Every year, when the weeks between Thanksgiving and the whole rest of December bear down on me like a speeding Polar Express, an item pops up on my calendar–a little reminder to be thankful and grateful for all the good things in my life, for the people who matter to me, and the places I love, and the little spots where I can make a difference now and then.
The official calendar notification to reset my thankful and grateful monitor is never on the exact same day; due to health insurance regulations, it’s usually day later than it was the year before. Because what tips me out of any holiday angst over gifts not sent or cookies not baked or family photos not captured when everyone was in one place, along with greeting cards not printed and breezy year in reviews not yet penned, never mind family members who need help that I can’t provide, or general depression about the state of a world where Isis exists and people actually listen to what Donald Trump has to say—well, forgive me, but the thing that kicks in a renewed sense of sanity, every year without fail, is my annual mammogram appointment.
I know, I know. It’s just a little bit nutty, that I consider this my signal for attitudinal adjustment. But there it is. It takes that Red-Letter Day in the early part of my December calendar to jolt me to a better place, a more Linus outlook on both the holiday season, and life in general. It makes me remember what matters.
Yesterday was my mammogram day. It’s the third since my game-changer checkup in 2012, when they invited me back for an ultrasound and shifted my to-do list around, to make room for surgery and chemo and radiation. I’m what they call a frequent flyer at the Hoffman Breast Center these days, which comes with certain perks, if you can call them that. When I check in, I like to peek at my paperwork, which is always awash in day-glo highlighted notations. I suspect there’s a standing order, somewhere in those pages, to make sure I stay put until a radiologist has seen my 3D images and written his or her report–no going home and waiting by the phone for me. I’m guessing that my films will always get reviewed by multiple sets of experienced eyes, if the first viewer were to find anything vaguely amiss. It comes with the territory.
When I’m called in to the changing room, I’m grateful that my annual checkup comes in a place with the nicest hospital johnnies I’ve ever encountered. They’re mammogram-specifically designed—just long enough to cover the top half, side ties, with a v-neck that renders them darn close to stylish, and, bless the person who thought this up: they have sleeves. Not long, but long enough that you don’t sit around feeling stupidly bare-armed in December. Confession: I stashed one in my bag a few years back, and I wear it sometimes when I get into bed with a book, and need just a little extra layer in my chilly wintertime bedroom.
The technicians are always cheerful, and never in need of my standard preamble about how, no matter what some people say, I’d rather get a mammogram than have my teeth cleaned any day. Which is the truth: twenty seconds of mildly discomforting smoosh is a lot less trouble in my book than having a hygienist scrape my teeth right at the gumline for minutes on end, sure to expose my sensitivity to sharp objects, if nothing else. Mammograms might signal scarier possible outcomes than receding gums, but as a check-up tool, they’re not so horrid. I always like being helpful, getting myself aligned for ease of smoosh, finding chatty subjects to keep me from remembering why I’m actually here. My visits are quick and efficient, and always end with a hang on while we get you your results, okay? Okay, of course. I appreciate getting the All Clear signal sooner rather than later.
While I’m waiting, I have a scheduled visit with Kelly, a gifted nurse practitioner who works with my surgeon. Three years out, I don’t feel like I need to see the surgeon who got my lumps out and left me with nearly invisible scars—her days are packed, and the people she’s seeing are in greater need of her time and attention than I am, since they’re at the front end of the lousy mammogram roller coaster. I’m at that part where the scary part is over, where you just putt-putt along, waiting for the seat restraints to be popped open so you can get on with your day at the park. I’m more than fine with having Kelly run through my current medical events (mostly orthopedic, which interests her athletic bent) and having her give me the once-over exam. Again, we chat about things that are tangential to why I’m there—what constitutes the various designations of breast density levels, and how noting specific dense areas with a hands-on exam can be helpful for reading the mammogram results. It’s like we’re talking about someone else, not me, on the exam table, with her fingers up in my armpit. Somehow, we make it generic, and reassuring.
Moments later, we get a knock on the door, and Kelly receives my report, which she shares with me. Normal. Negative. No Evidence of Cancer. A little Hallelujah, and I’m on my way.
And there it begins. The sunlight streaming through the windows seems brighter, the people I encounter on my way out are all friendlier, the stuff in the gift shop (always part of my Mammogram Reset Day, which also kicks off my Christmas shopping in earnest) is always cheerier. The day going on out there in the world is crisper, the bird songs are sweeter. I notice things like no one’s business, once I’ve got that Normal/Negative piece of paper in my bag.
Oh, there are things that still keep me awake at night, things I wish I could fix, or help fix, or make go away. Fortunately for me, the clarity that comes with a good news mammogram is enough to get me back on track, back to solid footing in a world that’s an amazing place, and where I’m lucky to be, soaking it all in.
Things I notice: this is the reflection of One Western Avenue, where we lived the summer before last while our house was under construction. I swear, I see things like this with far greater clarity, just after my mammogram appointment.
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Also, for those of you who live nearby: I’m not kidding about that gift shop. If you have even the vaguest excuse to be anywhere near the Mt. Auburn Hospital, check it out. Excellent funky travel-friendly (meaning, can be wadded into your carry-on) women’s fashions, fantastic kitchenware items and stocking stuffers, fun things for everyone on your list. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s definitely worth a visit.