Last week was rather weird and scary, but it did show me how much my mental health has improved.
Last November I talked to my doctor about wanting to be a bit more proactive about my health, now that I have my Type 2 diabetes under reasonable control. He recommended a few things, and as a result, a few weeks ago I had my first ever mammogram at the age of 65. Why had I never had one? In the past, I had rationalised my decision not to have mammograms because of various scientific and not-so-scientific reasons, but in reality I kind of liked the idea of being dead. Once I had children, I knew I could not commit suicide, because of the awful effects such a thing brings to children - I have known such people. But the thought of dying of a disease that would not cause anyone to blame me or themselves appealed.
However, over the last few years my mental health has improved to the point where I no longer wish to die unnecessarily early - I want to live! I wasn't really worried about breast cancer, as I have low risk factors for that particular cancer, but still, do as the doctor suggests, right?
On Monday last week I went out to Karapiro to catch up with my friend Raewyn, who was up with her daughter and the rest of the Nelson College team for the Maardi rowing regatta. Halfway through the afternoon I received a phone call from the breast clinic at the hospital, saying that something had showed up and I needed to make an appointment within the next two weeks for further mammograms and a possible biopsy. Raewyn and her nurse friend, Louise, reassured me that there was a very small chance that it was 'something', as had the nurse who called, but still......
I felt scared and angry. Scared because, as I said, these days I actually want to live, and I haven't had enough time of wanting to live yet. Angry because it seems like it should have happened before. Angry because I feel that I have worked so very hard over the last few years to restore my mental health, and then just over a year ago having to start working incredibly hard to bring diabetes under control. To have the possibility of breast cancer thrown at me now seemed so unfair, and I felt very angry.
But I hung on to the idea that it may be nothing nasty. I hung on to coping strategies I had learned in my search for mental health. Breathe..... focus on what is happening right now..... focus on exactly what I am feeling in my body...... be present in the present.....
I hadn't told anyone, other than Raewyn, who was right next to me when I got the call, but on Wednesday night I ended up telling Mac, when I realised I had to give an explanation for being increasingly irritable... well, okay, bitchy. He wanted to come with me, but I knew that, not only did he have things he needed to be doing at work, but also, that if I had a shoulder to lean on, I'd lean, and I'd end up losing it: I really wanted to hold myself together. On Thursday I talked with my counsellor, which was really grounding - he's great.
On Friday morning I arrived at the hospital and found a bunch of very caring, gentle people. The procedures are not gentle though. This second round of mammograms hurt as they tried to get clearer pictures. Then I waited. And waited. I was told I needed a needle biopsy: years earlier I'd had a needle biopsy on a lump in my neck, so hadn't been worried about this part until they told me it would involve five needles! And that if they didn't get what they needed, they would try a second round! They gave me preemptive paracetamol, and said I wouldn't be able to lift anything for 48 hours.
So back I went for more picture taking - not quite as painful, but more difficult as they told me not to move at all, as these pictures would be used to guide the needle placement. The doctor came in and the talking went on forever. My leg started to cramp, but I couldn't move it, and lost concentration so couldn't follow what they were saying.
And then..... no, the doctor didn't want to biopsy the area found by the first mammogram which was , apparently, obviously fine. Instead, she was looking at another area that had showed up on the second. However, the third round of mammograms showed the area just too small to biopsy, too small to even pick up on a standard mammogram. Probably just more of the calcification caused by normal aging, that I already have quite a bit of. I was dismissed to be recalled for another look in 6 - 12 months. Until then, I'm not thinking about it. I'm 99.99999% sure I'm okay.
I'm really amazed at how well I managed during that week, although I did stay up late every night until I was too tired to stay awake. It's confirmed for me that I am indeed healing from decades of depression and anxiety. I've learned I'm much tougher than I thought.
And then I spent Friday afternoon with Raewyn again. Watching her amazing daughter row. Drinking coffee. Buying boots........... Life is good.