We've heard it a million times: we have to make time to take care of ourselves. Today I'm not going to preach on exercise or eating right or getting a pedicure or reading a book or quiet time with God. All those are great things, but instead due to the fact that as of yesterday, the world as we know it will turn pink for 31 days, I'm going to re-post the story of when I was late on a check-up and late on a mammogram - when I had pushed it aside too many times and found myself in a blue gown in a radiologist's office four days before Christmas.
It's Breast Cancer Awareness month. You're going to see it everywhere. You can wear pink and you can run in a race and you can donate money, but first, make the time. Tell your sister and your best friend to make the time. I know you're too busy. Don't be annoying. Call now. Before you read this. Look, we know I'm long-winded. It's going to take you a sweet forever to read this rambling post, so if you have time for that, you have time for your children's mother, for your husband's wife, for your brother's sister, for your parents' daughter. Call now.
IT IS WELL
I sat in the waiting room in that stupid blue gown. with stupid blue flowers on it. With the stupid ties that you can't even get to unless you have arms that are six feet long. I tried to read an article on Christmas recipes in the Better Homes and Gardens with the stupid, smiley lady on the front. I was feeling like every single thing was stupid. Most especially, me. Me. Who had pushed me aside. And in the pushing, had perhaps pushed the mother of three boys aside. The wife of one man aside. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Two days before, I had felt that little knot. A little bitty bump. I had been waiting for this. Preparing for this. I had thought a lot about a day like this. I had read articles and books on this. I'd listed all of the family history: maternal great grandmother, maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother, mother. But not me, not yet. I'd even seen the genetics counselor and the fancy schmancy breast surgeon at the state of the art breast imaging center all the way downtown in DC because yes, there is a history. But, I was a responsible, educated woman and I would keep on top of this. I had warned friends. Don't miss a mammogram. Don't miss a physical. Don't miss the self-exam. And I didn't.
Until I did. Until I forgot or just kept pushing it farther down the calendar because you know, it's all been just fine and there are kids' appointments and baseball practice and school assignments and all. When I felt the little, bitty knot, I realized. I was six months late on the mammogram. Three months late on the physical. Stupid.
It was 5 days before Christmas. I called the doctor and talked to the nurse.
Probably fine, she said, we can probably wait until after the holidays. Let me just check your chart.
Well, I know what happens when they check my chart. Even though I have been perfectly healthy, she'll see the history. If I'm looking directly at the nurse, there is an eyebrow raise. I pictured the eyebrow on the nurse on the other end of the phone. Wait for it . . .
Um . . . ok, it is probably fine. I can fit you in in 30 minutes though. Can you come in now?
The doctor checked me and wasn't worried, but said I should go get a mammogram so that I wouldn't be doing the superfreak over the holidays.
So there I sat in my stupid blue gown after the mammogram, four days before Christmas. In-laws on the way into town. Presents to wrap. 2nd grade party to attend. Dinner party that night. The nurse had told me to just sit there and she would show the films to the doctor and she would probably come tell me to get dressed. She was just so very, very nice.
She came back and said not to get dressed quite yet, we needed to do the mammogram again. So they did it again. Didn't hurt the first time. This time? Oh.my.word. Then, she told me to sit and she'd show the new films to the doctor and then I could probably get dressed and go. She was just so very, very nice.
My phone chimed with a text from a friend. It was the day of her son's surprise birthday party. It was messy and cold and rainy out and we texted back and forth about whether or not the boys would mind playing outside. The conclusion was no need for indoor activities. Boys + Cold + Mud + Football = Perfect Party. I couldn't tell her where I was. Planning a birthday party today? Cancer survivor herself? No, not her.
My phone chimed with a text from my mom. She was listening to a Christmas CD I had sent and cooking up a feast for my cousins and their families for a Christmas celebration that night. I couldn't tell her where I was. Planning a Christmas party today? Cancer survivor herself? No, not her.
My phone chimed and it was my husband. He texted me that he was just on his way to work, unless I needed him. I had thought about not telling him where I was, but I had told him before I left. No big deal, I had told him, just regular stuff. I texted back that I was fine. She was just about to come back and probably tell me to get dressed and go home any minute.
Except that she didn't. She came back and said not to get dressed yet. They just needed to do an ultrasound. She was just so very, very nice.
My husband called right as they were calling me back again. I told him it was fine. Just an ultrasound next. We were all about ultrasounds. It's just that this one was not the look at that little baby type of ultrasound. I told him that it was just fine and my voice didn't crack until I told him that it was just that I wished the nurse would stop being so very, very nice. Still, as always, my unflappable, calm husband didn't say he was scared. Didn't tell me not to worry. All he said was,
You know what? I just remembered I need to come over there because I have a couple of jokes to tell you.
And I could hear that car making a u-turn.
My husband sat in the chair beside me while they did the ultrasound and I tried to imagine that this ultrasound would be like all those other happy ones. Ones where we saw a baby's strong heart beat and where we dutifully looked away when they told us to, so that we wouldn't know if that strong heartbeat belonged to a boy or a girl.
I still wasn't able to get dressed and go home though. They sent for another doctor to come look at the ultrasound. And I prayed the prayer that I see everyday as I walk down the hall in my house.
And I realized that I wasn't stupid. I realized that I wasn't in control. I realized that even if I had not missed the mammogram, there might be something there. I realized that my guilt and my shame were misplaced here. I realized that if that little bitty bump was what I feared it would be, that it wouldn't mean that I was stupid or lazy. I realized the only thing that mattered in that moment was that I should trust that He knew what the outcome would be and that the He with the big H would be with me, just as sure as the fact that the he with the small h was there with me trying to come up with another dumb joke.
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. I am with you in the waiting room with that stupid blue gown. I am with you in the mammogram room. I am with you in the Ultrasound room. I will be with you wherever you go.
That day everything checked out fine. They were just being thorough (and so very, very nice.) Last week, I saw the fancy schmancy breast surgeon and he said everything looked fine to him, too. I made the appointment to come back again in a year even though it is all the way downtown. I walked out of that DC office so full of gratitude and peace that I had tears streaming down my face when I paid the parking attendant. And it was not only because I was fine this time. Because next time it might not be. I fully expect to walk out of that office some day with the news that it is not just fine. And then, it might not be fine, but it will be well. It will always, always be well. Because He will be there today, tomorrow and next year. Wherever I go.
Send up a prayer today, people. A prayer of gratitude, a prayer of hope, a prayer of knowing that He will never, ever let us go no matter what. And . . . go get your mammogram, okay?