Patients Only

July 31, 2021


I recently had my first mammogram. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I feared it would be. I had some nerves going into it, but the sweet, older lady who performed the procedure was very reassuring and very quick.

When I left I was proud of myself for making it through something awkward and uncomfortable, and I assumed I was checking a box and would be done with mammograms for another year.

But then a week later I got a call. They merely said they needed more images of the right breast.

Ummm….Ok.

They also said my appointment needed to be during the day when the radiologist was in the office.

What? Why?

So I made another appointment for a few weeks later. Then I called my mom to tell her I was scared. That’s what moms are for. She told me she had once been asked back for more images and it turned out to be nothing. She asked if I wanted her to come with me, but I told her there is a giant sign out front that says PATIENTS ONLY PLEASE BEYOND THIS POINT. She said she would go with me and then just wait in the car the whole time. Of course she would. That’s what moms are for.

I tried not to worry in the weeks leading up to the follow-up procedure. I got a letter in the mail that merely said I had dense breast tissue and that’s why the follow-up procedure was needed. This time it would be another mammogram along with an ultrasound. I tried not to worry. I prayed about it.

But when I was faced with even the possibility of cancer, suddenly I felt so much less in control.

One night at my women’s Bible study, I shared that I had the follow-up procedure coming up and that I needed prayer for it to turn out to be nothing. They were so reassuring. I teared up and said, “It’s probably nothing! And even if it is something, I know God is in control and He will help me get through it.” Then my friend Jamie shared a phrase we learned years ago during a Bible study of Esther, the Bible study that brought Jamie and I close together. She said, “…then God.”

“….then God,” means if you think about the worst thing that could happen to you, (cancer, losing a child, getting divorced, etc.), think about what you would do. You might panic, you might be angry, you might feel lost, but after all of that settled down, what would be left? “…then God.” He would still be in control, still loving you, still walking with you, and you would just keep on going, as we all do. No matter what happens, no matter how bad, “…then God.”

It touched me so much that Jamie said that as I shared my fears. That’s what friends are for.

On the day of my appointment, my mom and I went to lunch, and then to the radiology office. She reassured me she would be right there, waiting in the car the whole time, right outside the doctor’s office. It’s like I was five years old again, and she walked me to the bus on the first day of kindergarten, then said, “I will be waiting right here and I will see you when you get done.” I have a good mommy.

I went in, right past the sign that said PATIENTS ONLY.




While I was nervously waiting to be called back for my appointment, a lady came out of the back room, walking quickly through the waiting room, sobbing. Oh my gosh. My heart went out to her at the same time that fear crept up my back.

They deliver bad news here. News that makes people sob uncontrollably in front of strangers.

And she was alone when she received that news. PATIENTS ONLY.

I got called back. I started with the follow-up mammogram on the right side. It was the same older lady I had seen on my first visit. When she finished, I had to wait alone in a tiny dressing room. She said the doctor would look at the new images and then she’d be back.

I sat there anxiously in the quiet. I began to quote Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” I felt God’s presence so immediately that I almost began to cry. I wasn’t alone! But I didn’t want to cry. So to prevent my tears and my worried thoughts, I counted the grooves on both picture frames in the room. I heard someone in the hallway talking to another patient. She said, “OK, everything’s fine! Sometimes when we ask you back it’s just because we couldn’t get clear enough images the first time. You can get dressed and go! We’ll see you in a year.”

OK, so it might just be nothing! Maybe I’ll hear the same words.

The mammogram technician came back and said, “OK, so the doctor requested more images of the left breast also. He’s a different doctor than the one who viewed the original images and he’s just trying to get a baseline.”

So off we went to do another mammogram. As she was getting ready the technician said, “I hope you’re not freaking out!”

Uhhh, so this is not normal and I have reason to freak out?

Then she left me alone in the little dressing room again. So I counted leaves in both paintings in the room. I thought of my mom out in the car in the parking lot and felt peace knowing she was nearby. That’s what moms are for.

The mammogram technician came back and led me to the ultrasound room. The room was dim and very quiet. I laid on the table. The ultrasound technician was a younger woman and she was very kind and gentle. She began the process, using the ultrasound wand on each breast and collecting images. She didn’t explain to me what they were looking for. I watched the images live on the monitor in front of me. I couldn’t really see anything of note. She took quite awhile gathering images, then said she would go consult with the doctor. And she said she’d be back or she and the doctor would be back.

Uh-oh. If the doctor shows up it’s bad news.

I laid there in the quiet, dim room. I thought of the girl who left the waiting room sobbing. I didn’t want to be her. I thought of my mom out in the car. She loves me. I thought of the sign that said PATIENTS ONLY. Then God said, “But I’m here. I’m right here. You’re by yourself but not alone. I'm here.”

The technician came back. No doctor.

Good, right?

She said, “I’m going to need to get some more images. The doctor is having trouble seeing on the ultrasound what he sees on the mammogram.”

Ok, so there is officially something on the mammogram to be concerned about. Ok. Ok…

She went to work again, looking for whatever she was looking for. After several minutes, she said, “Do you mind if my coworker gives it a try? Sometimes it helps to have a second set of eyes.” I said I didn’t mind.

I just want you to find an answer. I just want this to be over and put it behind me. I just want to be told everything is OK.

Another young lady came in and got to work. She propped me up with a wedge. She took more images. After several minutes, she said she would get the images to the doctor, and then either Tracy would be back or Tracy and the doctor would be back.

She left me alone in the quiet, dim room. And it felt like it took forever. I wondered if my mom was wondering what was going on. It was getting close to two hours since I left my mom in the parking lot. I thought about the possibility of them telling me it could be cancer. I thought about chemotherapy. I thought about dying and what that would be like for my kids. I almost started to cry again, so I began to say in my mind what I wanted to hear when Tracy came back without the doctor: “Everything’s fine. You can go. See you next year….Everything’s fine. You can go. See you next year…Everything’s fine. You can go. See you next year…”

Then the door opened, and Tracy and the doctor were there.

Uh-oh.

He introduced himself. He began to explain that there was something that could be a cyst and that it didn’t have signs of being “scary.” I admit I couldn’t follow everything he said because I was scared and because he was using medical terms.


“You can just wait six months and have another mammogram. I would feel comfortable with that. Or you can choose to have an ultrasound-guided biopsy…blah blah blah…”

They found something. Oh my gosh, they found something. What does this mean? What am I supposed to do?? I wish I had time to think. I wish Seth was here to help me….

“Of course we can never be 100% sure; we make the best decision we can with the information….blah blah blah… In younger women we would be almost certain it’s just a cyst. You’re right on the cusp of it being hard to tell for sure.. blah blah blah…”

I asked how big it is. He said about 1 centimeter, about the size of a pea.

So I said, “If it is something, it would be better not to wait, right?”

“Right,” he said.

“OK, well, then I choose the biopsy. I would rather know.”

“OK, I understand. We can get you scheduled for that. Then when we do the procedure we can put in a clip… blah blah blah…”

I paused and then said, “I don’t understand what you just said.”

“We can put in a tiny metal clip as a marker so that anytime you have a future mammogram we know we already biopsied the cyst.”

“OK….”

He asked if I had further questions. I said no. Because I really had too many questions to know where to begin. So he left and I was alone with Tracy.

She smiled reassuringly and began to explain the biopsy in regular terms instead of medical terms. I appreciated her doing that! Because I was in shock and what was running through my mind was:

They found something. It might be cancer. They found something. I’m not going to cry in front of strangers. I will get dressed and make it out to the car and cry with my mom. My mom is waiting for me. I am not going to cry in here.

Tracy scheduled the biopsy for a week later, and she told me I could bring someone in with me. I immediately knew I would bring my husband, and I felt grateful.

You know, it would have been nice to have someone with me this time too. This whole thing was freaking scary and how am I supposed to make decisions like this alone?


…But I know God was with me. A PATIENTS ONLY sign can’t keep my God out.

I got dressed and took deep breaths to prevent tears. I walked calmly out through the waiting room, not sobbing, to the car where my mom was.

I got in, and she said, “Well?”

I started to cry and said, “They found something…”

She wrapped me up in her arms and said, “Oh, honey… it’s ok….”

I told her everything. I told her they said it was probably a benign cyst. But they couldn’t be sure. So I chose the biopsy.

She asked if I wanted to call Seth. There was a text from him saying he was nearby, so I told him to come to the parking lot. When he arrived, I got into his pickup. I cried again and said, “They found something…” and I told him the whole story. He hugged me and said it was obvious that the biopsy was the right choice. We didn’t want to just wait with crossed fingers, hoping it was nothing.

And he took me home. And at dinner I told the kids what happened. I didn’t want them to worry so I started the story by saying, “I don’t have cancer…” and I told them everything. But when I was done my daughter said, “But you might have cancer…?” I said, yes, it’s possible, but probably not. I explained that I started the conversation that way so they would know I wasn’t leading up to the punchline of, “I have cancer.” I meant I didn’t know yet.

During the following week, I was surrounded by love and prayers from friends, family members, and church members. But I still felt the weight of worry on my shoulders.

Am I about to enter a season where I have cancer? What is that going to look like? If it is cancer, will they just be able to cut it out? He said it was small…

I thought about what I want my life to stand for. I want to be known for being someone who trusts God, and maybe I would have a better chance to demonstrate that if I had cancer.

But I don’t want cancer! Is there an enemy inside my own body right now?

I thought of the millions of other women who have had breast cancer and have walked that path. I knew God could help me walk that path too.

The day of the biopsy arrived, and Seth and I went in together, right past the sign that said PATIENTS ONLY.

Not this time.

It was the same ultrasound technician this time, (I liked her!), but a different doctor. This guy explained everything really well, and even had a sense of humor that put me at ease. He asked if Seth had issues with needles because they didn’t want him to vomit or faint during the procedure. Seth said he would be fine.

The doctor said he understood why I chose the biopsy, because the mental and psychological reassurance is so important. I thanked him for recognizing that. I didn’t want to just wait around and hope it was nothing.

The doctor asked if I was nervous about the procedure, and when I said yes, he asked what I was nervous about. I said that it would hurt. He said what tends to hurt the most is the numbing shot of lidocaine.

They showed me the tiny clip they would insert after taking the tissue samples for the biopsy. It looked like a tiny ribbon.



They said if it did turn out to be cancer, the clip would serve as a marker for the removal surgery, and if it wasn’t cancer, it would serve as a marker to show the cyst had already been biopsied.

The doctor said, “This does not look like cancer to me, and I’m usually right. This cyst has smooth edges and cancer usually has ragged edges. In cases where I do think it’s cancer, I usually tell my patients it could be, so that they can mentally prepare to hear the news that it’s cancer. In your case, I’m 95% sure it isn’t cancer.”

Ok, I like that. I like that. I’ll take that.

I braced myself for the lidocaine shot. Seth rubbed my foot reassuringly… and I didn’t feel pain. I waited. I still didn’t feel pain. And then it was over and the doctor said, “How was that?”

I said, “It was good. It didn’t hurt!” I was surprised.

The procedure only lasted about ten minutes. I heard a snapping sound each time he took a sample, similar to a stapler. He took five samples. And it did not hurt.

Then it was done.

Phew!

I thanked the doctor. He was wonderful. He said I would hear results from my doctor’s office in about 3-4 business days. So since it was Thursday, I should hear Monday or Tuesday. He left, and Tracy explained all the aftercare. Before leaving I also had to go back for another mammogram so they could verify the clip was placed properly.

I went back to the mammography room and got it done. And then I got to get dressed and go home. I was tired.

I texted everyone that had been praying, to let them know that the procedure could not have gone better. The doctor and ultrasound technician were so, so nice, and the procedure did not hurt. Answered prayers, right there.


I know it was because of the prayers.

That day I went to get a pedicure. Because I had the day off work and I deserved some self-care. It was strange that I could just walk around after having a biopsy and no one knew. It felt like big deal. None of the people at the store and no one at work knew that I had a biopsy and had Steri-strips on the side of my boob where they had put in a giant needle and cut out little pieces of me. But it wasn’t theirs to know. It was mine to know, along with the people that love me.

The days ticked by as I waited for results.


He said he was 95% sure it’s not cancer. It has smooth edges…What's going to happen, God?

On Wednesday, after four business days, my friend Jamie checked in with me to see if I had heard. I said, “No…should I call them??” She said she would if she was in my shoes!

So I called my doctor’s office. And they were closed for the lunch hour. Ugh. Then I called the radiology office. They said I would need to speak to the pathology lab and they gave me the number. Ugh. So I called them…and no one answered. Ugh! I guess God didn’t want me to know right then. I gave up and carried on with my workday.

Then on my next break, when I checked my phone, THERE WAS A MESSAGE FROM MY DOCTOR’S OFFICE. They asked me to give them a call.

Oh, geez…this is it.

I went out to my car to be alone.

I got the receptionist who tried to connect me to the person who had called me. When she came back from the hold, she said, “Whitney is speaking to another patient. But I can let you know your test results are normal and there is no malignancy.”

Malignancy? What is that again? I don’t speak cancer talk!

I asked, “Ok, so that’s good, right?”

She said, “Yes, this is good news.”

I thanked her, hung up and then sat in my car and cried. I was so, so relieved. I took deep breaths. I began to feel the heavy weight of worry lifted off my shoulders.

It’s not cancer. I’m ok. It’s not cancer. Thank you, God. Thank you, thank you!


I texted Seth. And then my mom. And then many other friends who had been praying.

I made myself stop crying those tears of relief and go back in to carry on with my workday.

And every day since then, I get to remind myself that I don’t have cancer. I have a little scar to remind myself of the biopsy, and it also reminds me of God’s goodness. It's not only because I don't have cancer that I know He's good. He’s good because He never leaves me alone. Whether in the doctor’s office or in my bed or in a room full of people or anywhere else, He is always with me. He would still be with me if I had cancer right now. He is always with me.

I was listening to my Bible app read aloud recently and I noticed Jesus said the same thing. He said his friends would leave him all alone, but He would not actually be alone because God His Father would be with him.

John 16:32-33

“‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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