The Diagnosis

I could never have imagined that beautiful May afternoon would be the beginning.

“What’s this?” I think. I’m lying on my bed in my apartment, left arm above my head, a shot of anxiety-ridden adrenaline flowing through my veins. I feel a plain difference in my left breast compared to my right. There’s a ball-like formation that I can feel all the way around. It’s not attached to my chest, but is just floating there in the middle of my breast. I push all suggestions that it’s “a lump” out of my mind.

Three weeks later I think I have a yeast infection. I’ve never had one before, so I’m not sure. I make an appointment at the clinic in town. The doctor examines me. He tells me there’s no infection, but he feels the lump I was trying to ignore. “You need a mammogram – today.” He escorts me to radiology. After the mammogram, the radiologist looks at the films and talks in whispers to the doctor. I am informed that I need to see a surgeon – today. No one shows me the films. I wait in an exam room, shivering in the skimpy hospital gown. I feel out of control. I have been hustled from room to room with hardly any explanations. This whole afternoon is turning into one long nightmare. When I finally see the surgeon, he announces as he looks at my file, “I’m taking that lump out tomorrow morning.”

I walked into the clinic thinking I would walk out with a simple prescription. I walk out with a lumpectomy scheduled for 8:00 the next morning.

I’m angry, so angry, that I was never asked if I wanted to call someone, never given a chance to breathe, never given any choices. For the next couple of years, I swallow tears every time I drive past the clinic. It’s a small town and that street is hard to avoid.

I call my parents as soon as I get home, tears rolling down my face. They tell me; beg me; come home. They don’t wait for me; they come and get me instead.

My new surgeon gives me choices. My new surgeon gives me time to make some decisions. I decide to have a lumpectomy, and just get rid of the blasted lump. I’m only 27 years old. It couldn’t possibly be what I think it is, could it?

I’m lying on my back, left arm stretched straight out. The anesthesiologist makes sure my left breast is numb, while the surgeon picks out music. U2 OK? Sure. I’m reminded of watching St. Elsewhere, way back when. An older doctor would play classical music, while the young, hip doctor would listen to classic rock during surgery. Cool, I think, I’ve got a doctor that rocks. The nurse clips a sheet vertically between my head and my body. I can’t see much; the light blueness drapes down on my face and I feel claustrophobic. The nurse tries to hold the sheet away from my face when she’s not busy with other tasks. She constantly talks to me; reassures me. I feel tugging but no pain as the surgeon removes a growth that has formed where it shouldn’t have. The tugging seems to last an eternity. Finally it’s over. A call to the pathologist is made. I sense rather than see people conferring, hear something about clean margins. We’ll do a biopsy, but it looks like cancer.

Then the whole world shifted.

This was my response for this week’s prompt at The Red Dress Club to write a piece that begins with the line, “I could never have imagined” and ends with the line, “Then the whole world shifted.” There is a 600-word limit this week.

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24 Responses to The Diagnosis

  1. I would normally say I can't imagine what it must have been like, but you described this so well, I felt as though I was there. Great job.

  2. A powerful piece. I'm glad it came out well.The right doctor can get you through anything.I had a similar experience when I went to a dermatologist for one reason and she spotted a mole that had to come out TODAY. I had ten minutes between being told that and being cut open.BTW I surfed in from SITS.

  3. What a wonderful piece of memoir writing. I am so seriously sick of Doctor's without bedside manners and am so glad that you found one that treated you like a person and not a disease/condition.

  4. Thank you for sharing this most important time in your life. Your bravery is amazing. Your story will stay with me a while.

  5. What a scary situation to be in so young! It's amazing how some doctors are so cold… no one should have to face that alone. It's not that the situation isn't urgent, but why would they make you think that they had no choices? I'm glad you found a new doctor and so happy that you're here today to tell your story! You are so brave!

  6. I can picture you trying to hold in the tears as you drive by the clinic and wouldn't blame you if you still did that now.This story is so powerful.Thank you.

  7. How scary and you did such a great job conveying that feeling. The bedside manner of some doctors is really appalling. I can't imagine being alone and treated like that. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. I can't even imagine how terrifying this was for you. From lying on your bed, left arm over your head, and finding the lump to lying in the same position only three weeks later have a lumpectomy.Thank you for sharing your experience. It was so, so brave.

  9. Oh wow, i just got the chills reading that. Very well written. I cant imagine going through that! Kudos to your parents for getting you out of that unsupportive situation as fast as they could. I know my parent would do the same for me. Thank you for being so brave to talk about this!

  10. I can't even imagine – especially at 27! I just skipped from here to the rest of your posts regarding your breast cancer experiences and have to say that your courage and humor amaze me. This was a wonderful, brave piece. I read each word, hoping against hope that it wouldn't be cancerous only to glance to your labels bar and realize that it was.(Visiting from TRDC)

  11. You have lived through something every woman fears. I had a scare last year when something turned up in my annual mammogram. It turned out to be nothing, but that fear was very real. I'm sorry you had to experience this, but happy you are here to tell us about it today. And you told it beautifully!

  12. Ginny, Once again, I am amazed at how your story is similar to mine and those of so many women like us, but at the same time, it is also so uniquely yours. The way you tell it, is riveting. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Wait a moment! You were AWAKE when they took out your lump? I got completely knocked out when they took out my first tumor. I can't imagine being awake for the whole thing. Ugh!May God protect us from any more "lumps" and any health care professionals with bad bedside manners. (Luckily, I've had some really good doctors and nurses. Glad you found some, too.) 🙂

  14. Ginny your story always brings me goosebumps but this was told so beautifully they are even more intense. You are so brave and strong, as always, thank you for sharing it with us.

  15. What a brave contribution to the prompt pool. I'm amazed by your strength and baffled by the attitude of some health care professionals.I can't wait to read your memoir pieces for TRDC. You've got the knack for sure.

  16. I knew you had breast cancer and I still held my breath! It must have been so frightening! I take my mum to the dental surgeon and you had to face this whole thing by yourself (at first anyway). Wow!(PS: brilliantly written by the way. Blog to book is made for you!)

  17. here from the RedWritingHood. I held my breath through that, it was written with all the anxiety and helplessness I know that you were feeling. Anyone of us who has been scared about a diagnosis, (In my case infertility) has been where this post took us, the confusion, the denial…the place where our world changed , thanks for sharing.

  18. You wrote that so beautifully. You were way too young to have to deal with all of that, but I'm glad that you changed doctors and had some time to process everything first.

  19. Stunning prose and amazing piece of memoir. Thank you for sharing such a terrifying experience. Sorry you had to go through that. I'm so glad your parents came and got you. Those initial doctors should be ashamed of themselves! I can't imagine going through that at 37, let alone 27.

  20. Ginny, I'm nearly in tears. You wrote about it so beautifully. You captured the fear so well. The exact situations are different, but your words describe the emotions we deal with at that time. All of us.

  21. I had goosebumps from the beginning of this, you are so brave for having gone through this and so brave to share it here. I am so glad to know where this story is now. Glad you are here to share it.

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