed with breast cancer annually.
I’ve always been a healthy person. I’ve never smoked, exercise several times a week and try to eat well. I didn’t have any close relatives who had breast cancer. Before my check-up, I felt like I was in the prime of my life at 47 years old.
A Worried Weekend
After my check-up, I went back to work and tried to carry on a normal routine. Don’t panic, I told myself. It was Friday, and the weekend was about to start. I spent much of that weekend trying to banish the scary thoughts which began swirling around in my head.
Do I really have cancer? Is it advanced? Will they catch it in time? These questions kept popping up in my mind.
There was a lot of tears that weekend. My husband, Joe, was really supportive. He kept holding me and telling me not to worry.
We weren’t able to have children of our own. For once in my life, I was glad not to have children. At least I won’t leave anybody orphaned, I thought to myself.
I wondered about the breast cancer treatment. Would I have to have chemotherapy? Would I have the strength to work and carry on a normal life? Would I lose my hair?
Could I win this battle if I did indeed have cancer? I began thinking about what songs should be played at my funeral service. Maybe my days were numbered, I thought.
Finances were another worry. I’m lucky; I have health insurance through my husband’s employer. But I wondered if the insurance would pay for all my treatments.
A Long Week of Anxiety
On Monday, my phone rang early – just after 8 a.m. It was my doctor’s office, telling me I had an appointment with the oncologist on Friday. They didn’t waste any time setting up the appointment. That worried me.
I went about my business but the anxiety was always there like a cloud hovering over me. Finally, it was Friday, and time to meet with the oncologist.
Meeting the Oncologist
I walked into the doctor’s office and saw pink everywhere. There were pink ribbons, pink teddy bears and even pink pens. Pink is the color of breast cancer awareness. I wondered if I would be joining the pink club that day.
First, I had a sonogram. It wasn’t painful but I kept wondering what the technician was seeing. She told me only the doctor could talk to me about the test results.
Then, I waited for what seemed like an eternity in the doctor’s office. Finally, the door opened. A young female doctor entered, smiled and shook my hand. Then, she picked up my test result papers.
I waited, trying not to hold my breath. She scanned the papers then looked up and smiled.
“Your lump is benign,” she said.
What I had wasn’t cancer but rather a cyst, she said. The most likely cause was too much caffeine. She immediately told me to cut my coffee consumption to one cup a day. Just to be on the safe side, she scheduled me for a mammogram and another visit to her office in six months.
I fought the urge to jump up and down with joy. This was like winning the lottery. What a relief!
Four months later, I’m still thankful and grateful that I escaped a cancer diagnosis. I know so many women aren’t as fortunate as I am. I count my blessings every day – over my one cup of coffee.
Sources: “Our Feel Good War on Breast Cancer,” by Peggy Ornstein, April 25, 2013, New York Times