Today, I opened my email and to my great surprise, I found an email from my employer from five years ago in NYC. Apparently there was a (very) old check sitting in their office for me – I must have forgotten to pick it up when I fled NYC right before Christmas, newly diagnosed with cancer and terrified of my future (or lack thereof). I sent in the form to claim the check and reflected on where I was five years ago.
I had already written about finding the lump. I woke up the next morning and thought “how does one find a doctor?” I was new in the city and had not expected to have find one until my annual was due in January. This was only the tail end of October. Finding a doctor seemed like such a simple #adulting thing to do, but in the past I’d either had medical care provided for me by the Peace Corps or university health services or my mom had hooked me up with someone in the practice she went to. And I so very rarely got sick – maybe a cold or a sinus infection every few years. Then there was the issue that I had never switched over my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy from Florida’s to New York’s. Would my policy even be accepted? And who should I see for a breast lump? A gynecologist? An internist? After several days of hand-wringing, I determined that I was indeed covered and looked online for gynecologists.
The first number on the list I called was accepting new patients. Score! But they had no openings until December. “I guess I’ll take it,” I said glumly. The receptionist must have heard the hesitation in my voice and asked me if this was for a general well-woman check or if I had a specific concern. I told her I had a breast lump. With that new information, she got me an appointment about a week and a half out. I felt stupid for not knowing to mention the lump at the beginning of the conversation.
I barely thought about it until the day of my appointment. I arrived in plenty of time, but sat two hours in the waiting room until the nurse called me in. It was clear she was going to be examining me instead of the doctor and I was kind of disappointed after waiting 10 days for an appointment and two hours to be seen but it again didn’t occur to me to say anything. (I look back at this five years later and am shocked that I used to be so passive). She looked over my medical history and noted that my paternal grandmother had had breast cancer. How old, she asked? 50s or 60s, I responded. Old enough that she didn’t have kids left at home but young enough that I didn’t remember. Well, which is it, she asked? I didn’t know and I was slightly annoyed that she kept asking. I mean, it didn’t matter anyway, I thought. She was old and I was young. Old women get breast cancer all the time but young women don’t. Still, I made a mental note to ask my parents for specifics over Thanksgiving.
She then did the exam. Afterwards, she said it was likely I had a cyst but I should have an ultrasound anyway. I was handed a piece of paper with the referral on the front and a list of imaging places on the back. I skipped out, happy to be one step further to crossing any nagging worries about breast cancer off my list. One more test and I’d be in the clear, just in time to enjoy the holiday season.