Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pour Your Heart Out-The Pain that Brings Change

"My arm pit hurts."

Snort. "Really? That's...weird, honey."

I rotated my shoulder and gingerly pressed my fingers into the sore part of my under arm. Huh. Whatever, I thought. It's probably an ingrown hair from shaving. Gross, but no big deal.

A few days later, at my yearly gynocologist appointment...

"So, Emily, everything looks good and looks healthy. We'll have the results of your Pap in a few days. Do you have any questions or concerns?"

"Well, it's kind of weird, Dr. L, but my arm pit has been hurting a bit for the last few days."

"Hmm, well let me just check it out and do another quick breast exam."

Seconds passed as she gently but thoroughly examined me.

"Well, I don't feel any lumps or bumps. There are lymph nodes up there that can get swollen if you've been sick, and actually your mammary glands go up that far, so you may have some milk up there since you're still nursing the Munchkin. If it doesn't go away in a few days, give us a call and we'll check it again."

"Thanks, Dr., sounds good."

About a week later, however, the pain hadn't subsided. In fact, it was more noticeable. I tried checking the area myself. I couldn't feel any lumps or weird things, but then again, I didn't often feel up my arm pits so I wasn't sure what I was looking for.

The suspense, more than the pain, was killing me. I had all kinds of scenarios in my head for what could be causing the pain, but I realized that worrying did nothing. So, I called back Dr. L and made another appointment.

"Well, Emily, again, I don't feel anything. I'm sorry this is still bothering you. I'm going to make an appointment for you at the Breast Center so that they can check you out and so that we can be on the safe side."

I was stunned. The Breast Center? As in, a real mammogram? I'm 29 years old. The Breast Center is for people who are older, or who have--Cancer. Breast Center?! It's just my arm pit, I screamed internally. I don't need the Breast Center!

The Worry Dragon took over.

"Oh, okay. Um, how soon do you think they'll be able to see me?" I wanted this over with as soon as possible.

"Probably the next few days. They'll fax us the results and we'll call you as soon as we get them."

As I drove home, my whole world came crashing down on me. I.Am.Not.Even.Thirty. I have a seven month old little boy who needs me. This is just some pain. In my arm pit, for crying out loud! Sure it's near my breast, but I can't have Cancer. No, no, no. Who's going to take care of Munchkin if I have to go through treatments? The Wiz has to work to keep us afloat! My mom? Super Grammy she surely is, but she works full time too. Stories of family members going through chemo and radiation speed through my brain. There is no way I can handle this. The thought of not being able to pick my son up, feed him, play with him, change his diapers, read to him- I couldn't stand it.

Okay, breathe Emily, I told myself. Dr. L didn't seem too worried. She didn't feel any lumps. It is way up in my arm pit. I'm not even 30 years old. Just breathe.

Then the Worry Dragon started up again: This is how it starts though. A routine doctor's appointment, a seemingly innocuous pain. What if it's Lymphoma? I have lymph nodes up there. And Cancer knows no age limits. My friend's wife just finished treatment for breast cancer and she's not even 35.

It was right then, thinking about my sweet baby's drooly, gummy smile, big blue eyes and chubby cheeks that I made a vow to myself and to him.

That's it, no more, I thought. If I can get through this unscathed, if this pain turns out to be nothing, I'm changing my life. Mind over matter. The Munchkin, the Wiz, they need me. I have to take care of myself better than I have been. I vow to turn my eating habits around to give my body the proper fuel and nutrition it needs to operate at optimum level. I vow to suck it up and actually exercise to reduce my stress and keep my body healthy. I can't take care of anyone else if I don't take care of myself. "Please, please, please, Lord. I just want to be here for my son, to take care of him, to see him grow up. I will be a better steward of the gifts you've given me if you'll just make this pain be a non-issue," I prayed.

My appointment day found me seemingly controlled on the outside, with a pit of worry in my stomach. I pumped as much milk as I could like the nurse had advised me, and took my pump with me. I was dreading the thought of putting my lactating breasts into a mammogram machine, but I'd do what I had to do.

I was the youngest woman in the waiting room, probably by about 15-20 years. The looks of curiosity mixed with sympathy in the other women's eyes unnerved me. I wanted to scream, "I don't have Cancer! I'm fine! Really!" But instead, I kept my mouth shut and sat quietly waiting to be called.

As I sat there, I tried to steel myself for what this appointment could bring, but how do you prepare yourself for the worst? My mind kept going back to the Munchkin, the Wiz, and how much I wanted to be there for both of them. It occurred to me that the strength that it takes for women diagnosed with any kind of cancer is immeasurable, and I felt sure that I did not possess such strength. I started looking around at the women sitting in the waiting room. Some with bald heads, or a slight fuzzy covering of downy hair starting to grow in. I wondered if they worried,"What if it's back? What if it's not gone yet?" Others with no signs that Cancer had touched them yet, waiting for their routine yearly mammogram. I could imagine that tiny voice, that tiny fear in the back of their minds,"What if they find something?"

I said a silent prayer for all of us- all women- that we would have the strength to face whatever we were dealt today.

As I sat in the patient room, irritated by the rustle the paper gown made every time I fidgeted, the worry was replaced by guilt, thinking of all those moments I took for granted with the Munchkin and the Wiz. Every middle of the night nursing moment, I should have said a prayer of thanks. Every pair of The Wiz's shoes I tripped over in the bathroom should have made me shake my head and chuckle, instead of shake my head and stomp my foot in exasperation. Because every moment, every smile, every second of our lives is a gift. I should have said a prayer of thanks that I was alive, that I was blessed with a healthy baby, and with the ability to nurse him. I should have said a prayer of thanks that my husband was healthy, and loved him for his forgetfulness and quirks. Because that's the beauty and gift of life. Being present for these moments is priceless.

As the tech rotated the ultrasound over the tender spot in my under arm, I couldn't bring myself to look at the screen, or at the tech. I knew that with every squint of her eyes or pursing of her lips, I would jump out of my skin. Instead, I closed my eyes and waited.

"Lord, be gentle in Your mercy," I thought.

Silent moment after silent moment passed. She left and brought in another ultra sound tech. They murmured to each other, gently rotating the sonogram wand and pressing into the tender spot in my under arm. I tuned them out, concentrating on the rise and fall of my breath.

Finally, she spoke.

"Well, Emily, it seems that this is just a lymph node that's causing the pain, probably from the cold you've had. I don't see anything worth worrying about, so you're good to go."

"Wha? It's okay then?" I felt my hunched shoulders slowly start to relax and tears pin prick my eyes.

"Yes. If anything changes, like if you start feeling a lump there, or a little b.b. sized marble type feeling, give us a call back. But you go on home now and nurse that sweet baby."

I left the office speechless and grateful. On the way out, I repeated my silent prayer for the women still waiting, and went home to my sweet baby, determined to make good on the vow I had made.


  1. What a nerve-wracking time that must have been while you waited. So glad everything was fine and you learned from the experience.

  2. Oh wow, SO glad it all turned out okay. xoxo

  3. Isn't the worry dragon the worst? I'm so glad this turned out ok for you. I can imagine the anxiety.

  4. I'm so glad everything is OK! Whew, I was holding my breath almost the whole time.
    This was a beautifully written post.

  5. I'm glad it turned out so well, but what a harrowing experience to have to go through! Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. I just let out the biggest sigh of relief for you! I can't even imagine the worry you felt...wow...

  7. I was nervous reading through this! I'm a worrier myself...My heart is still pounding. Glad things are okay. Whew!