My husband brought in the mail and there was a letter reminding me it was time for a mammogram. Routine. I’ve done it several times before. I made the appointment and didn’t give it another thought. At that time in my life, I was consumed with surviving Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). I had a long list of ailments but I knew my boobs were fine.
To prep for the exam, I rested and meditated for a few days. I wanted to be able to walk in and out, on my own. I also knew that I needed to stand for a few minutes to have the test done and standing for a few seconds at a time was difficult for me. I prayed for the office and the nurses to be clear of smells or chemicals that would trigger an anaphylactic reaction.
My mother-in-law took me to the appointment. It all seemed to go smooth and it wasn’t long before they called me back. When the nurse was going over the details, she asked if I was wearing deodorant. I chuckled and told her no. She looked at me oddly when I chuckled, then went on about her business. Truth is, I hadn’t been able to wear deodorant for several months...again with the whole anaphylactic MCAD craziness. I put the gown on and I thanked God that it didn’t smell. I stood there feeling so small. MCAD had broken me, I really had nothing else to give. I could feel the anxiety that filled that dressing room from the many women there before me and I tried to not let it get to me.
In a flash it was over and I returned to my mother-in-law in the waiting room. The next day I got the call. The nurse explained that there was an abnormality compared to the results from last year and I needed to come back for more tests. I scheduled the next appointment and let my husband know. We both agreed it wasn’t anything but I needed to get it checked out. We could explain it away, MCAD creates insane inflammation in the body and I had lost almost 50 pounds in about 9 months. AND the first place I shed weight is my boobs – I know, lucky me. Of course my boobs looked a lot different from the previous year. My whole body was different.
I assumed we would do a 3d mammogram and it would be over. Nope. After the mammogram, they sent me on for an ultrasound. I didn’t think much about it until I was belly up on the table and they were about to put that gel stuff on me. Oh crap! Gel sometimes contains animal by-product and I was allergic to most gels. So, I brought this to their attention and they started researching and calling the manufacturer to find out the ingredients. They couldn’t get a clear enough answer so they opted to use a different product. Whew! That was close.
The doctor came in and said they see an abnormality and discussed my options. I couldn’t do the next step because it required contrast dye. Contrast dye + MCAD = severe allergic reaction. With that option off the table, the next step was biopsy. My heart sank. The doctor said she’s 90% sure it’s nothing but we need to make sure. She also told me “I’m sure with everything else going on in your health you’re thinking, great now a cancer...” I interrupted her and explained that I knew I didn’t have cancer and she had no idea what I was thinking. She smiled and told me she thought the results were due to extreme inflammation and weight loss. I agreed and we made the appointment for the biopsy.
I really had no intention of going through with the biopsy. I just wanted out of that office as quickly as possible and I told myself I would cancel it when it was closer to time. The risk of a life threatening allergic reaction was greater than the risk of cancer at this point. I was very concerned with what they would use for numbing, how my body would react to being punctured, exposure to smells, the adhesive (I had already experienced pain and breathing issues due to a band aid), plus the stress of it all. I didn’t know if I had the physical strength to endure the procedure. Yes, it’s a simple procedure but I was weak and using all my strength on things like eating and breathing. I really didn’t know how my body would react.
A few days before the biopsy Josh and I had a long talk and I decided to do the biopsy. So I began to prepare. More rest and meditation. My meditation time included (and still does) a whole lotta prayer. I prayed for protection, for people there to understand the uniqueness and severity of MCAD and for good results. I also prayed for good to come from this experience. That’s an important addition to my prayer life as a result of my illness.
Josh went with me that morning and I was thankful to have him there. We were talking about normal stuff and making plans while waiting for me to be called back. My mother-in-law surprised us and showed up too. I was thankful she was there to keep him company.
Behind the doors, the process became real. The prep nurse started asking me questions and taking my vitals. Everything looked good. She asked about allergies and I laughed. I explained I had MCAD. Waiting for the usual look of disbelief and bewilderment, she surprised me. She paused and made eye contact with me. She asked me how I was dealing with the illness and took a genuine interest. She explained that she had moved here from another state and at her previous job a co-worker was diagnosed with MCAD. She explained that it was hard for him and he was struggling to survive. I could relate. We continued our conversation as another nurse walked in. All of a sudden, I could taste the smell of her laundry soap. I grabbed my mask and asked her to step away. She left but not before my temperature increased and my blood pressure dropped. A measure that could be seen and compared to a few minutes earlier. The prep nurse acknowledged this change. I say that because it’s HUGE. Many months, many people and many weird occurrences in my body and she was one of the few that understood how important it was for me to be acknowledged. I was so thankful!
At that point the prep nurse told me that I should consider them not putting in the marker when they do the biopsy. I didn’t even know they did that. She left and asked the doctor to come talk to me. The doctor brought an example of the marker and explained that she recommended I have it placed to mark the spot where they take the tissue. She told me all the reasons why I should have it and wasn’t open to the reasons why I shouldn’t. She told me facts, numbers and even a little shaming was thrown in for good measure. At least that’s the way I took it. The “everyone else is doing it” attitude never worked on me and it wasn’t going to start. So, I declined the marker. That’s right, I made a choice.
After the doctor left, the prep nurse smiled at me and helped me continue to prepare. She reviewed my file and explained that the staff at the clinic had been working with my allergist to make sure they made the best selection for numbing and other products that would be used. She also told me that she would be with me the whole time. That meant the world to me.
Sitting there, in that prep room, with all these people in and out seemingly on auto pilot I saw God. He showed up in that prep nurse. She was the answer to a prayer. She saw me, heard me and supported me. I relaxed, thanked God, thanked that nurse and trusted.
The procedure went well. No reactions. They bandaged me up and since I “refused the marker” (their words not mine) they did another mammogram to get the after picture. By that time I was more than ready to go but they had to re-bandage and give me an icepack. The icepack was this cute little disk and they gave it to me as I was walking out. As I got to the waiting room, I started having a reaction. I could taste the plastic from that icepack and knew immediately that I was reacting to it. I removed it, downed some meds and went on my way. I was ready to get home!!!
The next day I got a call. No cancer! I celebrated in my heart and spirit because my body was too exhausted. I thanked God for all the good news, answer to prayers and lessons learned.
It’s been a year since the biopsy and things sure have changed. The world looks very different now but one thing remains the same, God is still here. In the ugly parts of life and the beautiful ones too, He is here doing good work and I make a choice every day to see that.