The year was 1981. My dad called me long distance. His voice was so soft I could barely hear him. He wasn’t sure what to do with the news he had just received. His gut-wrenching response came from a place of obvious pain and disbelief. His wife had breast cancer.
“…but her mammogram was normal,” he cried, trying to wrap his mind around the unexpected reality attacking his spouse of 24 years.
“So what happened?” I asked, confused by what seemed like mixed messages.
He gave the phone to her and she explained, very calmly, that her doctor insisted he felt something that did not show up on the specialized x-ray, and he had scheduled a confirmation biopsy.
She had agreed the surgeon could go ahead and do whatever was necessary while she was anesthetized. Back then, radical mastectomies were the treatment of choice. She told me that when she woke up she felt the huge bandages around her chest and instantly realized the serious outcome of the surgery.
It’s curious to me how often the reproductive parts of all humans are so vulnerable to rogue cells bent on destruction. Notwithstanding that mysterious phenomena and my inability to understand, amazing strides have been made since my step-mother’s dramatic treatment. Not only did she lose her breast, but all the lymph nodes under the arm on that side. Incredibly, none of the nodes had even a whisper of cancer invasion.
Fast forward three decades.
My 85 year-old bio-mother’s new primary care physician ordered a mammogram last year. Mother wasn’t so keen on having one, considering her age, but I went with her for support. After all, it was breast cancer awareness month. Pink ribbons and posters were everywhere. We sailed in to the Women’s Center, she was accompanied to the back by sweet caring technicians, and we were on our way faster than we had expected. We collected our free calendars and pocket day-planners and went to lunch…happy to have that little nuisance out of the way.
In a couple of days she received a call to come back for an ultrasound. They wanted to be sure of a diagnosis before scaring her. We waited for the doctor on duty to make his determination. When they asked us to join him and the nurse in charge, and a lovely patient advocate/liaison, I knew what was coming. I’m not sure Mother did.
Although he began with, “I’m so sorry, but I have some bad news,” the others rallied around her with well-practiced genuine encouragement, positive attitudes, and Plan A.
First, she would have a biopsy right there at that facility. In a few days, she did just that. I was allowed to stay in the room with her and watch how technically far the diagnostic tools have come since 1981. The pinpoint accuracy was miraculous in itself. The results, however, sent us straight to Plan B--a lumpectomy.
In the past, all these operative things were inpatient procedures. Unbelievable strides have been made in women’s health in the 21st century. She went to what’s now called Day Surgery. The offending lump was removed through a tiny hole, and sent to pathology.
We were all relieved there were no ragged edges in the hateful specimen…a sign that malignant cells may have escaped into surrounding tissue or into her lymphatic system. To cover all bases, it was suggested she proceed on to Plan C – radiation of the area.
In this new century and new millennium, people are finally embracing the idea that we must be part of our own health decisions. To that end, and with much prayer, and with her children’s agreement, she decided she had no interest in going through the unpleasantness that could well accompany a treatment she probably did not even need.
My point is: Things are changing daily in the medical world. Don’t hide behind fear of the unknown. Find out the worst. Pray for guidance. Sail into your particular storm with faith and confidence. Most of all, BE A TEAM PLAYER IN YOUR OWN HEALTH! Your choices may not be hers, but at least she had a choice.
Very recently, my beautiful red-haired Mother, who looks at least twenty years younger than the truth her driver’s license reveals, had her one year mammogram. It was clean as a whistle.
By the way, I had a successful one too. Then we said, “Thank You, Lord,” collected our pretty new pink calendars and day-planners, and went to lunch to celebrate.
1 Corinthians 7:25 (NLT)
…but the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom that can be trusted, and I will share it with you.
*Ladies: Please pay attention to the pink ads, posters, and awareness campaigns. Get those mammograms! If something is amiss, don’t avoid looking it right in the eye. Even if you have to take a “Big Girl Pill” to move forward, just gulp it down, tell God you know He’s right there with you, and then charge into whatever may be lurking around the corner. It’s the wise thing to do.
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