Our family just went through a bit of a health scare. A month ago, I made an appointment to see a doctor about a little lump I had felt in my breast for a while. I was really worried, and even making the appointment felt scary. Seeing a doctor always fills me with anxiety, even when it's just a routine checkup. I waited with lead in my stomach for the day to come. I drove myself to the doctor, and told her about the lump, about how it had been there for a while, and that I had a couple of other suspicious symptoms. She did not have the best bedside manner, and as she examined me, she felt the lump and abruptly told me to get dressed. By the time I did, she was already on the phone requesting an urgent appointment at the breast clinic. I asked her how worried I should be. She said my risk factors were low, but my exam and symptoms were troubling. As I left her office on noodle-y legs, she called after me, "Try not to worry... But I know it's hard." She didn't sound convinced at all that I shouldn't worry.
And then, the mental battle really ramped up. I had to wait two weeks for my appointment at the hospital, and it was kind of awful. During our time in Belgium, it was my singular goal to stop thinking about the upcoming screening, and to enjoy what was in front of me. I mostly succeeded. When I got home, there was a letter from the clinic waiting for me, and I discovered that I had been scheduled in the "Urgent Suspected Breast Cancer" clinic. I lost my appetite for the next week, as I waited. Waves of nausea kept coming over me every time I thought of it.
Obviously, I worried about worst-case scenarios, and I worried about what bad news could mean for my family. I had so many dreams about telling people that I had cancer. I thought about my hair falling out, and of surgery, and of hospital beds and IVs, and so many really difficult things that are a reality for so many people right now, as I type this. But there was one thing that I didn't worry about: medical bills. Even as I was completely terrified of all of the possible outcomes of my screenings, the one thing I just didn't have to worry about was paying for my medical care-- and that was incredible. All of my adult life, I have had to think about the cost of health care, so the potential for illness or injury was also a huge financial concern, in addition to all of the other ways it hurts. And worrying about the costs of exams and imaging was just not an excuse for me to wait longer to get it checked out. So, I am really thankful for the NHS, and knowing that it's there makes living in England feel secure in a way that I haven't experienced before.
Ok, back to the screening. That was yesterday morning. Jeff took the day off of work to go with me, and I am so glad he did-- I don't think I have ever felt more anxious in my life. It was kind of a crazy experience to be sitting in the same room as a group of other women that had been assigned to that clinic. The tension and heartache and hope were so thick in the air, I pretty much sat there shaking and dry-mouthed, trying to distract myself with a crossword puzzle until my name was called. There was something else that made it intense-- all of the staff were extremely kind, and delicately treated me a bit like a bubble about to burst. I am not sure what they expected me to do-- go into hysterics, maybe? Maybe. I was calm enough, though. The doctor at the clinic talked with me, and examined me. She was considerably nicer than the first doctor that had referred me there, and (incredibly) managed to help me feel more calm than I had before. Still, she sent me to Imaging to investigate the denser tissues she had palpated.
I needed an ultrasound. A really eager and incredibly chipper older lady volunteer escorted us to the breast imaging center. She even made a bunch of introductions for me, showed me to my changing cubicle, and checked that I was OK a few times... There was a distinct feeling in the air that this could be the worst day of my life, and everyone acted really nice but kind of nervous. When I went into the treatment room, there were three women working in there. One was the ultrasound tech, and I seriously think that the other two were there in case I had a breakdown. I really don't know what else they could possibly be there for, since it's a one-woman job! They kind of hovered anxiously, and it was weird.
The ultrasound showed nothing abnormal. The technician asked me to show her again the spot where I felt the lump. She checked again, but saw "nothing troubling at all." She sounded surprised and relieved. I asked if I need a follow-up, or if I needed any more tests. No-- I was clear. Everyone in the room breathed easier. I somehow felt relieved for them, as well as for myself! I got dressed, went to the waiting room, and told Jeff that I was fine-- that there was nothing to worry about in my breast. It took a while for that to sink in, since this had been such a big, huge worry-fest for both of us, no matter how brave and hopeful and level-headed we had tried to be. Most of our fears had been unspoken.
It's still kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it's over! I am still processing the whole ordeal, to be honest. I am thankful. Thankful that I am healthy, thankful that it's over, thankful that I had the medical care I needed to get the problem checked out and to the point of closure. And of course, I am thankful that I could tell you my story. It always helps! It's a really happy day for us, since Jeff and I woke up without that heavy burden of worry and uncertainty this morning. I am making our family a huge meal for dinner tonight-- we'll have a party.