What A Cancer Scare Taught Me

She wanted the lymph node out of her body, and it left her a much better person. 

by Stacey Parshall Jensen • More.com Member { View Profile }

Toast to my lymph node? Am I really toasting my lymph node? And just one?

Yeah, man, I think I am.

I have this one lymph node under my arm that has become the focus of my being this past month. And it got poked and torn a bit for drawing attention to itself. But it also took this writer on a full-on, anxiety-ridden, choking-down-panic-with-pastries journey that brought on waves of tears, screaming and, oh man, get this — healing.

Beginning of the month I found out that my yearly mammogram revealed a lot of breast density making the mammogram possibly inconclusive. O.K. News to me. Thank God for a new law stating results have to state this for women so we know this. Sucks to know, though. And a wee bit scary because if my mammogram isn’t taking the pictures I need it to, then…what next? I spoke with my doctor, who I dig because she’s cool and smart and wears really sweet shoes. We decided I should get an ultrasound to get a clearer picture. So I did that at this beautiful women’s center downtown Los Angeles. 

While I waited for Lisa, my radiologist technician, to review the results with the doctor, she came back in the room and asked if I had just gotten over being really sick with the flu or something? I said “no.” And she said, “Are you sure?”  When she left the room, I found a tiny spot on the ceiling tile and tried to focus on it. I imagined it growing larger, becoming a tunnel. Or was it more of a rock. A pebble on a beach? Or the center of a donut. Yes, it was the dark center of a donut. 

Lisa came back with the doctor, who explained they had found a lymph node “of concern.” He asked again about any illness or unexplained infections. And while holding a tiny towel over my breasts, I sat there and calmly said again, “no.”  He told me: “Maybe, probably…most likely…his best bet…it was nothing.” Not reassuring words. Then he said that if it made me nervous, I could get a biopsy, but he thought it was nothing.  

First, you don’t tell a dramatist “maybe it’s nothing” and expect me to not conjure up multiple scenarios of what the "Nothing" really was. Shit, you tell any WOMAN, “maybe” and expect her not to take quick tally of her life and see herself telling family, her friends, watching her hair fall out, her breasts removed. For me, the wave of fears rushed at me, and I could do nothing but sit there, choking on that shit. 

Over the next few weeks, I’d come up for air. I waited four days to meet with my primary doctor to review my choices, which meant me telling her I had already made up my mind. I wanted that biopsy. I needed to know what was growing in me, and I wanted it out. I needed to know immediately. I needed it gone. So, she made that call to set up the procedure, but due to schedules at the women’s center, I had to wait….TWO WEEKS. Two. 

Peter had a scheduled work trip to Alaska he had to take so he left. I had a pass to the Los Angeles Film Festival, major deadlines to complete a script about a woman having to wait to see if her son serving in the army was dead or alive, and a rewrite on a script in pre-production about a mother haunted by an evil slaveowner who wants her son. I had stories to tell, work to do, people to see. Life to live. And the waves came. I’d go to a filmm, come home and cry. I’d meet with my director and producer and drive away crying. I was living a life that could all be swept out from under me because of whatever was growing inside of me.

I was scared and out of control in a way I hadn’t felt since my sister died years ago. I couldn’t save her so what if I couldn’t save myself? What if I wasn’t strong enough to fight this? I spent hours reading blogs of amazing women who fought breast cancer, who did incredible healing things in their lives, in their communities, who found activism, parenthood, intimacy and healing…healing. They healed. And I was so scared I couldn’t do any of that.

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