Life is funny. When we least expect it, life has a way of shifting and pointing us in a different direction. Life plans and goals can change quickly and sometimes not by choice.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not so great with change—unless it’s planned change, then I’m okay. But surprise changes? Major speed bumps? I have never handled those so great.
Speed bumps get in the way, force us to slow down, and let's face it, can be annoying. You're in a rush to keep going, but you have no choice, you have to slow down to get over them. Even though you slow down, depending on how big the speed bump is, you can get tossed around a bit when you go over them. There is one good thing about speed bumps, no matter how many you go over, there is typically a smooth ride on the other side.
I just hit a speed bump…a surprise speed bump. It’s a pretty big one, so I’m being tossed around.
It was a few weeks before my 55th birthday—double nickels, as I call it. I looked at my calendar, as I do every day, dammit, I had to take time out of my busy day to go for a follow-up mammogram on my right breast, which had been biopsied 6 months prior and came back fine. Well, this is a nuisance,I don’t have time. Who has time for this stuff? No one.
I was “busy”—busy caring for my mother, who was suffering from dementia. My mother had fallen for the 3rd time this year and was in rehab, and it was time for me to find a long-term care facility for her. I was frustrated because I didn’t have time to do anything, let alone a follow-up doctor's appointment! I kept looking at my calendar, completely annoyed. How could I possibly fit this in? It was going to be tight. I had to see clients, and I needed to visit my mother that same day. I couldn’t do it; I needed to reschedule. Of course, everything would be fine. This was a follow-up appointment, a big waste of my time.
So, I hopped online at 6:00 AM and attempted to reschedule my appointment. I couldn’t. For some insane reason they wouldn't let me cancel my follow-up appointment online. Are you kidding me? I was outraged. Now I had to call? I had to physically pick up the phone during business hours and talk to an actual human to reschedule my appointment. What kind of world are we living in now? Talking to humans? So I put my 100th sticky note on my computer with a reminder to call and reschedule this, as I saw it, unnecessary appointment.
Days went by, and I was still "busy" and never got around to making that call. I groveled and finally made the decision to go to the appointment, when would I have the time anyway? I was just too "busy". That morning I shook off my attitude and went to the appointment. When I walked in, they told me I was so close to my annual mammogram they decided to take images on my left breast while I was there. Good call, now I don’t have to carve out any more time in my "busy" schedule to come back.
They immediately wanted to do an ultrasound on my left breast—no big deal. I had one on my right breast every time I went in; sounded nothing but routine to me. The problem was I didn't have time to do an ultrasound that day. Remember, I'm "busy." I had a client waiting for me so I promised the nurse I would come back the next day. I noticed they had a weird sense of urgency in their voice. So I went back the next day, more time out of my "busy" schedule.
I had the ultrasound, and they immediately came in to tell me they would need to biopsy two areas. Okay, fine, more time… Jeez! I wasn’t concerned because of how dense my breasts are and how hard it was for them to see anything. Plus, after having the biopsy on my right breast and everything coming back fine, I felt confident.
I went in for my biopsy; the surgeon did a lengthy ultrasound on my armpit, which the nurse had already done a few times. I thought, this is weird. Why were they so focused on my armpit? The surgeon finished the ultrasound, turned, and said to me, “The good news is your lymph nodes look clear, and I don’t see any odd-shaped nodes.” Ahhhh, okay. That’s great. Why would I care about that?
I was clueless as to what was happening, and I wasn’t putting any of the pieces together. The surgeon finished up and left. The nurse came in and gave me the aftercare directions and a cute little purple baggie of take-home ice packs. But before I walked out, she paused, looked at me, and asked, “Do you have a breast surgeon?" Wait, what? Who has a breast surgeon tucked in their back pocket on speed dial? Certainly not me. Right then, I knew this was different.
I left the doctor’s office on a Thursday afternoon, and on Monday morning at 8 am, I got the call. The nurse was on the line, desensitized and making a phone call she had made too many times before. “Unfortunately, I hate to make this call, but your biopsy has come back cancerous.”
The nurse started spitting all kinds of big cancer words at me. It sounded like someone was talking to me underwater. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, and nothing made sense. I stopped her and asked if I could get a pen to write everything down. Her response was, “Everything is on your patient gateway; you can look it up there.” For the record, I don't think any diagnosis like this should be on our patient gateway without sitting and talking to a doctor first.
I hung up and immediately called my boyfriend, sobbing, I couldn't take a breathe, I was in complete shock, and scared out of my pants. I have breast cancer; none of this made sense. I hopped on my patient portal and started reading the notes, googling all the big words and pathology reports… big mistake. Google has two ways of giving you information no matter what you look up. You are either constipated or you have 24 hours to live.
After spending 24 hours googling and scaring the crap out of myself, I am happy to say I have not googled one thing about my diagnosis since that day. I refused to let fear and worry dictate my life. In my doctor's words I have an excellent prognosis, I’m taking that and running with it.
There are a few reasons why I’m sharing this story. The first, of course, is to get your mammograms! Had I been able to cancel that appointment online, who knows when I would have gone, and I'm sure I would be telling a different story. I never felt a lump, never had any breast pain, discharge, or signs that something was going on.
Most of the time I get my annual mammogram on time, I am also guilty of pushing my mammograms off, sometimes stretching it out to a year and a half because I’m not going to get breast cancer; that only happens to other people. The lump wasn't on my mammogram the year before, this was only caught by having an annual mammogram.
The second reason I’m sharing is because you are never too busy to take care of yourself or to put your health and well-being first. As an entrepreneur, a high achiever, a goal setter, a driven and determined person, always striving to be a better person, to learn more, do more, and give more, this is a friendly reminder for those of you like me who need permission to put yourself first.
I know sometimes we need a little caring nudge because I still need one. I am GUILTY of not taking the time to take care of myself. I'm the first one to put myself last on the list, sometimes I don't make the list of importance at all.
This friendly reminder is for the person who keeps knocking yourself down to the bottom of the list, putting everyone else's needs and wants before your own. It’s okay; I get it, but I'm telling you it’s time to bump yourself up on that list.
The third reason for sharing this, especially for my fellow overachievers is that things change, plans change, and that’s okay. Before this speed bump, I was ready to launch my book. I was ready to get going on the second phase of my life.
At first, I was upset, but to be completely honest, my book wasn’t ready to be launched. I wasn’t ready, something didn’t feel right. I felt like I was jumping the gun, and my book felt thrown together. It didn’t read like I wanted it to and I felt like it needed more and it does. I took a pause and made the decision to get another set of eyes on it. Not only is the book being edited again, I’m being challenged to add more depth and vulnerability to certain parts.
I hate the saying “everything happens for a reason” because I don’t know why I have cancer, but I do believe there is a lesson on every path we go down in life. I have stopped focusing on the big grand picture, the next big project, the perfect posts, the perfect pictures, the followers, the likes, the comments—all the crap that doesn’t matter.
What matters is the message, not the package it shows up in.
I will need to heal myself and my childhood traumas and experiences forever, but the one thing I know for sure is whatever I do or say, needs to be honest and real with zero fluff.
I’m choosing to focus on what’s directly in front of me, not what's behind me or what mysteries might be waiting for me in the future. This life path I’ve been on my entire life has never been about me; it has always been about how I can help others.
Now I know for sure to share all of my story and experiences without sacrificing myself, my health or my life. For someone who is a chronic people pleaser and thrives on giving this can be tricky but I'm learning every day.
As I go through this next chapter of my story, my hope is one person out there will get a much-needed mammogram or find something in my story that will help them feel less alone in this game of life we are all trying to figure out.