This morning I had an appointment with the endocrinologist. My thyroid level has been extremely low and the primary care physician has tried his best to manage it but has been unable to keep me in normal range. I don't fault him, really. It must be hard to medicate a person without a thyroid gland and keep the hormone level just so, that's why I decided it would be best for me to remain under the endocrinologist's care.
I'd made the appointment through the online app and was able to get the first appointment of the day. I like those early appointments because the doctor is usually energetic and cheerful.
Arriving at the hospital just before 8:00 a.m., I lucked up and found a parking spot close to the front door. The wind was whipping as I exited the car and I realized a cold front was moving in. I was thankful I'd worn my down coat and a pashmina shawl. Tucking a book under my arm, I donned the mandatory mask and headed for the door. As I walked, I looked around. The hospital reminded me of a large ant hill and the people looked like little ants busily going to and fro, in and out, always on the move.
The office staff was efficient and moved me into a room quickly. The doctor came in and went over my records then received an emergency phone call and begged forgiveness as she stepped out of the room. I waited a few minutes and then she knocked and re-entered. We continued our conversation and once again, she received an emergency call and needed to leave the room. When she returned, she apologized profusely explaining she had a patient in the ER, and she was coordinating care with the physician on call. I told her it was okay, and I understood completely. I felt sorry for her. She was obviously stressed but managed to give me her undivided attention once her phone stopped vibrating. She ordered labs and said she'd see me in 2 weeks. We said our goodbyes and I walked down the hall for the labwork.
The phlebotomist was nice and took her time locating a vein. I explained why I had to have blood drawn from my hand and that was the segue that led to our conversation about breast cancer. She shared that her mother had suffered from breast cancer and also developed lymphedema. Then she told me she was concerned about one of her breasts. As she shared her symptoms, I encouraged her to get a mammogram as soon as possible. I explained a lot of women think the only symptom of impending breast cancer is finding a lump and that's not necessarily the case. Many women experience puckering or dimpling of the breast, itching or scaling, and various other symptoms like tenderness, hotness, or redness.
Leaving the office, I called the number the doctor had given me to set up a bone density test. I wasn't expecting to receive a same day appointment but as luck would have it, that's exactly what happened. I got an 11:30 a.m. appointment so I shot across the street to grab some Chick-Fil-A and returned to the parking lot at the hospital to eat it. (I'd skipped breakfast because I knew the doc would probably want to do a fasting blood panel and I was right.) While I wolfed down my chicken minis, I got a call from my youngest daughter. We talked for the next 30 minutes and then it was time for me to go inside.
Walking up and down the hall, I finally found the office. On the wall outside the suite, it said Diagnostics - Breast Cancer Center. I wondered why I was having a bone density test at a breast cancer center. I assumed I'd have it at the imaging department of the hospital.
I checked in and sat to wait. About twenty minutes later, a nurse called my name. I followed her back to the dressing room and watched as she pulled a pink robe from underneath a cabinet and a green plastic drawstring bag from the drawer beside it. She handed them to me and told me to choose a dressing room, remove everything from the top half of my body, and come out when ready.
Inside the dressing room, I held the pink robe. All of a sudden, feelings I hadn't felt in years came flooding back in. I remembered the first time I'd had to don one of "those open in the front robes." It had been at the breast surgeon's office while there for my initial consultation. I was so scared that day and so embarrassed. I didn't want to bare my chest in front of anyone but knew I must.
When I'd removed my clothing and put on the robe, I walked out into the central waiting area. There were half a dozen other women clad in the same type robe. All of them were talking about their breast cancer as if it were a social club meeting. I chose a chair in the corner and listened. Beneath their masks, I could head their voices but was unable to see their facial expressions. One woman shared she was in the midst of chemo, another recently had a mastectomy, and the others were there for diagnostic mammograms. I never said a word. I wanted to tell them I was a survivor of almost 8-years but didn't. I didn't want to lump myself into their category for some reason. I guess it was too scary to think about being back in the routine of breast cancer care again. I'd left those thoughts behind years ago when I'd received the news of my 5-year cancerversary. Passing that mark, I assumed I was home free and now, at almost 8 years post cancer, I still felt the same way. I didn't want to do anything to jinx it.
The DEXA scan went quickly, and the radiology tech was kind. She said I'd receive the results in about 2 days. Thanking her I went back to the dressing room, changed, and almost ran out of the office as the tears began to flow. I hadn't realized how emotional I'd be.
I guess the fear of recurrence will always be with me. Though I hadn't thought of breast cancer much since my last annual exam, that little pink robe screamed loud and clear - "You could get bad results and go through this all over again, you know." But as soon as the thought cross my mind, I whispered back, "Maybe, but not unless God allows it."
I trust that He's got my back, my front, my sides, and the rest of me and I will continue to claim myself to be cancer free. And if He ever deems it necessary for me to go through the trial of breast cancer again, I'll face that day in His power and grace but in the meantime, I'm going to remind myself that's a great big "IF." I pray it will never be a reality in this lifetime. I've done my time. I've paid my dues and that should count for something but I'm also not naive. Many women have recurrences of cancer, but I don't want to be counted among them and I'm going to do whatever I can to stay healthy and strong, today and in the future.