Every March I Play Radiology Russian Roulette


slovenian sunset

(One can either see photo positively, or negatively, as rising or setting sun.….I mostly try to stay in positive territory, emotionally, but I do admit:  As cancer survivor, this time of year, with its annual exam, wears me down.  


March Madness….The Ides of March…St. Patrick’s Day.  All focus attention on a rather-droll month and make it noteworthy. For me, however, March is never just ‘rather-droll;’ it’s filled with high drama I’d rather avoid.

For March is when I bring “the girls” out on their annual excursion–one I loathe.

You see, the fears that accompany never diminish.  For days ahead, I worry:  “Is this the year they’ll tell me: “It’s back.”

I’m talking about cancer… the Big C.. whatever euphemistic term you give it.

You see, I’ve never been truly OK since the first time doctors told me I had it, 11 years ago. I recognize that whatever forces played together to create aberrant cell division years ago can do so again.

During that time, following tests and hospital board review, they told me the breast “had to go.” The cancer was “too invasive;” “it was all inside the ducts.”  That’s how this particular form gets its name– DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.)

Here’s the crazy part:  It’s not officially “cancer” until it gets out of the ducts…They’re just pretty damned certain it’s going to get out and become full-blown cancer… at some point.

In other words, ‘til that time, you don’t have REAL CANCER….yet.  Even then, after they remove the breast, you’re “cancer’s” pegged as Stage 0.

The whole thing muddles your brain.  You’ve got cancer enough to warrant surgery; they amputate your breast; but it’s not cancer yet.

Medical folks never advise to take a “Wait and see” attitude, as in “Maybe it’ll stay in the ducts,”….and “Maybe you’ll be fine.” Why?  They know that if you wait, it’ll probably be too late…

By the time the cancer’s official, it’ll have invaded your system, in “The horse is out of the barn” scenario.

How can they tell you have cancer if it’s not real cancer, yet?  Baseline and follow-up mammograms.  Mine showed a decided change from earlier ones… areas of significant alteration.  Even I could see dramatic changes in the pictures.

That’s why a base mammogram is so important…and follow up ones, too.

So, tomorrow I go for the once-a-year-event that sets my nerves a-jangle, the one that could mean the difference between life or death or at least another significant medical involvement ahead.

The last bad news I got ushered in 5 operations, over an 18 month period.

Since I now get a Diagnostic Bilateral Mammogram, I’ll sit in the waiting room as the radiologist reads my results, meaning I get told immediately. Why do I want instantaneous results?  Having had cancer, I can’t stand the wait time that usually accompanies a mammogram—days or even beyond. If it’s bad news, I want the news “straight up.”

I intend to belt it back, like a shot of hard liquor.  Maybe throw in a chaser.

Here’s another crazy part.  While I’m there, I’ll entertain others—that’s what I always do, to rid myself of terror, as I hug the flaps of my Jennie (I refuse to call it a Johnny), close to me.

If I’m lucky, the radiology center will provide those nicely-warmed blankets to ward off the chill, for it’s especially cold for us who’ve “been there” on the tough side of a diagnosis before.

I won’t tell anyone waiting that I’m a cancer survivor because at that moment, I won’t know if I am…this time.

Last year, when the attendant came out and said, “You’re fine—You can get dressed and leave,” I answered “Really?” I was that shocked.  I almost disputed their results.

This whole anxiety-provoking business makes me understand why a friend of mine who had breast cancer years ago refuses to put herself through this process:  she never gets a mammogram, anymore.

As for me, I get them faithfully, even tho’ each time I feel I’m spinning the mostly-empty chamber, of a revolver, aimed right at my head, playing Radiology Russian Roulette.

I can’t help it either…I await the time my luck runs out.  I’m not being overly-dramatic—just realistic.

You see, I’m a breast cancer survivor…for now.

At any time, I know:  That survivor can become a casualty.

About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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