This is a story about a girl who thought she is made of steel and those scary mortal oddities are beside her, it turned out that she may as well be, but for a moment there she thought like she is not. Obviously, like everyone else she is very mortal and all those worst of the worst things in the world can easily happen to her, because why not, why would she be any different, shit happens to people, yup SHIT happens, and sometimes the bigger shit the better people… so when so many suffer why should she be free of it, why? She thought maybe now it was her turn…
Over the holiday break, I found a lump in my breast, a very apparent lump, it was one of those movie-like scenes following a total cliché of a relaxing shower with the music abruptly turns deeper and more neurotic, she finds it, what is it? Why is it there? Whaaat? Could it even be? Naaaah…
Since I am nursing, it is slightly easier to assume that lumps up there are normal. Also, since it was Christmas and nothing bad EVER happens on Christmas, nor it should EVER, I chalked it up as something with the milk duct, something got smashed, clogged whatchamacallit, all in all, some piping needs unplugging that is all. I kind of forgot about it for a few days, but then every time I showered and felt it, it freaked me out. I was in denial but deep down inside, I knew it wasn’t anything like I had before and I know, because I nursed Simon for 18 months and experienced it all, clogged ducts, mastitis, you name it, and this one, hasn’t felt like anything I have had. I researched online and sort of got more scared as you usually do when you google things like, hard lump, suddenly, is it cancer?… I could not sleep at night, it was getting overwhelming, like the worst nightmare, I have a lump in my breast.
I started telling my loved ones about it, seeking some sort of peace of mind, trying to share the weight as the rising state of panic was just about to explode in my head. Finally, on Monday after the holidays, the first, very first Monday of the new year, I ventured with a phone to find a doctor, I had to call many places because as a new patient nobody wanted to see me earlier than in two weeks, how freaking ridiculous is that? Like you can die by then or what? I could not wait that long! I mean, healthcare in this country is just sometimes beside me, but I digress… I managed to find one OBgyn in the area and got an appointment on Wednesday, two days later, thank God, it felt a bit reassuring, lets focus on that, she will check it, she will tell me what it is, I just need to wait till Wednesday and all will be over… sort of but not really, she said she thought it was a duct, giving me hope, false hope, it will resolve itself, but just to be cautious she told me to come back in a week.
And so I did, and it was just the same, no matter what I did, heat, cold, nurse, pump. Still there, still hard, still no pain, still nothing changing, just a lump, right there. The doctor requested an ultrasound, they called in an order for me to a facility that was specializing in female cancer screening, if there was anything to be found, they would find it. I thought it is time to just finish this ordeal with some solid answers.
Gladly they had appointments the next day, so I drove there with Leo in tow, cause it is hard not to take him with me for longer than an hour. I changed into that funny open front gown and had an ultrasound done with Leo howling from his car seat, he was so not pleased, but if you don’t have anyone to leave your kids with, you tend to just be okay with screaming babies at your doctor exams. The technician came back after having consulted a doctor and to my dismay, she said they cannot tell much about it, I needed a mammogram … Radiation, big machines, more radiation so no baby with me in the room this time. I had to call Cass to come with Simon in town and get Leo from me, I was taken to the waiting room, trying to nurse Leo beforehand, cause mammogram, I mean, painful… and then it hit me.. what if I am sick, what happens to this little baby of mine, he is so reliant on me, what happens if I am unable to take care of him properly, what happens to Simon, I cannot be anything less because of them, for them I have to be all there, with all I have, all for them, it cannot affect them in any way, they cannot suffer because of it, because of me, I don’t want them to suffer with me, I dont want them to have a sick mother, a depressed fighting a battle of life and death mother… it scared me really, more than I could have imagined, cause I was scared not only for myself, but more so for my babies, for my husband… and then the scariest thoughts of all, imagining them without me…
Cass came and I quickly handed him Leo, he couldn’t come with me either, the door closed, I went into the dark room… everything was rather surreal, everyone was so nice and as if slightly surprised that I was there, and sort of pitiful, “oh she has such small babies, too bad if something…”. I don’t know how I felt, it was one of the more outer body experiences, but deep down I think I was calm. Until the nurse called me from the waiting room again, to come see the doctor. Everyone was done after the mammogram and the nurse usually informed that everything looked fine, but I was asked inside the room, well that just keeps going well I thought. The doctor was really nice and almost heartwarming-ly reassuring, before she said anything I thought she won’t say anything bad, it just couldn’t’ be…. Then she started talking and I couldn’t make of it much more than we see a large mass of tissue, we cannot tell for sure // although it does not look like cancer right now // doesn’t mean it isn’t // some early stages may display itself like this…..
I don’t want to make this too long because who cares what really happens minute by minute, I just wanted to show how easily it gets so very serious, all the sudden, like you think it is nothing and then all the sudden it gets soooo serious on you, like what is it life? Whoa?!
In short, I had to do a biopsy, which is a minor outpatient procedure. I also had three titanium markers shot up to mark the tumor’s growth for the future. So now I have some metal in me, which I think it pretty cool. The recovery wasn’t too bad and I could continue nursing Leo from that side. I had to wait in agony for the results, but they came in two days and the result was that the mass is benign and most likely I won’t even have to remove it. I have follow-up visits and mammograms scheduled, but the news was good! The news had me ecstatic… like I won the lottery… or something far more precious.
Often times, I think I have it rough, because the car breaks down, because our condo is worth less now than what we paid for it ten years earlier, because things don’t go as planned, like ever, because doctor bills, because, because…. But then I know it is all so petty, trivial when compared to real struggles. People get bombarded with opposite results to mine daily, their kids do, and their loved ones do. People lose the most precious things, hope, each other, daily, and I am unaffected by this vicious cycle, that evilest evil of the world. I am the lucky one, I am escaping its random, scary crap.
And then I wonder, why am I the lucky one, when will I run out of luck? Yes, I am that person who usually thinks upright things end, luck runs out, and good fortune is a fluke, probably a half glass empty, on most days.
But at times like this, I see it so clearly, only fear and facing something horrific opens your eyes so widely. Only when you are at risk of losing everything, you see how much you really have. Oh how much there is to be lost. And then when the fear is gone, when it passes and leaves me alone, I want this fear to be remembered, I want to hold onto it, just a little bit, just enough to remember that very clear picture of what I truly have. It is like a vaccine against ungrateful wants and needs and dread of the daily monotony. I never want to lose that position of gratitude that the fear brings, like catharsis, after the moments of horrific pain, yes pain, because I think fear is pain, it washes you off the fog that clouds your perspective, leaves purer, humbled, grateful.
Because I was faced with a much worse version of my reality, filled with uncertainty and insecurity, I want to appreciate my reality more, the way it deserves to be. Everything I have is enough, is plenty, and I am so so lucky to have it, to be around it, with it. I am basking in love every day, I don’t see it sometimes, I don’t appreciate it enough, but I know I am, and I want to remember how scary it is to think I may lose it.
Anja, (pronounced An-ya, spelled Ania, all equals to Anja) is a polish girl living in the windy city, otherwise known as Chicago.
She calls herself a notorious pessimist with hopes for turning around. Every day, she is passionately searching for optimism and finding it in little things, ya know, the cliche, those little things that make the world just a little bit happier and a little bit brighter.
She likes playing dress-up and lives to explore the world with her boys. She takes pictures and writes on her blog, ANJA•MARI. Follow Anja on Instagram.
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