Mammograms and the Fear of No Future

Mammograms and the Fear of No Future

"If the hardest thing I have to do today is remember not to put on deodorant, this will be a good day."

That was my thought as I got into the shower this morning, the morning of my annual mammogram. I then promptly doused my hair with shower soap instead of shampoo and wondered why my shampoo felt so thick and tacky.

"Oh." I realized my mistake. Clearly, I wasn't in my usual frame of mind.

I vigorously rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. (Shower soap is tenacious.) Then I shampooed with real shampoo and conditioned twice for good measure. I methodically shaved my armpits and lathered them again, knowing I couldn't don deodorant for hours.

I hate mammograms. Every time I "pass" one, I feel I've been granted another year to live. I go into the screening tense and sober; I leave relieved. At least, I always have.

Except once.

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Image: Jojo Nicdao via Flickr

Actually, several years ago I left the radiology lab feeling fine; it was the series of panicked phone calls from my doctor and then the lab about an abnormality that made me feel less relieved. "Probably a mole," they said. But they couldn't get me back for a retake until two weeks later.

It happened in October, and when I got the mail the day of the phone calls, the Health magazine inside was all about breast cancer awareness. I turned on the TV and for the first time noticed NFL football players wearing pink accessories. Was it a sign? As it turned out, the magazine's theme and pink cleats were directed at Breast Cancer Awareness month, not me specifically. The campaigns were successful; I was aware. My "abnormality" was a mole; now I am careful to point to every blemish for marking before I undergo the photo ordeal. My appointment reminder reads "MAM SCREEN AND WAIT," because I now always wait to make sure the shots are clear. And nearly every visit I am called back for better pictures. Yea, me.

I don't do self breast examinations -- because I developed a large tumor in my breast when my son was still breast-feeding, and if I didn't detect that one, I don't stand a chance at finding something pea-sized or smaller. I don't remember being afraid of no future at that point of my life; my life as a young mother with five children was a bit exhausting; I was probably too tired to become anxious. As it turned out, there was no need; the tumor was benign.

Just last week I had my annual exam, in which the doctor asked me if I regularly examine my breasts. I answered truthfully, and then he simply skipped the exam, too. I was too stunned and shy to ask why. It might have been an oversight, but I wondered if he figured I didn't care enough to do it, so why should he? Only because I knew the mammogram was scheduled for less than a week later did I attempt to refrain from worrying about it.

*******

Two hours later, another mammography is over and done. Except that I don't yet know the results.
The technician -- kind and gentle -- let me know immediately that the process had changed. In addition to 2D photos of my breasts, she would simultaneously shoot 3D photos, which would allow the doctor to filter through the pictures layer by layer for a much more thorough view.

It also meant the "MAM SCREEN AND WAIT" line on my appointment letter meant nothing.

But better photos seemed a good trade off, and I submitted to the pressure (plastic plates turned every which way) and allowed her to take the shots. Afterward, she showed me one of the views, the 2D vs. the 3D, and it was informative and pretty cool.

Now I wait at home for the results. Wearing my deodorant.

But the reality, I know, is that I should have no fear of the future -- even if it happens to be very short. I am not guaranteed today, let alone tomorrow. I could choke on my dinner, run into another car, collapse with a sudden brain aneurysm, get shot by an angry student, even die from using shower soap instead of shampoo on my hair. (OK, slight stretch there.) God knows me well; He already knows how my story ends.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16b).

I have this moment, perhaps this hour. Let me live it well, dear Lord, I pray. That is enough. Help me trust you, future or no future. No fear. Future or not.

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