Mammograms Feel Very Different to A Cancer Caregiver

In the wake of a cancer journey as a caregiver, mammogram appointments have a new meaning, and new emotions, associated with them than before.

Sometimes the universe can be a funny place. I had my annual physical in late September and as usual my doctor sent me for a screening mammogram. I called the scheduling department and the first available appointment they had was October 8th.

When I got up in the morning of my appointment and opened up my computer, I got a friendly reminder from Facebook asking me if I wanted to share a picture memory with comments from October 8th, 2019.

“I have two things to celebrate today. My big brother has successfully navigated another year of life and my girl finished her last bag of chemotherapy,” was the caption. With my daughter’s chemo bag posted to the site.

When I booked the mammogram, my mind did not allow any part of me to connect it to the emotions associated with that particular date.It was like I was a robot clone of myself writing down the time and location and listening to the scheduler explain the added things I needed to know because of COVID-19 protocols in place at the imaging center.

I sent a message to my husband letting him know I’d need the car, I set an alarm on my phone (as I’ve written here before if I don’t do that, I forget very important things) and I went on with my day. The protective mechanisms that had not allowed me to connect the dates before kicked into overdrive when I saw the memory and I transitioned into one of those time-out-of-time moments where you’re there, but you’re really not.

One of the pieces of information I received was that during the time I was away the imaging center had changed locations. I was following GPS directions and as I was driving down the street, I noticed a new building that houses a cancer center affiliated with a major hospital in a large city near to where I live.I felt those little shock sensations… the cold rush, the ringing in my ears, the narrowed vision… start to come upon me as I realized that the imaging center was now in that building. I parked and walked like a zombie towards the entrance and as I walked through the doors—I saw them.

The waiting ones.

Some of them looking at the phones, some of them heads bent over staring at the ground, none of them making eye contact with anyone else as they sat there while their loved ones were inside receiving what they hoped was life-saving treatment for cancer.

I don’t really remember walking up the stairs or much about the appointment. What I do remember is leaving and wanting so much to walk up to each and every one of them and tell them I understood what it was like to walk in their shoes, that they were not invisible. I wanted to sit with them and run my hands across their backs as they shared their fears with me. I wanted them to feel heard. But I couldn’t because I was using everything, I had to hold back the tears long enough for me to get out of the building. All of the protection my brain had created to wall me off from the memory melted away and I sobbed all the way back to the car, and for a long time after I got behind the wheel. And when I couldn’t stop, I called the only person I could who I knew would get it.

I called my daughter.

We have a deal with each other when something like this happens. We will call each other no matter the time of day, and so once again we were a Circle of Two which is the safest place we have when we are hit with tsunamis of emotion. She had noticed the date and had made the connection but hadn’t said anything to me. Both of us had retreated into our corners at what October 8th means now and she figured if I didn’t want to bring it up, she wouldn’t either. Thankfully, because she had processed the feelings associated with the coincidence already, she had enough emotional room to help me work through mine.

That’s the thing about the degree of intimacy we created when she was going through treatment.When the core of trauma gets exposed like it did for me on that day, I have no one else who truly understands.The balance of phone calls is about 100 to 1 in my favor but once in a while I’m the one who needs saving and I’m so very grateful that she’s still around to pick up the phone. My heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky.

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