8 Aug 2017
I have a friend who is visited by Dragonflies. “That’s my mother saying hello and watching over me,” she casually states. Another friend swears the sighting of a Cardinal is her father stopping by to check on her. Both friends welcome these “visitations” as proof of a continued physical/ spiritual connection and benevolent guardianship by their deceased parents.
I’ve never been visited by Hummingbirds or Mourning doves… although I love both. My own much-missed mother visits me with the sound of her voice. Sometimes, it is her cryptic laugh or her groan at an unnecessary purchase. Other times, it is words: “ Time for that mammogram appointment Barbara… it’s October.”
From the time I turned 40, my mother would remind me it was time for that annual shared event. We went together and celebrated good news with a lunch date afterward. Unlike me, she’d wring her hands and worry in the waiting room. Unlike me, she’d spent most of her adult life worrying about cancer. Ironically, she died at 85 from something else. She’d dodged the cancer bullet, and so, I worried less. After all, there was no family history. I could spend my waiting room time clipping recipes from a magazine or reading an article in The New Yorker. As a nurse, of course I knew better. I knew the importance of annual screenings suggested by The American Cancer Society and The American Medical Association. Covered by insurance and not uncomfortable, it was easy to comply.
When my mother died 10 years ago, I complied with less dedication. I heard her reminder in my head and got a reminding postcard from the doctor. It was different now: no lunch and I was 65. Dodging the bullet – now a tired ritual. I could relax and skip a year. That second year, her voice grew angry. “For goodness sake Nurse, you know better!” So, I returned to the waiting room.
If there is some truth to “other worldly ” visits, it was in her angry voice. The proof in that year’s visit. “We need to retake the left side,” the technician said too casually. The nurse in me woke up. This has never happened in 25 previous mammograms. I have lacey, easy to visualize breast tissue. Something is wrong.
I was right. The micro calcification sitting way back in that breast, against my chest wall are a common finding: often, but not always, linked to the presence of cancer. There was an ultrasound and a needle biopsy and a confirmation of D.C.I.S Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Not altogether the worst type, but still Cancer. There were the Google searches, doctor and hospital decisions, studies, protocols, and a new need to internalize the word cancer into my personal vernacular. Finally, a lumpectomy and the horrible three days of waiting for a pathology report. The good news of stage one and clear borders: music to my ears. I handled radiation with the same casual waiting room calm I’d always had. It was over. I felt well and could move on.
Two years later, fully returned to good health and gratitude, I don’t need a voice or postcard to remind me it’s time for my annual mammogram. It’s just common sense for every woman – even those of us over 60 and beyond.
I welcome a visiting bird, my mother’s voice, and my annual mammogram. All good reasons to take care of yourself as others would want and you deserve.