Like the Two Week Wait, but Bad

** I apologize in advance for this being one of the most long-winded stories to date**

When Mike and I were trying to conceive, I found the two-week wait- the time between when you ovulated and when you wait for your menstrual cycle to be an excruciating time. You analyze every out-of-the-ordinary feeling. We are very fortunate that it did not take us long to conceive, and my heart breaks for anyone who has to go through this process for an extended time. Recent experiences brought forth those memories.

I recently decided to follow up with genetic testing offered through my doctor and called the local Breast Health Center at the hospital. If I am honest, I had been keeping up with mammograms but have been sitting on this referral for two years. It was only my cousin’s diagnosis that made me take the time to call. The specialist explained that I am eligible for MRI screening, which I agreed to do, even though they often lead to suspicious findings.

I was able to schedule the MRI and a dentist appointment to get fitted for a crown on the same day and took the day off from work. I wasn’t nervous going into the appointment, and I felt like a champ for going face-first into the MRI machine and remaining there for the duration of the test. I left feeling fine and a little bad-ass.

That night, I registered for my first ultra-marathon, committing myself to get back into running and excited joining a friend on her goal to run fifty kilometers during the year she turns fifty. The following day, I went to school to prepare for my classroom to return to in-person learning. After a year of distance learning, I was excited to see my kids and wanted to be as ready as possible. That night, I joined our neighbors for pizza and a fire. We played kickball with the kids, kids versus adults. As they’re getting older, we actually have to try to win these days. I managed to run past Liam and get home, jumping on the plate. I felt something snap but didn’t think much of it. I’m in my mid-forties; things are always popping and snapping. The next morning, I could not put any weight on my foot. Once I realized something was wrong, I made an appointment at the local urgent care, where I realized I had no range of motion in my foot. An X-Ray confirmed I had chipped the heel and needed to follow up with my orthopedic Monday. Ortho confirmed the urgent care findings and told me no driving and minimum walking for two weeks. The best news was that it would heal without surgery.

The following Friday, while working from home, I received a letter informing me that my MRI findings required further viewings.  I’d been through this before and honestly didn’t worry at all. I’d make an appointment for additional views and be on my way. Me, the one who always worries, was not worried. During my prep, I left a message with the breast health center and went back to teaching. During lunch, the doctor called me back, letting me know that the MRI had found a lump, and she wanted me to schedule a biopsy. “Do not worry about this right now,” she assured me. “I just want to make sure everything is okay.” When I asked if the results could have been affected by my first Covid vaccine, which I had received four days prior, she assured me that only the second vaccine was affecting results and they were affecting readings in the lymph nodes, mine of which were clear- more good news for me.  

See what happened?! As an extreme worrier, the one time I didn’t worry about something, it was something I needed to worry about.  This is part of my worrying ritual- convincing myself that things will be okay simply because I put in the effort to worry. (Am I the only person who does this?)

Since I could not drive, Mike took me to my hair appointment. While my roots were cooking, I went to work searching through Dr. Google

First searches: 

“MRI false positive”

“MRI lump”

“MRI biopsy”

I wrote down some notes and, for what might be the first time in history, Dr. Google actually made me feel better.  According to my searches, while MRIs provide a false positive 10% of the time, my lump, if malignant, was small enough that it would be easily treated. An appointment a few days later with my OB confirmed that even my worst-case scenario was not a worst-case scenario. 

I dedicated a little bit of time each day, learning that I did not know a lot about breast cancer and hoping that I wouldn’t have to. I did learn that my lump was very small, too small to feel. I looked at the beads on the bracelet I wear daily. A quick search of the Tiffany website revealed them to be 10mm beads- a little less than half the size of my lump.

A Google search suggested I add “forum” after the searched terms, which lead me to lots of people sharing their own experiences and asking for advice. This catapulted my Googling to an entirely new level.

Through all of this worry, I kept waiting for a sign from my mom. Whenever there is trauma happening in my life, I usually get some sort of sign from my mom that things will be okay. My next-door neighbors, who are family to us, sent Liam home with a bag of my mom’s favorite Brach’s jellybeans. There was my sign!

Keeping my mind busy has been excruciating.  Worrying about everything what the “what ifs” to how much it will hurt laying face-down in the MRI tube while nursing a fractured foot.  

Mike and my sister both offered to drive me to the biopsy. Since they cannot come and would have to wait in the parking lot, I’ve declined the offer. I planned to ask where the lump is, partially because it never crossed my mind to ask but also so I know exactly where and how deep the biopsy will dig.  

When the date came, I tried my best to hold it together. I went through motions similar to my first MRI. Because I’d been told that the test would take between forty-five minutes and an hour and a half, I didn’t drink any water due to fear of needing to pee during the test. Because I didn’t drink water, it took four attempts to get the IV. The nurses felt terrible and offered me a pillow so that laying face down while sporting a fractured heel would be less excruciating. I accepted headphones, partly to drown the noise but mostly so I could count songs that passed and have some sense of time.  

After five songs, the nurses stopped the machine and let me out of the tube. 

“You’re all set. The lump didn’t show enhancement this time, which happens occasionally but not very often.”

I worried for two weeks that I might have breast cancer. While I tried my hardest not to go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs” and remind myself that my worst-case scenario offered a 99% ten-year survival rate, it was still an emotional stretch of time. 

As I wandered through life with this constantly on my mind, I was reminded that other people are going through similar situations. It was one more reminder of the importance of sympathy and kindness. 

We are all, to some extent, always in constant battle. We are all facing obstacles and worries. These concerns are not always front and center for everyone to see.

Admission: Sometimes Anxiety Wins

When teaching The Catcher in the Rye, I ask my students to write an essay about explaining that Holden was either psychologically damaged or just a kid going through a tough time. While debating the character, a student, one who suffered from bouts of mania, said one of the most profound observations:

  “Everyone is psychologically damaged. What makes some people seem insane is their inability to hide it.”  

I’ve carried his words with me for over a decade, reminding myself to “hide my insanity” when it might be showing. 

I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember creating escape plans to get out of my classroom if various catastrophes arose.  It has taken me over forty years, but I have learned to live with and manage my anxiety. I do not talk about it; talking about it makes it available to creep into my head. I greatly admire people who are open with their struggles, but my journey just isn’t something I am comfortable sharing with the world.  

The silver lining to managing my own anxiety is that I am equipped to help Liam manage his anxiety. He’s learned breathing and grounding techniques and I encourage him to talk about things that worry him. We create plans to help him cope and discuss strategies to keep his anxiety from taking over his mind. 

For the past few weeks, my anxiety has been creeping back onto the scene. We’ve had a bunch of small, first-world type issues come up that have required hours of attention at a time. It started around Christmas, when my car broke down, forcing me to purchase a new one on Christmas Eve. This spiraled into me not being at all ready for the holiday, a holiday I wanted to be as great as possible since it was most likely the last Christmas that Liam will believe.   

Those few days reminded me of my need to be a “precrastinator,” or someone who gets things done early. Interestingly, Liam follows this trait, getting his homework done immediately after school. I have suggested that he spend time at afterschool care playing with his friends. He explains that his brain won’t let him do that; he cannot relax and play until he knows his homework is completed. Since his mom has lesson plans done at least six weeks ahead of time, I totally understand where that comes from. If skipping an after school round of four square is what he needs, then I support that. 

I’ve been focusing on helping Liam learn to live in his head. 

I try to pretend that my head is perfectly fine. I try to pretend I have it all together. My need to keep everything organized and orderly may seem like my perfectionism at play, but it is something my mind needs to stay calm.

Yesterday, after a few weeks of first-world problems eating a lot of my energy, I felt a panic attack coming on. It has been years since one managed to surface. I was supposed to stay after school for curriculum building, but I canceled, explaining that I needed to leave for my own well-being.  (I am beyond blessed to work with people who understand this is important.) 

 

Here’s what I did to get myself back on track:

  Picked Liam up earlier than usual from afterschool care

  Played with he and Banjo until Banjo was too tired to chase the ball

  Made dinner with Liam- and let him make garlic bread

  Went for a run while listening to Mumford and Sons

  Put together my new lid organizer, which will help me avoid frustration every time I go into that cabinet

Checked to see how many animal crackers Banjo could catch in a row

  Watched the latest Young Sheldon with Liam

  After he went to bed, Banjo and I watched This is Us

  Tried to put my thoughts into words

I’ve worked so hard to manage it, but my anxiety is not something I should feel I have to hide. As someone who tries to look like I have everything together, this is sometimes hard to accept. The truth is, my need to have everything organized and prepared is a small part of my plan to keep my mind at bay.  Running and staying active is another piece of the puzzle. The best I can do is try to better myself, allow myself to struggle and do things that scare me, continue the quirky habits that keep my mind calm, and try to make others feel loved and supported. 

Keise Laymon said it best in his memoir Heavy:

“Some broken folk do whatever they can to break other folk. If we’re gon be broken, I wonder if we can be those other kind of broken folk from now on. I think it’s possible to be broken and ask for help without breaking other people.”