Seeing the Big (3-D Mammogram and Ultrasound) Picture

I brought a good book with me to the follow-up mammogram. Follow-up mammograms by definition are more worry-making than regular ones. You are there because something funky was going on, something needed a closer look. (FYI, the book I just had to keep reading was the forthcoming Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (February 2016).)

I was doing a very good job of not freaking out. I had had a 3-D mammogram for the first time last week, and although my doctor had said they usually necessitate fewer follow ups, this one did. So what? I always think I’m special. So why should my breast tissue be common? Besides, I knew that whatever was or wasn’t there would be there or not there regardless if I freaked out in advance. If there was trouble brewing, I’d do plenty of freaking once I knew.

A nice technician named Fuschia led me to the changing room. It was the first cold Fall day, naturally, but the gown was a soft flannel. Nice touch. The facilities at St. John’s could almost be mistaken for a spa.

Almost, but not quite. She led me to the exam room. Brace yourself. At a follow-up mammogram they really really really squeeze the breast tissue as flat as they can to make sure that whatever they might have seen in the first picture is just breast tissue, or something that cannot be squeezed out of the picture. The spa feeling was gone. (I take that back — I once had a sports massage that was much more painful, and lasted longer).

After the mammogram they did an ultrasound, just to be extra sure. I hadn’t had one since I was pregnant. “Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked. “Everything looks good,” Fuschia replied. The doctor came in and looked, too. They said “see you next year” and I got dressed, paid for parking, and left. I had a day.

Last night my son awoke me with “I had the worst nightmare. You and Dad died.” He climbed into bed and we had the rarest kind of hug: one that he needed.

Here I am, a day later, yesterday’s appointment almost forgotten. And I stop myself, say “Pay attention.” Today could feel quite different. That mammogram could have set me on a different future. So I look at what I normally forget to see: Today, with all its potential for petty aggravations, for mindless running, for holding grudges, is a gift that I do not “deserve.” No day is earned.

Every day is bonus.

Life — even the longest — is too short. Love deeply. Forgive freely. Hug often. Savor mundane details. Play your music loud.

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