The Dreaded Mammogram Callback
I’m not a woman, nor do I play one on TV. I am clearly and loudly stating that I am by no means trying to say I can relate or understanding the health issues females’ face in their everyday lives. As a man, we worry about few health issues and aside from prostate problems we usually ignore most of them. But, I digress. Women are amazing and fabulous creatures with complexities that are unmeasurable and spectacular at the same time. They speak a secret language and have the ability to move mountains with but a single glance. They also have an inner core that is as fragile as china and when exposed to the world, that core reveals a torrent of well…everything. I am just a simple man, one who has faith that things will always work out for the best, one who still believes in the old-fashioned ways, and one who loves my wife with all the passion the universe can offer. Just because I don’t understand the reasons why, doesn’t mean I can’t see the results; physically, mentally, and emotionally that a woman can face when she gets that dreaded call or letter; we need you to come back in for a repeat mammogram. So many words can be used to describe the initial reaction, but none really do the moment justice other than “freaking out.” I know this firsthand as my wife received one of those letters this past Saturday.
The Dreaded Letter
I’m paraphrasing, but basically the dreaded letter said, “Please contact us as soon as possible, we’ve encountered some anomalies in your recent mammogram that we need to do additional imaging of…and of course it will cost you more money.” Also included was a phone number and other information related to the imaging center, which went unnoticed. Watching the fear build in my wife’s eyes as she read the letter was painful and as her eyes seems to swell uncontrollably, I expected tears to fall. The look of shock was without comparison and as she looked up at me with a weak voice she told me the news. We stared at one another in shock and disbelief as the impact of the words soaked in. With every synapse firing and every nerve on high alert, she stopped talking and began typing rapidly on her laptop keyboard. In a moment she fired off questions like random bullets as I too grabbed my iPad to help her search for her OBGYN’s office number. And so it went for an hour, we’d find a number, she’d call and get either an answering service or just an endless ringing, she called the imaging center, the hospital, and every other number in between, desperate for a human voice to answer and help her understand the language in the letter.
The Rush of Rememberance
But, it was Saturday and the odds were firmly stacked against her. “I’m freaking out,” was her verbalization between calls, nothing more. I imagined the roller coaster ride taking place in her mind and her body language telegraphed the tangle of emotions she was confronting. Her most dear and closest friend had passed several years ago just shy of her fiftieth birthday from breast cancer and not a day since had passed that my wife didn’t think about her. Her amazing best friend was one of the most vibrant and beautiful personalities I ever had the pleasure to know went from a wellspring of life to one of the walking dead in a single office visit. I watched the change in my wife as she did everything in her power to help her friend live every day to the fullest and our family put everything else on hold, making sure we took care of the house and the yard and the whatever while my wife spent sometimes up to a week at a time living with her. She watched her deteriorate slowly and despite the surgery and chemo and radiation, the battle eventually took its toll. She took her on an amazing journey to see the Garden of one Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, MT on what we’d later realize would be her last journey, her last weekend, and her last breath here on earth.
My wife came as close to having breast cancer as a woman can have without actually having it; she felt the pain and torment of a life being extinguished with no way to stop it. She cried oceans of tears at the mere thought of such a bright flame being snuffed. She struggled to make each second count, just as any woman or mother would do to those around her in their dying days. What she took away was raw and unforgiving; a mass of emotional scar tissue that only time could sooth. And so time passed, after the cremation and the final gathering of loved ones, the slow healing process began. Her memory never left, but some of the pain finally did, that is until the arrival of the dreaded letter.
The Longest Weekend of My Life
The longest weekend in the history of weekends was filled with my attempts to distract her from any thought of cancer or surgery or suffering or an early exit to her wonderful life. I tried and even succeeded for brief periods, but I could tell that the letter and what it could mean still hung like a dark cloud waiting to unleash its thunderous and violent storm at any moment. And as forever finally wound down and we dropped our tired heads onto our pillows, she reached over and took my hand firmly in hers, intertwining our fingers. In silence we both stared at the ceiling when she spoke aloud, “if I die, promise me you’ll take good care of the kids, keep them safe, and make sure they remember me…” As usual in my pre-programmed man response I said, “You’re not going to die, but if you do, I promise I’ll take good care of them.” She then went on to recommend that I remarry, but not to one of her friends, and how she wanted to be cremated and such. We spoke for a while before finding ourselves very close, just to feel the living body heat from one another and we stayed that way until drifting off to a dreamless sleep.
Worst Case Scenario
Monday came and I went off to work wondering what the day would bring. I slipped out of the house and drove in silence to work, trying to absorb the conversation from last night while doing everything in my power to remain positive. Honestly, I was concerned but kept up my strong showing to keep her spirits high over the last few days. I tried in vain but could not imagine just what she was thinking, although I knew it was dark and full of painful fear. When the phone rang, I jumped at my desk, quickly fumbling with the receiver and inquired how she was doing. “Not good,” were her first words and my heart sunk to the bottom of my chest. “The Radiologist wants me back as soon as possible,” she let those words linger for a moment. “Some unknown mass and calcification and something that changed,” she said next. Not one thing, but three possible problems with altogether different outcomes. And she went quiet and the tears started to fall. I was miles away, but I knew my wife and I knew she was not easily brought to an emotional mess unless it was serious. She was terrified and “freaking out.” We had an uncomfortable short conversation about it and hung up both intending to do some research, mine hopefully would be the kind that said everything would be alright and hers on preparing for the worst case scenario.
And We Wait.....
And so, now we wait. And we discuss. And we research. And we do it all again while the seconds tick by until the next appointment and subsequent follow up. My wife has questioned every moment of her existence; asking herself if she ate right, exercised enough, or to find any other clue on understanding why she felt this way. “I’m freaking out,” is more than just a phrase, its real life at this moment. She hasn’t slept well since the dreaded letter arrived. I watch her take vitamins and herbal supplements that are supposed to be anti-cancerous. We’ve done infra-red heat therapy, blue belt therapy, crystal therapy, and many other things over the past few days as if they could reverse what she can foresee coming. And there I sit, partially in amazement and partially in terror also wondering what the outcome will be. I’m pretty positive, so I tried to convince myself that it’s nothing, but I’m having difficulties. I’ll keep up the distractions as much as I can, but I’ll never be able to make the feeling go away. I debate on if I should even romance her above and beyond normal; might she see this as me “getting the last feel in before they are gone” moment? Am I? Do I dare think how I’ll feel once the “girls” are gone? What will it change? How will she feel about herself? How would I feel if a part of my body abandoned me? Do I know what it feels like to be a woman going through this? No, I don’t, but I do know what it feels to be a caring husband who is watching the love of my life, the source of my inspiration, the very essence that fuels my life, struggling with this feeling of helplessness.
Please feel free to comment and share - there is no agenda here, just my way of getting what I'm feeling out in the open as we wait.......
© 2016 Ralph Schwartz