Today a routine mammogram took me back to Cancerland (aka Penn's Perelman Center which houses the Abramson Cancer Center). I decided I wasn't going to let any emotions build leading up this - no anxiety, worry, or fear. Just a middle age woman doing what middle age women do to test for breast cancer. I have no history of breast cancer in my family and score very low on the risk assessment that factors in age of menstruation, number of children and years breastfeeding. I told myself this was a routine medical screening and I was going to treat it as such. Go alone, take care of business and then go about my day. And most importantly I went there with confidence that this test would be normal - just like every other medical test I had every done before last September.
My resolve was tested the minute I pulled into the parking garage. I have previously joked with my oncologist when he points out my high blood pressure readings in his office, that it spikes as soon as I pull into Cancerland's garage. I felt my heart quicken as I pulled the ticket this morning but then repeated the mantra. This is routine. Everything will be normal. Proceed accordingly.
I made it through all the rituals of Cancerland that I know well - the check in, the friendly escort to the scan waiting area, the disrobing and wrapping a thin gown around my body, the freezing temperatures in the waiting area due to the massive machines that can image the inside of our bodies. I even got through talking with the technician about my lymphoma when she checked my health history without crying. My breast where smushed and imaged and I was free to go. Confident the results were normal, I decided not to stay and would just read my results in my on-line chart.
I patted myself on the back for getting through this visit without feeling anything other than slight annoyance for it taking longer than I expected. Then I walked out through the main waiting room and saw a woman sitting there in tears. A hospital employee was comforting her. She likely just received some scary news about her body or someone's she loves. This happens in Cancerland on a regular basis. I quicken my step as the edges of memories that I had been forcing aside crept in - the scans, the anxiety about them, the treatments that made me sick, and the endless parade of other sick patients you encounter in Cancerland. Pulling out of the dark garage into the day full of a bright blue sky, I sent a prayer to the crying woman for the strength to deal with whatever she has just learned. And I left Cancerland unscathed for now.