By Cheryl Laughlin – 2020 had a certain symmetry built into it. By January 2, 2020, I was fleeing the soul-suck of a demeaning job for a soul-pump of a bright new job. The silent work coup percolating for a couple of years finally aligned with the stars that often glide over introverts like me.

And then… well, you know all about the then. A devastating pandemic dovetailed with protests for racial justice. I was taking it all in, bit by bit, and appreciating the equity discussions already an integral of my new job. I was amped to be a small part of an educational nonprofit equalizing college and career for high school students.  

But state budgets began to collapse and jobs like mine, tied to that budget, deflated too. And so starts the clock for people saying goodbye to the final 30 days of paid health insurance. I’ve done this hustle before as a freelancer and with the flux of marketing jobs. Time to rally all the medical appointments into one month.

But being 45+ adds an extra step… mammograms. Maybe I could go without. Kinda sorta really maybe… not.

Here’s why I’m so glad I forced myself to make that appointment.

30-Day Medical Shuffle
Being in a bit more rural of a city, I snagged a cancelled dental appointment the first week they re-opened. Wiggled in a brain MRI to check on my Rathke’s Cleft Cyst, an odd birth defect nestled against my pituitary. Scheduled a micro-surgery and all the labs for another odd autoimmune disorder that popped up thanks to all things leftover by Lyme. So check, check, and check.

Except that little nibble on my brain about those darn yearly mammograms. My job loss matches up with the exact month I should be taking care of this. And my grandma had breast cancer, which I’ve written about for WYSK in my other life with Bits Of Love.

But come on, do I really feel like having my breasts smooshed from all angles when I have a gazillion other more important things to do? But my OCD checklist tendencies won’t quit tingling. Fine. I’ll book the appointment.

Mask on, questions, forehead temperature at the door. Dot sticker on shirt. All clear. Straight back to the mammogram room. Remember to leave gown open in front. Squish, squish, squish. All done. Woohoo. Now back to my regularly scheduled find-work hustle.

“Can You Please Call Us Back
I’m sorry. What? Apparently I have a “hyperechoic shadow” on my left breast that wasn’t there in previous mammograms. Big word but supposedly not too serious. Apparently I have dense breast tissue. So I scheduled an ultrasound for the next day that should give some clarity.

I did appreciate the nice warm gel update with a modern ultrasound, but the images still aren’t showing an all-clear. But they have added “without vascularity” to the adjectives and I like that. So, we schedule a needle biopsy a couple days after.

How to prepare the morning of a needle biopsy? Well, if you are a little superstitious-y OCD, you grab your lucky word-nerd underwear with reindeer romping about quipping “oh deer” plus your new lucky, Irish green face mask. And you totally know how irrational you are being, but it’s the only real control you currently seem to have.

Beyond nervous the next day, so this is what I remember. Mask, questions, temperature, straight back to radiology again. Amazing nurses and techs. Markers on my left side breast. Numbness that isn’t too painful, but I find humorous to poke at and not feel hours later. After that, a bit of pressure but no actual pain. And can’t really tell you much about the needle other than the mini Dyson-vac sound. 

Needles are not my thing, so I just close my eyes and get my namaste on. Then blip – a small titanium chip pops in as a tracker, so they know where they’ve been. Finally, a quick mammogram to make sure the tracker is in place. Oops, fuzzy image so ice pack off and back across the way for another image. All done in an hour.

And somehow the titanium chip gives me some weird solace, like I have a super boob. I just need a small laugh as I head back in my car for the drive home.

Bargaining with Universe Begins
With the other micro-surgery on deck for tomorrow, my results came in yesterday: Papillary Lesion with Apocrine Metaplasia. The biopsy shows no cancer but they are recommending surgery since what they found can be mixed with other cells. They want to remove it so they can study all the cells to make sure no cancer is in the mix and hiding out. So I’ll head down that road next week.

Having survived Lyme, I’m quite familiar with bargaining with the Universe. And since the steri-strips on the side of my breast appear to be an asterisk, I’ve taken to bargaining with the Universe footnotes style:

*P.S. Universe, if you give me a pass on this seriousness, I will continue to pay awesomeness forward:
–  update resumes for friends (and friends of friends) for free…
–  bake gluten-free chocolate chip cookies for anyone needing a pick-me-up…
–  double up on extra please and thank you’s to everyone working so hard during this pandemic…
–  oh, found two nails in the road this morning and picked up to save someone’s tire.

*P.P.S. See Universe, I’m already on it.

But hey, I have a rational side of my brain (the MRI proves it!), so I know everything is really out of my control when it comes to medical. I eat ridiculously healthy because of my Lyme disease and exercise and sneak in some laughter with my boyfriend so we don’t go stir crazy. I guess that’s as much control to be had.

So I guess all this is all to offer a gentle reminder that when everything is safe for you and if you can swing it, please consider keeping mammograms in the rotation. They are a bit of an extra bother and sometimes they feel way too adult for how young you feel, but I’m glad I didn’t let this to-do item go unchecked.

About The Author

Cheryl Laughlin covers all things screenwriter for Script Magazine. And it’s possible twice now she has run through the house like Anne Hathaway accepting her Oscar – once after learning of her short script win at the Sacramento International Film Fest and again for Top 10% in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship. When she’s not screenwriting or editing screenplays, she tweets her support of all things indie film @cheryllaughlin. She also believes you can never say please and thank you enough for all the kindnesses to your creativity along the way.

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