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 deal.

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.

Matt 11:28-30

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 forms.

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 appointment.   

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 pleasant.  

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 forward.     



May 29, 2003 

The mammogram 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.   

Don’t you 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 mess.   

After paying (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. 

While my 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. 

First, I 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. 

Next, I 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.   

Another angle 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, Wednesday.   

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 it!

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 proceeding.

Kathy's Other Work on Eye on Soaps

On the Soap Box

Get On the Bus