My Test Result Was Terrifying

"You Have A Mass In Your Breast"

woman talking to female doctor
Always expect the unexpected! That’s what they say.  And as we all know, they know everything.  But do they know how long six days is? It isn’t 144 hours or 8,640 minutes or even 518,400 seconds.  No, it is an eternity. My eternity began so unexpectedly for me on of all days, Friday, April 1st, but this was no April Fool’s prank. I was awakened by the jangling of the phone at 9:00 a.m. It was the medical tech from my physician’s office calling to inform me that “you have a mass in your right breast.”  The unexpected! I’d had a mammogram in February and had received the report from the diagnostic center that everything was normal, no evidence of disease. Whew! I walked from the mailbox back to the house on a cushion of air that day.  I was one of the lucky ones, one of the fortunate sisters who had escaped breast cancer this time. To go for weeks thinking I had a clean bill of health and then to hear those words that strike terror into every woman’s heart, was the most unexpected bit of news I’d heard in over eight years. I hadn’t had a mammogram in all those eight years because for a long time I didn’t care if I lived or died.  I’d lost my beloved youngest son, a paramedic/ RN, to the disease of addiction.  Nothing else really matters after receiving such a devastating blow.

But as the years slowly went by I became a bit stronger; I decided that life was worth living and this is what my son would have wanted.  So I decided this year I would start taking care of me.  First on the agenda - a thorough medical checkup. We started with blood work, which revealed diabetes.  Again, the unexpected but not totally; I could deal with that.  Next, the mammogram for which I now chided myself for being so remiss in not having these last eight years.  But all was well - or so I thought.

My legs could barely hold me up when I got out of bed. I had to get pen and paper and write down the date of the follow-up mammogram – six days from April Fool’s Day. This would be a compression mammogram and an ultrasound.  This was serious.  As with most people today I immediately went online and did my due diligence.  I learned that approximately 80% of breast masses are benign and not to worry. Ha! That meant there was a 20% chance that it wasn’t benign.  I am the queen of worriers even at the best of times so I often see the glass as half-empty.

Those next six days I spent making all kinds of plans.  I wrote my own obituary.  Seriously, I did. Just like newspapers who keep a file on celebrities so they’ll be ready with something when said celebrity dies; I’d written my own so that my dear husband would not have to.

I never mentioned this to my son or my best friends, not wanting to worry anyone. It was known only to my husband and I because a little voice kept nagging at me – Don’t be silly. This may be much ado about nothing. Nobody has even said the C-word; just come in for a follow-up and comparison. But I spent those six days contemplating all scenarios.  Mastectomy or lumpectomy? At my age do I need to worry about aesthetics? Has it spread to the lymph nodes? I didn’t know if “it” had spread to the lymph nodes but my mind most assuredly had.   Outwardly I was cool, calm and collected.  Inwardly my thoughts were crashing headlong into each other, careening between hope and despair.  I seemed so nonplussed occasionally that my husband hadn’t realized the turmoil roiling inside me. Eventually the appointed day arrived and I had my follow-up compression mammogram and ultrasound. I was told to lie on the table and wait for the radiologist who would be in to see me once she’d reviewed the mammogram and the ultrasound. Within five minutes – although another eternity to me – the radiologist came into the room and informed me of the results of both procedures.  There were several cysts.  Upon hearing her words, the old Rolaids commercial immediately popped into my head – How do you spell r-e-l-i-e-f? Well, I can tell you; it’s spelled b-e-n-i-g-n!
I’m not completely out of the woods, though. The radiologist informed me that I must have a follow-up in six months because a couple of the cysts were complex cysts; but they too are usually benign, so I won’t put myself through such torturous mental gymnastics anymore. And all I can advise: Mammogram or ultrasound? Whichever you choose –please, just do it – now! Don’t wait eight years. And care enough to take care of yourself. Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis is an author and a Parent Ambassador for the Partnership at Her website is
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