Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glad to exhale, and for lessons learned

*All is well*

On Monday I wrote that I had an annoyingly busy week ahead that included a doctor appointment for a minor concern.  It wasn't exactly minor but since my daughter reads the blog (hi Jean!) I didn't want to say anything until I had a resolution to the matter, or at least some real information and not just rambling and irrational fear. 

I found a small lump in my left breast Saturday evening.  When my hand first grazed over it, I immediately felt the other side to "make sure" I had the same thing on the right, rendering symmetry which translates in my mind to "nothing to worry about".  The right breast was mockingly and alarmingly absent of the lump, so I started manipulating the left side trying to assess what was up.  It was superficial, which seemed good, and very small, but I couldn't capture its entirety between my fingers.

I literally felt bursts of adrenalin into my system, starting me on a slow burn to panic.  I got up, walked around, felt it again and again, deemed it not a fixed lump but knew that I was going to have to have it checked.  Can you spell A-N-X-I-E-T-Y?  I've never had a breast lump or call back for further films on a mammogram - nothing.  I really had to work on tamping down my panic response and not letting my brain fast forward to which hospital I'd have my biopsy done, and then treatment, and then and then and then and then.  Useless.  The mind making up scary stories that are not reality based

This has been a really difficult issue in my life, I guess because of early visions of my dad getting carted out in the middle of the night on a stretcher when I was 8 with no one saying much to me about what was happening.  Talk about fear!  Of the unknown, and quite frankly of death.  In fact, of all the fear-based issues I've dealt with over the years, this has been the worst and the most persistent of my living a fear-based life.  The spirituality I've acquired through my years in AA, therapy and simply living has replaced so much of the free-floating anxiety I've known over the years, but the fear off illness and death has been the most stubborn. 

After an hour or so of obsessing, I sat and practiced some meditation, trying to quiet my literally vibrating mind and body.  And I DID calm down and was able to set my fear aside, stop "mashing" the lump, and just read my book.  Folks, this is huge for me...that in the face of unknown major shit (at least in my mind, but a breast lump does carry the potential of some major shit) I was able to calm myself and realize that until Monday morning there was NOT ONE THING I could do about it.  Other than ruin every remaining moment of the weekend writing those scary stories and worrying about them. 

I told only Tom and a couple of friends, all of whom were appropriately concerned but not alarmed, and just validated my plan of setting things up Monday morning to do the next right thing.  See, I even can get frantic when I hear panic or grave concern in someone else's voice, so I'm very selective about who I tell stuff of this nature.  I've heard nurses and doctors say things to people that would send me into apoplexy.  My own sensitivity in this has greatly informed how I talk with patients and clients as a nurse. 

Anyway - I knew that seeing my doctor first would be futile as I was overdue on my mammogram (though I'd had a very thorough manual exam in February with my GYN).   So I scheduled a mammo and was told the doctor needed to write "diagnostic" rather than screening on the Rx, because I had a "finding".  Then I called my doc's office, relayed the info to the med. assistant, and she got script written and sent accordingly.  I was set. 

With a diagnostic mammo for a lump or other symptom, the radiologist has to be present for the test, so they only schedule them on the days when the doc is there.  Luckily for me, Tuesday (yesterday) was the next available day and they worked me in.  All day Monday I was really able to keep my racing mind at bay and stay calm about the upcoming test and not fret endlessly.  I even slept great that night.  But yesterday at work, knowing I was having the procedure at 2, I was really back into full throttle anxiety, and could not even eat one bite of food.  At all.

I left work at 1:30, picked up Tom and went on to the medical imaging place.  I was honestly vibrating from nervousness.  The technician was nice and kind, which was reassuring.  In addition to the full mammogram, she also did views of just the lump area and then asked me to have a seat while the doc reviewed the study.  Not 5 minutes later she was back and said he wanted an ultrasound.  GULP.  "Now I'm really panicking," I  murmured, to which she responded with a smile and an assurance it wouldn't be too long.

The US tech retrieved me from the waiting room and was as nice and kind as the mammo-taker.  These women must see all levels of fear, terror, heartache, worry, bad results...and they really know how to just be quietly present.  The ultrasound tech responded to my confession of great fear saying, "this doesn't look like anything bad", which relaxed me a molecular amount.  She had me point out the lump, squeezed on a bunch of gel and mushed the device into the gel over the lump.  I had my head turned away from the screen, and she said, "Mrs. Erickson, look at this" - to which I said, "I don't wanna".  "No, look - see how this area is all solid black?  This is a cyst only - no solid mass."  I looked at her skeptically and she said, "This is very good."  The relief I felt was immense.  Ultimately the doc came in and said ,"you're fine", and it turns out I don't even need follow up other than my annual next July.  And finally I fully exhaled for the first time since Saturday night.

Obviously I'm ridiculously grateful for how this turned out.  I'd never had a cyst, though he said maybe I had and didn't know it.  At my age, I thought hormonally mediated cysts probably didn't happen, but he said they do all the time.  Also caffeine can play a role - which I do enjoy a fir amount of.  All this is stuff I'd heard before but never really took it in until it became personal.

Probably many of you have been through this and much more.  I know that I was lucky in every possible way - from the rapidity with which I was able to get everything scheduled to the positive end result.  But I feel lucky for other reasons.  I have a much greater understanding of how terrifying it is to find a lump.  I could "imagine" it, but to have gone through it even at this easy level increased my empathy and compassion for the scary journey that medical uncertainty of any kind takes us on. 

Mostly, I see that I really have had a lot of healing of my deep seeded fear of medical uncertainty, cancer, and death.  I only had a few days of it this go round, but my spiritual grounding and faith really came through when I sought them out.  Residing within my soul is now a deep knowledge that no matter how this turned out, I would be okay.  I could handle what came next.  And I know I can handle whatever comes next a day at a time.  All of us feeling scared of unknown entities of all kinds. I'm not a bad person or all screwed up because I get scared when scary things happen. I'm human.  I may not want what comes along, but with prayer, faith, love, friendship, asking for help, not isolating, and mostly AA, I can negotiate whatever the universe sends my way, learn from it, and be a more compassionate human.  Quite an unwarranted gift to discover that feels even bigger than getting a positive test result.


  1. Anonymous28 July, 2010

    Oh my goodness...I'm such a worry wart myself that as I'm reading this my heart starts pounding faster until I finally read that is was nothing. Longwinded Leslie had me in a panic!! Sheesh. Plus I couldn't skim it to find that you were ok, because that is rude and goes against my moral reading code. Sigh. OK...aren't you glad I made it all about Happy to hear it's nothing. Oh...and I call you Longwinded Leslie with pure joy :)

  2. Glad it all turned out to be a nothing ! There is something about finding anything odd in and on your body that just shakes you to the absolute core, tosses you for a loop and blinds you from all rational thought. But the truth seems to be that we all have to go through these moments to learn who and what we really are, and what exactly lies at our root. Take deep breath, do a happy dance and chalk one up for you .

  3. Whew! I'm so glad you got the all clear signal! I understand so much of what you were going through. I think when the death of a parent happens when we are young, we develop a very real, but unrealistic fear of death. At least that's the way it was with me. I was preoccupied with it for a very long time and honestly, it's only very recently that I've sort of gotten over it, along with fear of heights, fear of flying and as you mentioned, general anxiety that I wore like shoulder pads.

    Again, WHEW!

  4. I'm glad that everything turned out okay. I could empathize with you, having found a lump in my late 30s and going through that process and eventually a surgical biopsy to find out it was fine. Phew. Sounds like you handled it all very well. And "hi" to your daughter:)

  5. So glad you're OK. As awful a few days as you've had, I just loved this post Leslie. Especially the last paragraph. It's making me picture you as a sort of Warrior Woman, afraid of nothing.

  6. I am glad to hear that everything worked out well for you! I am going through that terror right now, but mine is because I just went through a bunch of stuff and am terrified of a recurrence, so I totally understand the fear and your mind taking off on a tangent! Just take care of you : )

  7. "Residing within my soul is now a deep knowledge that no matter how this turned out, I would be okay. I could handle what came next. "

    Wow, that is huge. Life changing.
    What a blessing that came out of a scary experience!

  8. So glad that you got a clean bill of boob health. I would have done the same to me. Fear of all that stuff is high on my list too. Faith and spiritual grounding are always the things I rely on ALOT.

  9. Hugs. I'm so glad everything is fine. I've been there, with the "finding," the extra ultra-sound and the relief of the "all clear." It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it. Another hug.

  10. I know how you felt! I got a call-back from a mammo once, and I was terrified!!! It turned out to be nothing, but the poor woman that I was sitting in the "special" waiting room with.... well, hers wasn't "nothing". I'll never forget how the technician looked at her as she moved her along to the next level of difficulty.

    Glad yours was nothing, and it is an eye-opener, isn't it?

  11. Anonymous28 July, 2010


  12. I don't really know anything about cysts. I am wondering if you lay off the coffee - how quickly it will go away - ?


    chain of thought/feeling that I too know very well.

  13. What a scary thing to go through, Leslie! So glad you are ok.

  14. WHEW! I'm so glad it was just a cyst and nothing more. I had a lump scare a few years ago and after mammo and biopsy I found out it was just a fatty deposit. Yeah, like I don't know I have enough fatty deposits on my body. It is a good reminder that we have to know what's going on with our bodies and check for things that may not come up on yearly exams. I'm happy you got a clean bill of health and can exhale now.