The thing that wakes me up at night is not the memory of the phone call from the lab telling me that I have breast cancer. I jolt awake, heart thrumming, hamster-wheel brain spinning as I listen to the steady whoosh of my husband breathing beside me and I think about how I almost didn’t go to the mammogram.
If my husband hadn’t gotten laid off and then hired at a new company, we wouldn’t have changed medical insurance. If we hadn’t changed medical insurance, I wouldn’t have gone to one of those annoyingly thorough “meet and greet” checkups with our new primary care provider. If the new primary care provider hadn’t been so painstaking in going over my medical history (benign cyst lumpectomy at 21, maternal grandmother who died of breast cancer) she wouldn’t have suggested a mammogram, since we were getting everything else checked out. I could have opted out. It wasn’t urgent.
The day of the appointment, I almost went home. I was half an hour late and they usually cancel you after 15 minutes. It was hot, I was tired and flustered, and this wasn’t even a necessary thing. It was a “why not.” But the man behind the desk held up a finger for me to wait. In heavily accented English, he said, “Hang on, I call. Okay. It’s okay. They see you right now.”
And so a few days later, I found myself spending hours in the tiny imaging clinic waiting room with a bunch of other women. We all knew the drill. Remove blouse and bra, wipe your pits down with the alcohol towelette to remove deodorant, put on the gown with the opening to the front. Step up the machine and get your boob squashed flat as a pancake while you hunch forward and hold your breath. Then wait for the doctor to tell you why they called you back.
We shared magazines and joked about the long wait. We accepted warm blankets to drape over the thin cotton gowns and crossed our arms to keep them from gaping open. We wondered if we could get the nurse to bring us more apple juice since most of us had been there since morning and it was going on 2 p.m. I remember the faces of those ladies because now I know that we are among the quarter of a million women in this country who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
I’m lucky to have been diagnosed early. I’m lucky to have access to good medical care. I’m lucky to have an astoundingly supportive tribe that is larger and more compassionate than I could possibly have imagined. Honestly, it makes me curl up into a fetal ball with anxiety, this outpouring of love and kindness, and it takes everything in me to open up and take it in. I am more freaked out by the generosity of you amazing people than I am by the cancer growing in my traitorous boob. But impostor syndrome is not fatal; I can deal with it.
When I think about how easily my cancer (that’s a weird thing to type: “my cancer”) could have been missed, I can’t sleep. Early detection and advances in research and technology are giving me a fighting chance. I want every woman to have that chance. This is why we are launching the Team Sweatpants & Coffee campaign. All proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which has a four star Charity Navigator rating and whose goal is the acceleration of a cure and improved treatment for breast cancer patients. One in eight women will face breast cancer in her lifetime. I’m only one of them. Please join us in this fight.