Under fluorescent lights, my doctor gently massages my breast tissue as I lie on a metal cot.
Two months ago, I started having pain in my breasts. I put it off, thinking it was due to holding plank postures in my new cardio-yoga routine. “But you need to get a mammogram,” my mother urged. “You should have had one when you turned forty.”
Her words echo in my ears. I remember Mom getting her mammograms, yet it seemed like a thing that older ladies did. Now here I am—I am one of those ladies.
When the day of the mammogram arrives, the technician is kind as the machine clamps down, my breast sandwiched in hard metal. I hold my breath, waiting for the pain to pass. It is all over in less than thirty minutes. Before I leave, the tech gently tells me, “You should get a call within 48 hours with your results.” Six hours later the doctor’s office number flashes on my phone. My whole body sinks into the chair; my heart pounds. One thought flashes before me: “I must have cancer.”
I call my doctor who tells me there is a mass in my right breast, and he wants me to come in for a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram to get a better look.
The next two days are fear-filled until, finally, my mom picks me up for the appointment. She has brought her big pink clipboard. She always carries it when she’s going to wait somewhere for a while. Mike, my husband, meets us at the doctor’s office, and we sit side-by-side in the waiting room.
“Kelly Winkler,” a voice calls from the doorway in the far corner. My stomach turns over as I stand. My mom escorts me into the women’s only waiting room. “Take off your shirt, put on a smock, and leave it open in the front,” the tech instructs. She has said this 100 times this week, but for me, it is the first time. Shortly after I change, the door opens and another tech says, “This way.” She leads us down another stark, white hallway to our third waiting room. It feels like a small, cozy living room, except for the bright plastic sign with pictures of breast cancer cells.
After the mammogram, I walk trepidatiously into the sonogram room. As I enter, the tech looks up, and in a flat, monotone voice, she says, “Get on the table.” Silently, I lie down. She asks me to pull back the robe on my right side, so I place my hand on the smock, pull it back, and expose my right breast. My naked breast lays there as she puts petroleum jelly on it. My breast feels chilled by the foreign touch. I stare at the ceiling, holding tears in my eyes, yet numb all over. She presses the instrument onto my breast while another woman instructs her in technical terms I don’t understand.
Feeling isolated by her apparent indifference, I want to scream, “Look at me. Can’t you see I am terrified?”
“Please say something to me—something kind,” I think. I look at her, and my eyes come across a badge clipped to her blue scrubs. It says, “My name is ______ and I will treat you like my child today.” She interrupts my internal anguish, “We will show these to the doctor.” Without another word, she turns and leaves.
Utterly alone, I clamber for comfort. My brain feels foggy as I try to sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” but I can’t remember the words. The Lord’s Prayer comes to me. I recite it, reaching for God, when suddenly the sound of laughter breaks the silence.
Two men arrive, looking happy and at ease, and they are accompanied by my tech. One of them speaks to me and says, “You’re fine. It is a fluid-filled cyst.”
The woman who performed the sonogram jumps in, “I brought the doctor back because I could see how scared you were.” Heartened by her care, I turn to the doctor, “This is terrifying.” With a broad smile, he replies, “I bet it is.” With that, I gladly walk out. I see my mom, and I open my arms wide; she embraces me as I proclaim, “I’m okay.”
I quickly find Mike and collapse in his arms. Relief washes over me as I tell him the news. His soft brown eyes fill with tears, and his body relaxes as his arms wrap me tightly. He whispers, “We’ve been spared.” I look up and smile as tears fall down my cheeks. The automatic sliding glass doors open, and holding my mother and my husband’s hands, I step outside. As the doors close behind me, I turn my back on my greatest fear: dying and leaving my children without me to mother them. Fear has given way to gratitude; I am going to pick up my kids from school, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Kelly Winkler is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Orlando, Florida, and specializes in working with women who have struggle with sex or have be sexually harmed. She is one of the co-founders of Shielding Innocence, a live and on-line workshop that empowers parents to prevent sexual abuse through education. Kelly is the mother to three amazing kids and is married to Mike Winkler.