The Pre-Thanksgiving Paradoxical Mammogram: Grateful for It All

A breast cancer survivor describes the mixed bag of emotions she has about getting a routine mammogram the day before Thanksgiving, and how she remains joyous and thankful yet cautious and fearful.

It was a few days before Thanksgiving in 2021. Everyone in my family was vaccinated, so we were going to meet at my brother’s house and have turkey and all the fixings. Our side of the family’s assignment was to make the green bean casserole, the sausage stuffing and a pie. My mother-in-law was supposed to send me her blueberry pie recipe. She had remarked that this was a “summer pie,” but I had retorted that it was absolutely the best pie in the whole world, and that I was going to prepare it whatever the season.

Also on my agenda was a mammogram. That was tomorrow. It had been ages since I’d had one. I’d been through a 10-year bout of cancer treatment for two breast cancers, and my oncologist had “fired” me in July, but before doing so, had told me not to forget yearly routine mammograms. I had no idea how they were going to squeeze my breast tissue in the machine to get adequate images of it; there just wasn’t that much skin to compress. I’d leave that to the technicians and maybe take a tranquilizer and some pain killer before I went in.

As I thought of Thanksgiving’s approach, I naturally thought of all that I was grateful for. I had just walked our dog, Chloe, in the cold, bright sunshine around the neighborhood. No one was outdoors. It was just me and Chloe. We walked to the mailbox, where I dropped in three letters. Of course, I was grateful for the good weather. It could have easily been sleeting and cloudy, but no, the sun was brilliant, and it kind of made me feel as though I was in a commercial for something—bedroom slippers, perhaps. I was wearing my slippers to walk the dog and a big leather coat that I’d found at the thrift store. I had a pink cancer hat on my head, but instead of being bald, I had a full head of hair. My friend Felicia had given me that hat 10 years ago, and I kept close track of it. That hat, unlike the others, never got lost.

I was grateful for Felicia’s hat.

And I was grateful for the modern mammogram machine.

But was this scan going to send me on 10 more years of cancer worry? Maybe I’d take another tranquilizer before the test.

I wasn’t abusing the drugs. My psychiatrist had prescribed them just for this purpose. Actually, he’d given them to me for when I had to embark into the MRI machine. Without the drugs, they had often pulled me out of the tiny imaging tube in a hysterical state. The drugs would work for the mammogram as well, I reasoned.

Machines, machines, machines. The ways they helped you, and the ways they hurt you…

But detection and treatment were more than machines.

I saw an old friend recently, and her boyfriend asked me if I would have chemo again if I got cancer a third time.

“I’d have it all,” I said. “Radiation, chemo, drugs, surgery.”

So now I sit, a day before a cancer scan and two days before Thanksgiving. I’m not sure which day to focus on the most. I guess all I can do is let each one come in its own time and be mindful of both of them. It’s ironic that they’re both so close together. The universe is telling me to be joyful and thankful, but also, be cautious. Isn’t that just the epitome of life?

Let them both come.

But before I embark on my mammogram tomorrow, I’m going to take another walk in the beautiful sunshine in my bedroom slippers, and I’m going to get that feeling as if I’m in a commercial, as if everything is staged just right, and I’m a spokesperson for something. Suburban bliss. That’s what I’m selling today.

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