After a delayed appointment, I finally made it in for my mammogram. Honestly, I have no idea when my last mammogram was, even given my BRCA status. I recall having one when I was first diagnosed — so, roughly October 2006, maybe? I’m pretty sure I might have had another one shortly after, but the truth is, I don’t remember.
But, now that I’m actually getting close to my surgery date, I’m remembering every single appointment. The appointments are my mile-markers, my countdown until the big day. I must admit, focusing on this 1/2 marathon — and all the markers that come with it — has been a great distraction. If you’re reading this and preparing for your own surgery, I definitely recommend picking up a hobby, preferably something by which you can measure progress, for distraction!
On Tuesday, I went on a run with my friends, Darcy and Christina. Christina has been my faithful running partner for months now — she was part of the original cold-weather-January-raining-and-running crew. There are some early pictures of us in this blog wearing wool hats, double pants, thick jackets, scarves and gloves. We would pass the time on our runs — all 1 1/2 miles of them — dreaming about the days when we would be running in sunlight and not by streetlight at 5:00pm, when we’d be stripped of 10 lbs of winter clothing, and when we’d be complaining about heat and not frostbite. Back then, we pushed through the agony of 30 seconds of running alternated with 60 seconds of walking. We feared the week when we had to do 90 seconds of running, and wondered how we were ever going to make it! Back then, we hid in the far parking lot at the end of campus, embarrassed when an occasional student drove by at the end of a long school day. We hid in the anonymity of the parking lot lights, and further covered the lower half of our faces in our scarves.
This past Tuesday, dressed in shorts sleeves, thin pants, and ponytails bobbing unrestrained by winter hats, we set out on a run. We pushed uphill, shuffled through the public streets, and talked loudly as we passed open windows of students sitting idly in lectures. Sixty seconds passed, ninety seconds passed, 5, 8, then 10 minutes passed. We were running. “Let’s just go a little bit further,” we said as we hit the 1 mile mark. “It’s time to run again,” we declared after walking a mere 60 seconds. Rather than take the short cut through the parking lot, we ran around towards a large hill so that we could get a tougher workout during our brief time before day care closed. As we approached the very same parking lot where our journey began back in January, we found ourselves surpassing markers; In January, a victory run was when we could go from one end of the parking lot to the next. Now, we were taking victory lap after victory lap. In January, when our cool-down consisted of walking from the far parking lot to our cars, we now were barreling back to the cars, unafraid of the attention from students and drivers on campus. In fact, we realized no one was paying attention to us — we no longer felt awkward.
In February, for Valentine’s Day, my husband bought me the Nike+ sensor to track my workouts. On the Tuesday run with Darcy and Christina, I beat my personal best record for the mile. So, I thought it worthwhile to see what my previous miles were. Back in February, I was consistently hitting a 17-minute mile (thanks to the beginning of a 2-month battle with phlegm and fevers!). Early March I saw a 15 minute mile. Then, a 13 minute mile. Then, a 12 minute mile. Now, I’m at an 11 minute mile. Back in January, a 1- mile workout was amazing. In February, a 2 mile workout was a milestone. Now, I’m not quite complete unless I finish at least a 3- mile run, and my real accomplishments are 4- and 5- mile runs. I’m actually looking forward to the day when I hit a 6 mile run!
I certainly felt anxious going into my mammogram today. I knew that the radiologist would be reading my tests immediately, and so I was going to leave the hospital knowing whether or not I had any tumors in my breasts. No pressure….
Thankfully, the news was good — no suspicious activity. Funny, “suspicious activity” is the term I use when I say to my kids, “Girls? What was that crashing sound I just heard?” and they reply, “Uh, nothing, Mom…!” To me, that’s suspicious activity. Breasts? Not suspicious. But, oh, well, I don’t care what terms you want to use for “good news”. I’ll take it!
Tests results cause anxiety, for sure. But, the anxiety leading up to this exam was the decision (or not-decision) to stop breastfeeding. Since I’ve postponed my surgery, I have continued to breastfeed at night. And, honestly, while it was a tad embarrassing, there was a small part of me that felt smug satisfaction when I looked down to see a tiny puddle of breast milk on the mammogram machine. “Oops, sorry,” I half apologized to the radiology technician. “I’m still sort of breastfeeding a little bit.” She smiled, “That’s okay. It’s good for you!”
The woman may never understand the power of her words at that moment. For, the last time I was in the Avon Breast Center, I had a horrible experience of being emotionally attacked by a technician. I was pregnant with Evan and had found a lump in my right breast. Because I was pregnant, I could not undergo a full mammogram and instead could only do an external ultrasound. Already emotional from hormones and the unknown lump, I was trying my best to prepare for the consequences of having cancer and being pregnant. I lay on the table, exposed, hungry, emotional, and alone. It was at that point that the technician decided to tell me that I should have my breasts removed as soon as I delivered my baby — to forget about breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding is overrated,” she said to me, not taking the time to realize that I was a card carrying La Leche League member. “Breastfed babies are no different than formula fed babies. They are just as intelligent, just as socially adapted, just as healthy. Just look at me! I’m not a breastfed baby.” Lady, your lack of tact, and the fact that I want to punch you in the face, does not make you the poster child for not-breastfeeding. She finished her exam, I got dressed, and I ran out of there — embarrassed, angry, terrified.
Today, walking into the Avon Breast Center a more confident, secure, and decisive woman was a marker for me. I’ve moved from being a victim of BRCA to being a warrior of BRCA. I am no longer waiting around for cancer to catch me. I. Am. Running. Running towards health. Running towards empowerment. Running towards a longer and more fuller life.
I’m looking forward to reflecting back on this very day — mid-April — and seeing how far I have come. Each new marker. Each new day. Each new milestone brings me one step closer — one victory lap closer — to a stronger me.
Peace, love and victory laps,