On April 1, 2013, I went with Rod to our family doctor to address some on-going symptoms he’d been having that seemed to be worsening. The doctor believed the problem was in his gall bladder. He sent us to the lab to draw some blood, and said he would follow up with us if the lab work confirmed his suspicions and what our next steps would be.
On April 2, 2013, I went in for my annual mammogram. Years ago, Rod went with me for my first one, sat dutifully in the waiting room, and patiently listened as I recounted the new experience to him all the way home. After that, I was comfortable going alone, sparing him the awkwardness of being the only man in the waiting room. This year, I once again endured the unpleasantness that ensued, glad that this is only a yearly event, then drove myself home.
On April 6, 2013, Rod headed back to the lab for an x-ray; they wanted a better look at his gall bladder. It was a Saturday morning which made this scheduling unusual and a bit concerning. We had stayed up later than usual the night before visiting with our niece and her husband who stopped in for the weekend, so a coffee-powered Rod headed out for his appointment.
He got back at 10:45 looking like he’d just run a marathon, and dragged himself back to bed, apologizing for missing breakfast and time with our guests. Fifteen minutes later, he emerged from the bedroom. The doctor called him and told him to go to the hospital immediately for a CT scan. He would call ahead so they would be ready for his arrival.
On April 11, 2013, they released Rod from the hospital after more tests and a surgical procedure to insert a port into his chest where they would administer chemo treatments. We went home later that day. But everything was different. The undone projects around our home seemed unimportant; the schedule we had previously kept was no longer relevant in our new circumstances. Everything shifted - for us, for our kids, for our jobs. Life as we knew it had been hijacked.
Sometime the next week, I received a letter from the women’s imaging center concerning my recent mammogram. This envelope looked different than the ones I’d received every year prior, the ones that said everything looked normal. I was afraid to open it.
I was afraid of a piece of paper.
My fears were not unfounded. This paper I held in my hands instructed me to call to schedule an appointment; my mammogram showed an ‘abnormality’ in my left breast.
This all by itself is scary news, but in our new landscape, it was terrifying. What if my abnormality was cancer? How do we handle both of us going through chemo at the same time? Who would take care of whom?
I didn't tell Rod, my best friend and confidant; his own burden was unbearable. I couldn’t tell the kids; they were still reeling from their dad’s cancer diagnosis.
After several weeks, I finally told a friend. She encouraged me to make the call and follow up, pointing out how much more devastating this would be if I continued to ignore it and it became a thing that I could have prevented had I acted quickly.
So I went in for a sonogram. They determined that the lump was a clogged duct and aspirated it right then. But I wasn’t done yet; the tech said they had to send in the fluids to test for cancer. I was overemotional, and told the tech about Rod’s recent diagnosis. I don’t think they are supposed to, but the tech told me that the fluid they drew out of me appeared clear; typically its cloudy fluids that indicate cancer. Turns out she was correct.
By the time my next mammogram rolled around, I had watched the disease and its treatment destroy Rod’s body and take his life. And I remembered my last mammogram. While I chose not to tell Rod last year until just before going to my second appointment, and we cried together tears of relief afterward, I had no such option this year.
This time, I was on my own. I was terrified all over again, but Rod wouldn’t be there to celebrate a clean mammo, or to support me if there was another abnormality.
Had I asked any of my friends, I know they would have come with me - no shame or judgement, just compassion and a hand to hold.
But, I never gave them the opportunity; I just needed to get my 'big girl' panties on and get myself there. And maybe they thought if they offered to sit with me, I might understand from them that they didn't believe I was capable.
So, in the end, we all just followed the cultural scripts that we've been given.
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