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No one expects their first mammogram to be a fantastic experience, then again, no one expects to have their first mammogram at the age of 33 either. There I was, at the women's center of Tri-City Memorial, in Oceanside. I was alone.
My health theme it seems: "Alone again, naturally."
How did I find myself here? And how did I prepare myself for, what I will admit was truly, one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Quite a bit got me here, and a lot of emotional baggage went into why I was paralyzed with fear, and alone.
Pirates Love Jules: She Has A Sunken Chest
I never developed the breasts that most of my friends did. That crack about the pirates was actually something my girlfriend Vicki used to say all the time. I was tall and skinny, and while everyone, I mean ALL of the women in my family had a rack on them, I was given the short end of the stick.
By graduation in 1987, at 125 lbs, I was barely filling in an A cup.
The Last Place You Gain It, The First Place You Lose It
If you ever considered the crazy notion of putting on weight just to increase your bust size, believe me that this rule of the cup is pretty consistent.
You will earn yourself bigger breasts with pregnancy, but I don't use that term "earn" lightly. And I, the chairwoman of the tiny-titty committee, did have to give up her seat on the board for awhile because not only did I get pregnant, but I managed to gain 175 lbs in my pregnancy. 600 lbs of that was baby. 900 lbs of that was in my bra. If you try to do the math on that, all of your counting fingers and toes will fall off and your brain will melt.
Gastric Bypass: No It Don't Come Easy
Some people called it taking the easy way out. After 13 years of diet and exercise, my body just couldn't handle the yo-yo thing anymore. I guess it's fair to say that roux en y gastric bypass is easy. To begin with, what's the risk of knocking out a 315 pound woman with sleep apnea and cutting her open from breastbone to belly button? And wow, there is a simple way to live, I don't miss 90% of my stomach, 2 feet of my small intestine, or use of my duodenum. The non choice eating changes I have made to avoid dumping syndrome are a breeze. Of course they are "choices" that last forever, and if I cheat on this diet, I don't feel guilty, just violently ill.
And I lost my boobies.
Did you think I forgot about the boobies? And the mammogram? I was just waiting for it to come back around on the guitar.
I was at my annual appointment with the stirrups. No saddle in this place, but as a cancer survivor, I was treated to a special electroplated speculum that was kept in a heating pad. DE-LUXE, am I right? After all the hide and seek parts of the appointment, and assurances that I "probably" get to keep what is left of my poor, gridiron'd scarred cervix, the doctor swoops up for the breast exam.
Whenever I am getting any sort of breast exam, I think of my first mother-in-law. Her death from metastasized breast cancer was one of the saddest, ugliest, most painful things I have ever witnessed. What's worse, I helped with her care. Later, my Gram fought and kicked breast cancer in the ass. Still, it was ugly.
So, boobie baggage, and no valet to help with this stuff.
Mrs. Duryeè, the younger... And former Me: You have a lump.
WHAT? WHAT! WHOAAAAAAAA.........this is not cool.
And that is how I found myself, and my tiny titties, at the woman's breast center. ALONE.
I had only told a couple of people about this. I told my mom, who lives 700 miles away. I told the two men I was dating. (no, neither thought we were exclusive, they even knew each other, I married one and we all are still friends to this day, and worked in the same office).
I arrived at the appointment with enough time to fill out any forms necessary. I had prepared for the test by following the instructions that were given to me over the phone. These basically consisted of telling me the kind of clothing to wear, as well as what not to wear in the way of perfumes, deodorant, lotions etc.
I approached the front desk, and the receptionist asked my name. I opened my mouth to speak and all that came out was a cracked squeak, and a giant sob. It was then that I realized I was trembling. My knees became weak, and my body was overcome with seizing hysteria.
I could die.
I have a child just finishing elementary school, I am a single mom, I could die.
It's a miserable death, breast cancer.
This is floating it's way across my field of vision. My sobs increasing, and tears pouring down my face.
I realize now, that I have been escorted into a private waiting room. Ooo they are good at this. I am sitting in a very comfortable chair, and a woman is sitting next to me that doesn't look "hospital".
How can I be so afraid? Where did this come from? I didn't even realize this was welling up in me. Yes, I knew I was nervous, and that a lot was riding on this, but I totally lost it! I was inconsolable.
I think the purpose of the private room was two-fold. Not only were they giving me a place to privately freak-the-hell out, but they were protecting other patients from my meltdown. I am pretty sure that emotional breakdowns in the face of justifiable fear have a line of sight and sound transmission.
I wondered if there was a secret tunnel to escort me to the smooshing machine, one that would allow me to avoid the other women waiting for their mammograms. I think I must have looked a fright.
No such luck. Instead, the plan was to wait until I was chill, and take me back in a wheelchair. I thought this was a silly idea, I didn't need a wheelchair! Look, I'll show you!
That chair was springy when I landed back in it.
The wheelchair ride was fast. I think that was the plan.
I was shaking, and the nurse helped me undress, and put the purple topgown on. Then she walked me past the women waiting in the second waiting room, and right into an exam room.
She explained to me that, based on the orders from the doctor, that there was a small lump in my right breast. She explained all of the possible things that the lump at this size could be. I whimpered.
This is not the Chronically Awesome Jules you are looking for.
Come on, I've had cancer already! This CANNOT be happening again.
Of course this Julianna has no idea what is working its way to the surface in her. Another story.
Now the person with me, who as it turns out is a nurse practitioner, tells me she is going to manually examine my breasts. She needs to find the lump again so that the technician can get a good look at it with the equipment.
Between the tears, the shaking, and the flop sweat, you would think they would just throw me out.
"Hummm" she said.
"Um, that doesn't sound good!" I said rather sharply.
"Oh, no, no! I just can't find the lump!" she said shaking her head and pressing a bit harder.
"Well that can't be right... Right?" I'm hopeful.
"Let's get some equipment on you and see what is going on." She smiles, that antiseptic, reassuring smile, and gives my thigh a gentle squeeze.
Time For A Squish
I am just not a fan of the mammogram. Who is? I have never had a brutally painful exam, and that first one was probably my easiest.
After the films were reviewed, the suspicion of the NP was confirmed: no lump.
Lumpy, you've got some splainin' to do
Don't get me wrong, totally relieved!!! But where is the lump? Can lumps just go away? Apparently, they can.
Thus the long path to arriving at our destination.
The scariest moment of my life was caused by a transient fat blob due to my rapid weight loss. Now, this happens all the time. I have constant irregular mammograms for varying reasons.
Once I had a fatty deposit deep in my breast against my rib age, the re-exam on that was intense.
And then there is the galactorrhea
. Be very very jealous of that annoying condition no one can fix. (sarcastic eye roll)
It's actually interesting that what was once the scariest things ever, because of my Chronically Awesome outlook, is now something I would have taken with much more grace, and bravery. Now that I am Chronically Awesome, I would probably have tweeted through the whole thing, taken photos, gone home and written blog, and never have shed a tear.
Because, now that I am done writing, I realize that a much scarier day was when my cell phone rang as our ship was leaving the Port of Seattle. It was our family doctor calling to tell me that my daughter had gone in for an X-Ray with my parents while I was away, he collar bone was swelled like a grapefruit. He thought it was Ewing's Carcinoma. That's scary shit, for another post.