June 5, 2003
Today was the big day. The day when joy and relief swept through me and I
finally, finally let loose of that nagging voice in my head that said
Harvey could still be something very bad. The doctor’s nurse called to
inform me that the doctor had reviewed my mammogram and ultrasound results
and there is no mass, no malignancy. Nothing, nada, zip. I am a happy
little camper with aging breasts inclined towards fibrous cysts. I can
I sat on the info for a few hours, words spinning in my mind, knowing that
I’d be writing this final segment of Harvey and pondering how to end what
feels like an important drama in my life. What did I learn? Do I have any
final profound messages to impart?
I learned a heck of a lot about breast cancer – symptoms, stages and
treatments. I learned that I prefer an ultrasound to a mammogram. And I
learned how kind and responsive other people are to a scary situation such
as finding a lump and dealing with it.
Though not profound, I have to say I feel wonderfully better on this side
of the problem than I did on Mother’s Day when I first discovered Harvey.
So I want impart the standard message – if you find a lump get it checked.
There are resources out there for woman whether they arrive as the ability
to pay (my husband earned extra money last month which we didn’t plan on
giving to Harvey but such is life) or facilities and programs set up in
your area, or you are covered by insurance. Don’t blow off a distinctive
change in your body, get it checked!
I received the following helpful information from a woman who does cancer
research that I would like to pass along.
Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER
(They answer questions and provide helpful information in your area)
This is the end of my Harvey saga. While tense and not a particularly fun
event in my life, I have been truly blessed by the supportive e-mails,
prayers, positive thoughts and good wishes. Thanks to all of you for
walking this walk with me.
I leave you with some of my favorite verses:
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my
lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the
Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34: 1-4
Come onto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in
heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and
my burden is light.
June 3, 2003
Finally! Time to visit the doctor and hopefully, lay Harvey peacefully to
rest. Feeling more excited than nervous I dressed early and worked on
unimportant stuff until I could leave. About 10 minutes before my
departure, nerves set in. Where’d they come from? I was calm and
collected. I thought I was calm and collected until my stomach began
acting funny, until I turned down the wrong road on the way to the
doctor’s office. I live in a small town so I felt spectacularly dumb over
that move. Then, as I turned around in a parking lot the song “Lean On Me”
played on the radio. Music affects me and I am a head bopping, smiling,
singing at the top of my lungs kinda girl who doesn’t really care if the
folks in the car next to me are laughing or not. And you know, some songs
should be played LOUDLY!
Sometimes in our lives,
We all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise,
we know that there's always tomorrow.
Lean on me,
when you're not strong and I'll be your friend.
I'll help you carry on,
for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.
I know, it’s hokey, but that’s me. Messages hit me through music and
suddenly I remembered that Jesus would be walking into the doctor’s office
with me. Only please God, this is a well woman check up so could you close
your eyes during the Pap smear? I made it to the medical complex without
further problems only five minutes late. Now that’s really me as my on
time friends who I drive crazy will attest.
Sigh, more and more and more paperwork. The receptionist slapped what
seemed like 50 sheets on a clipboard barking out instructions about which
forms to read, which to sign, and which to read and sign. They asked many
intrusive questions some of which I declined to answer such as what
prompted you to make this appointment today (it’s a wellness appointment –
duh), do you have symptoms that you feel uncomfortable discussing (no, I
have symptoms that are none of anyone who will read this chart’s
business), are you willing to speak with a mental health professional at
the doctor’s recommendation (are you?). These questions showed up after I
signed a form stating that if the doctor detected a medical problem the
appointment would then be billed as such instead of a wellness exam.
Sometimes I have a difficult time walking complacently along to somebody
else’s drummer, but I made a valiant effort and turned in the ream of
No television or marketing videos played in the waiting area, not even
canned, annoying elevator music and I noted that people spoke very quietly
or not at all. It was weird and I told the frowny nurse so when they
called me back to weigh me, make me put on the ridiculous paper gown, and
wait in the exam room. I think paper footie slippers should be added to
the paper ensemble. There’s just something pathetic and helpless about
bare feet swinging aimlessly as a body sits on the end of the exam table
waiting for the doctor to arrive. I’d like to say that a warm glow
illuminated the room and an inspiring message filled my mind, but no, it
was just me swinging my feet, waiting…
It took a few minutes before I thought to do what I’ve learned often helps
when I am feeling a little freaky on the inside. I began making a list of
what I appreciate right that moment.
- Thanks that I am going through this scary event with God in my life.
- Thanks for the incredible e-mails from people all over the country full
of kindness and support that I’ve received through writing about Harvey.
- Thanks for the learning experience (I now know a heck of a lot more
about breast cancer than I did a few weeks ago) and the strength I feel
inside myself. Left to my own devices I’d be playing hermit at home and
pretending Harvey didn’t exist.
Eventually, the doctor came into the room. And let me tell you this woman
had it goin’ on. She was young, petite, thin, gorgeous, and a doctor. I
wanted to ask if men fell at her feet in awe but it didn’t seem
appropriate while she was doing a 10 second pap smear and asking personal
questions. Questions I felt obligated to answer but didn’t appreciate as I
shared intimate details of my life with a stranger.
Pausing to laugh at myself…I guess I am sharing some intimate details in
this diary. The word breast has become a common part of my vocabulary.
However, none of you ask me personal questions regarding my body,
childbirth, and monthly issues for which I am thankful.
The funniest part of the exam was the doctor’s use of the word “we”. “Do
we regularly perform self exams on our breasts?” And her funniest
question, “Are we sexually active?” “Umm, I am, I can’t speak for you,” I
thought but only said “yes” out loud.
Next on her agenda was a breast exam and we finally discussed Harvey. She
felt, felt again, said I needed a mammogram and then nodded
understandingly when I told her I’d had that done and was hoping she’d
already received the results of both the mammogram and the ultrasound.
Guess what? No to both! And then the most reassuring words came out of her
mouth. She said she’s fairly positive that I have cystic fibrous changes
in my breasts due to the beginning stages of menopause. The cysts can
form, change in size and occasionally become uncomfortable. If a cyst
grows to knuckle or large marble size and remains hard for several weeks I
should make an appointment to have it biopsied. About that time the nurse
returned with a faxed copy of my mammogram results, which said
“inconclusive, patient needs an ultrasound”. The ultrasound results were
not available but should be faxed tomorrow! Yay! Hopefully I can say a
conclusive good-bye to my worry then.
I left the doctor’s office feeling light as a feather. Perimenopausal
cystic fibrous changes, which means I am healthy, but OLD! I’ll take old
over cancer any day thank you very much!
My wish for tomorrow is to hear from the doctor the results of the
ultrasound to make her diagnosis official. At which point I will update
Harvey one last time and ask everyone who has read and walked with me to
go do something fun to celebrate life and good health.
And have I said thank you for the prayers, support and good cheer? While
scary, this event has also showed me how kind and generous people can be
to someone they know only through a website. I am truly blessed.
June 2, 2003
This morning promised to be a regular
day with regular activities. My list, full of important Mom stuff, was
comprised of tasks such as signing my daughter up for swim lessons,
vacuuming, taxicabbing my teenager, laundry, etc. Yep, one of those hot
summer days that whisk by and you know you’ve been busy all day but can’t
really say with what. That all changed the instant I answered the
telephone this morning and it was the radiology facility saying the
radiologist had requested that I make an appointment today for an
ultrasound. While pregnant I’d had ultrasounds so the procedure didn’t
scare me, but the fact that they wanted me in today
was…unsettling. Of course, I made the appointment, and then I proceeded
to fritter the time away unproductively until I could leave for the
I called my friend who always makes me
laugh and she told me not to worry because her sister has been through
this very situation more than once. She also suggested that Harvey was
somehow connected to my healthy eating habits, probably all those carrots
I ingest. “You’re right,” I replied seriously, “the fiber must have
landed in my chest instead of other places.”
A rare event for me, I arrived early
for my appointment. Good thing I brought a book because after completing
another round of the same paperwork I’d filled out at the mammogram I had
to wait 40 minutes before my name was called. A nice lady led me back to
the ultrasound room (bed, computer, big keyboard and screen), handed me
one of those ugly hospital gowns that are about 100 sizes too big, and
requested that I undress my top half and don the gown.
I laid on the bed/table in the dark
room, the lady squeezed warm blue gel on my first breast and then
proceeded to rub the little camera over my breast and Harvey appeared on
the screen. He wasn’t exciting in the least but definitely real. A few
moments later, she squeezed warm gel on my left breast and rubbed the
camera on the other side. Every few seconds she’d click on the keyboard
saving the picture of what looked like a lot of nothing to me on the
little screen. Baby ultrasounds are much more exciting.
I kept asking questions and she happily
explained what she was doing and looking at but informed me that she’s not
allowed to analyze, only to take pictures. The radiologist will view the
pictures, draw his conclusions and fax them to the doctor. Patients just
show up for procedures and aren’t privy to information regarding the
results. Please roll your eyes with me now.
Overall, the ultrasound was a relaxing
experience, almost a spa type experience, except for the pristine doctor’s
office setting. Muted light, warm gel, the little scanner about three
inches wide gently rubbing over a body part. Play some ocean waves or
light piano and it’s right next to a massage. It occurred to me that the
groups promoting woman’s health are marketing the wrong procedure. Why
promote mammograms when ultrasounds are a much nicer experience? And if a
woman has a problem, odds are she’ll be sent for an ultrasound after
enduring a mammogram. I say let’s just skip the mammogram and move
straight to ultrasounds. The pictures are clearer, the experience more
My husband laughed at me when I called
him and said he didn’t think I should have to pay that much money for a 15
minute massage. I’d like to think that the ordeal will be over tomorrow
when I visit the doctor and finally hear the results but I know there are
many treatment options for Harvey. I’ll accept what I hear, trust God
that the treatment options and funds will be in place, and move
May 29, 2003
was spectacular only in its non-eventfulness. I arrived at the X-ray
facility to be greeted at the door with a sign that said, “NO FIREARMS
ALLOWED ON PREMISES” in letters about 3 times larger than signs that state
important rules like “no shirt, no shoes, no service” or “no pets
allowed”. So, I asked at the front desk if they had a problem with people
visiting the facility with firearms? Both ladies stopped working and
looked at me with startled expressions like maybe I was toting a gun in my
little purse. Hey, they were the ones with the big letters on the door so
I felt perfectly entitled to inquire why they were there. The lady
assisting me offered a wary little smile and said, no, as far as she knew
no one had ever brought in a gun.
wonder what motivates people? Who thought the thought one day that for
safety reasons they better place three-inch letters on the door banning
firearms? I’d’ve thought they would be more concerned with problems like
patients bringing Taco Bell into the lobby, eating lunch and leaving a
(yay! there’s a 20% discount for cash) and not signing many forms (she
kept looking at insurance papers and muttering, “don’t have to sign that”)
I took my seat in the lobby. There was a very thin lady sitting across
from me and I so wanted to ask if she was there for a mammogram because I
couldn’t see that she had anything for the vice grips to clamp on to but I
didn’t think it would be appropriate. Occasionally, tact overrides my
curiosity. I waited in the lobby for about two minutes before my daughter
had to use the facilities because she’s at that age where every bathroom
in every building has to be examined. By the time we’d properly inspected
the ladies room it was time for Harvey and I to get our pictures taken
which I appreciated because while I wasn’t nervous at the actual
procedure, I was more than ready to get through it.
daughter waited in the little waiting area outside the x-ray room, a nice
lady, very pregnant with twin boys, snapped two pictures of each breast.
Then she retired to the magic developing room for a few moments.
Returning, she informed me that she had to take more pictures of both
breasts because she saw “density” in my left breast. Pfft! No way am I
worrying about the left side. The lump in the right side is about
all I can deal with. So she clamped to the left and clamped to the
right. She maneuvered my poor little breasts up, down and sideways and I
began to think it was a good thing I paid first or they might have to
charge me for all this extra film. But then it was over and really, the
most painful part was peeling the purple pastie tapes off my nipples.
In less than
45 minutes my daughter and I were out the door. I called my husband to
let him know I’d made it through and then began to dial my friend whom I’d
promised to call when I was finished. My daughter sighed and said, “Mom,
are you going to talk about (she made a motion to her front) anymore?” I
said, “You mean my breasts?” She made the motion again, “Yeah, those.” I
tried not to laugh as I told her I wouldn’t talk about them anymore
today. Since she is almost 9, I had thought coming with me would be a
good way to matter-of-factly introduce the concept of taking care of one’s
body without any deep discussions about lumps and what they could mean.
The doctor’s appointment will be way too graphic for both of us so I
thought I was being responsible and setting a good example. Apparently
not, and now I am wondering if, in my attempt to teach my daughter in a
nonthreatening way about a woman’s health, I have instead traumatized her
with too much breast talk. Sometimes ya can’t win for losin’.
May 27, 2003
Harvey and I
arose this morning knowing that today was a day of action. Denial must be
set aside and movement must be made towards defining what Harvey actually
is. Right. After I go for my walk. After I clean the kitchen. After I
pull the sheets from the beds to wash. After, after, after, I was the
queen of afters until about 10 a.m. when I couldn’t convince myself any
longer that the doctor’s offices might not be open.
checked a few breast cancer sites online hoping to find a referral
service. No go, but I did see some graphic pictures of swollen,
discolored breasts with inverted nipples that totally freaked me out and
convinced me to stop procrastinating or I might end up the same way. Not
a pretty sight!
I opened the
telephone book to the yellow pages and made a few frustrating calls to
haughty receptionists who acted like I was a lower form of life as soon as
I mentioned that I do not carry health insurance. Silly me, I thought
currently having no health insurance was an unfortunate circumstance, not
a societal positioning failure. Go to the back of the line, Kathy.
called the local hospital doctor referral service. They were happy to
offer me a few doctors’ names and office numbers, but, “Oh, I don’t know
if they’ll see you without insurance.” By now I was debating the merits
of lying and saying I am homeless so I can go to the emergency room and
demand treatment. Apparently, penniless indigents without a hope of
paying can receive treatment, but hard working regular folks who fall
between the mighty insurance cracks are low man on the totem pole.
was called for. I called the clinic where I’d received a mammogram about
five years previously (yes, when I had insurance) to make an appointment.
Mammograms cost $110.00 by the way, if you don’t have breast implants.
Now I was getting somewhere. No problem making an appointment until I
mentioned Harvey. At which point I was informed that I couldn’t make an
appointment unless I had a doctor’s referral. If it was a regular yearly
mammogram, I could make the appointment, but if I had a problem, I
couldn’t voluntarily submit my breasts to the vice grips of bodily
torment. Not a dummy, I immediately changed my tune and said I’d like to
make a regular mammogram appointment. The girl (I say girl ‘cause she
sounded a heck of a lot younger than me) put me on terminal hold. You
know the hold you’re on when the person on the other end really doesn’t
want to deal with you and is waiting for you to give up in frustration so
the little light on her phone will quit blinking. By now, things were
becoming funny. It was either funny or scream and since I couldn’t solve
my problem by screaming I chose funny.
This is how I
know of God’s existence. After many, many, many minutes (I watched most
of Port Charles) another woman picked up the line and inquired whom was I
waiting for? I told her I was waiting to make an appointment and she said
she’d be happy to help me. Very cool of her don’t you think? Anyway, she
asked me the standard questions like name, rank and serial number and the
size of my first born child and then asked who was my doctor? I explained
for the 856th time that I currently have no OB/GYN. She nicely
informed me that she would keep all my information until I could work out
that little problem because the computer demanded that she input a
doctor’s name to make an appointment. The reason being that they are not
allowed to release mammogram information to the patient, only to a
physician. Hello? IT’S MY BODY. MY BREASTS. MY BUCKS. She laughed
when I said that and I immediately liked her so I asked if she could
recommend an OB/GYN office, which she did.
I called the
doctor’s office and explained that I needed to make a wellness
appointment. Further, I am having a mammogram and I wanted the results
faxed to their office. No problem, the lady said immediately becoming my
new friend. After discussing the twisty paths a body must endure to
navigate the world of healthcare the lady making the appointment said she
planned to run for president some day and asked if I would be her health
care advocate. I told her yes, I would happily jump on her platform if I
could campaign for sensible rules for mammograms. By now, we both were
laughing like close friends and I have an appointment for June 3rd.
Cool deal, so I
called Laura, the mammogram whiz, back and gave her the name of my new
physician. She hmmed and looked and finally said she could get me in on
June 17th. Ahem, June 17th wasn’t workin’ for me,
obviously. I said I really, really need to get in right away. She
asked why which completely stopped me because I am not a good liar but I
didn’t want to mention Harvey. I said, “You know that rule that says you
can’t make an appointment without a physician’s referral if there is a
problem? Well I am not saying I have a problem, just that I need a
regular mammogram right away.” I love smart people. She said,
“Gotcha. Hold on a few minutes.” That wonderful woman picked up the
phone a few minutes later and said she could fit me in at 4 P.M. tomorrow,
So that’s where
Harvey and I stand tonight. One second I am laughing over the 2-1/2 hour
learning experience I went through this morning and the next second I feel
the panic monster trying to claw his way free through my gut. You know
how it feels when your face stays impassive but your insides are
hyperventilating? That’s me. I cooked dinner, joked and laughed with the
kids in my house, answered e-mails, and all the while I am wondering if I
am one of the 2 out of 10 who finds a lump and it’s cancerous. I have to
keep reminding myself that I only have to walk the path. God’s going to
take care of Harvey. I just wish He’d clue me in on how He plans to do
May 25, 2003
I am an ordinary woman with an ordinary
life. By ordinary, I mean average height, weight, three children, loving
husband, middle income home and lifestyle. Ordinary. However, I have
been blessed with an enormous basket of blessings. Straight up I should
tell you that I am a committed Christian so if you’re going to read this,
know that I discuss life with God quite a bit and I plan in my later years
to be one of those old ladies having tea with Jesus who says exactly as
she pleases. Since I plan to be uniquely crazy later in life, I tend to
see blessings where others are rolling their eyes. Sometimes this annoys
the eye rollers immensely but I can’t help that.
Anyway, I am ordinary - externally and
in lifestyle. The only bit of extraordinary I’ve ever detected is this
prompting to write which is one of those blessings that I carry in my
basket. So here goes. Hopefully, this will become an ongoing saga that
ends in a happily ever after. God works in mysterious ways His wonders to
perform. But this walk is a bit scary, so I am hoping some of you will
stroll along with me.
On Mother’s Day, May 11, 2003, I was
preparing to get up in the morning and I ran my hands down the front of me
and stretched. Only the lump I felt in my right breast distracted me.
About the size of a marble, hard but movable, it was a new part of my body
that hadn’t been detectable a few days earlier. I checked my right
breast, comparing several times, and memorizing the feel and size of the
lump. Since I expected my period any day, I decided that it must just be
an anomaly in my body, which tends to go a little haywire a week or so
before my actual period begins. That’s what I decided and the wave of
fear that had washed through me abated. So I was cool as I waited for my
period which wouldn’t you know it, started a few days late. Menopause
sucks by the way. My dependable body that has behaved in certain ways
since early teenage years suddenly has begun pitching curve balls with no
warnings, including wacky hormonal rampages that cause my mood to swing up
and down like a pendulum. Sucks, but that’s a different story.
For a week or so, worry kept growing in
me and I’d find myself driving along and touching the lump to see if it
was still there. Don’t even get me started on the funniness of rolling
that lump around in my right breast driving down the road (in my car, NOT
my bus) not even thinking about what another driver would think if they
saw. I kept waiting for it to disappear. Go away. No dice. It was time
to discuss the lump with God. My prayers always begin with “Not my will
but Yours” which some times I mean more than at other times. Being an
independent soul, generally I want God to just agree that what I want, my
will, is the best way to go. I told God that I was not having a good time
down here with this lump and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. After
some whining and discussion I asked him to make it disappear and if it
didn’t vanish, then to show me what the heck I am supposed to do because
our family is one of the millions without health insurance. In any case,
I was giving the lump to Him because I certainly didn’t have any means to
get rid of it and it was sucking the joy right out of my days. God
reached down and touched the lump. No, I don’t mean it disappeared, I
mean he sent one of His unmistakable messages that resonate from the
inside out. As stubborn as I am, sometimes God has to whack me over the
head with direct messages to get my full attention. In this case, I felt
and heard as clearly as if a person beside me touched my breast and
spoke. He would deal with the lump. It’s my job to walk the path.
As you can probably surmise since I’m
writing this, the lump didn’t shrink and disappear. It has grown to the
size of a big marble and seems to be harder. If I lift my arms and
look down, I can see the lump pushing up under my skin.
So it’s been two weeks and I finally
discussed it with my husband this weekend who freaked and ordered me to
make an appointment to have this thing in my body checked out. On
Mother’s Day I had shown him thelump and told him what I thought about my
period and being a man, he’d accepted my casual explanation and not
worried. Now he’s worried which I hate, but I had to discuss the
situation with him because I couldn’t just run out and spend barrelfuls of
money, which we don’t have, on doctors.
Since this is Memorial Day Weekend, I
have to wait until Tuesday to begin investigating options. I see a
mammogram in my near future. And I decided today to name the lump
Harvey. Harvey sounds friendlier than endless references to “The Lump”.
So from now on, when I say Harvey, you’ll know to what I am referring.
I have some ideas to pursue and
telephone calls to make. I’ll let you know soon how Harvey and I are