The brightly fluorescent-lit room added a hazy tinge to the stilted, sterile environment, which lacked any real warmth or true ambience. Though we just met, I complied when asked to undress and change into the paper-thin pale-blue gown. The brown-eyed swarthy man in green departed, as I sat patiently, anxiously awaiting his return. 

I suspect that I am not alone when I say that the thought of having my breasts flattened into the shape of a pancake on the cold, steel, radiation-producing mammo-machine isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. Let’s face it. If men had to endure these sort of barbaric diagnostic tests, I believe there would be a much better way. (“cough”)

Allow me to offer a variety of plausible explanations why nearly three years had passed since my last mammogram: Work, relationships, caring for an ailing family member, combined with a few other emerging health issues, all seem to take precedence over going in for the squeeze. Besides, I didn’t believe I was in a high-risk group, having had no family history of breast cancer.

It wasn’t until I received a serious tongue lashing from my acupuncturist for not scheduling this test that I promptly made an appointment. My acupuncturist, a calm, grounded, non-judgmental, intuitive sort, rarely offers unsolicited suggestions, so on the rare occasion she does, I tend to listen.

Say the Secret Word and Win $100. The Secret Word is: “Benign”

But alas, my mammography was abnormal, revealing: a mass, a growth, a lesion, a knob, a spot, a swelling, a bump, a lump, a protrusion, a proliferation, a protuberance. In simpler terms: Something was there that was not supposed to be there, and it needed to come out.

After sonograms, biopsies, consults with doctors, a gazillion Internet searches, not to mention lengthy medical discussions with random strangers on the subway, in elevators, grocery store check-out lines, and on city street corners, I held onto the one word that calmed my increasingly frantic soul: “benign.”

Because they were unable to confirm a diagnosis based on the biopsy results, I would need to have surgery to remove the mass. My surgeon said she didn’t think the surgery was going to reveal much, and that the growth was most likely benign.

Of course, it was going to be benign.

Surgery for Dummies

I never had surgery before, so to suggest I was a tad nervous would not only be terribly misleading, but a huge understatement. The uncertainty combined with the dreaded “what-if” created the perfect storm, rendering me in a perpetual state of heightened anxiety and increased panic.

Would it be painful? Would I be disfigured? What if it wasn’t benign? What if they didn’t catch it in time? What if…

Though I pride myself on being a savvy and informed health care consumer, possessing vast and extensive heath care knowledge, it’s probably not to my advantage that a large part of my medical education has been a result of watching TV medical dramas, such as “Grey’s Anatomy” “The Good Doctor” and medical mystery shows, like “Monsters Inside Me.”

After check-in and pre-surgical consults with anesthesiologists, nurses, doctors, my surgeon, and a host of others, I walked the long corridor to the operating room donning my gown, surgical cap and non-skid socks. Upon entering, I didn’t see Dr. McDreamy, but about 15 medical professionals buzzing around performing various pre-surgical tasks.

Though I prepared for surgery by practicing calming techniques, such as guided imagery and meditation, a myriad of emotions washed over me, as I was hit with a wave of panic as I entered the O.R. The day of the surgery I also quickly learned that one must be sure to check their humility at the surgical door.

While assuming the supine position dressed in only the suit of my birth, as the anesthesiologist tried in vain, to find a vein, (I’m a hard stick) there were many hands-on deck (me being the “deck”) poking, prodding, positioning, re-positioning, marking the spot. Otherwise, I don’t remember much since they gave me lots of drugs, some specifically designed to prevent me from remembering the experience.

The surgery, largely uneventful, went well. For a few weeks following the operation, there was pain. I was also stuck in a strange sort of haze, having difficulty getting much sleep, coupled with increased anxiety, as I was experiencing short-term memory loss.

Unconsciously, I was trying to process the surgical experience, unsuccessfully due to the memory loss drug they gave me as part of the anesthesia cocktail. It was an exhausting, repetitive, no-win exercise, that on a positive note, helped me to forget that I was waiting for the results of the surgery.

Good News/Not So Good News

Fortunately, I didn’t have breast cancer, but they discovered an “atypical vascular lesion” “suspicious for a low-grade malignant vascular tumor.” A second surgery was required to “clear the margins” to ensure that no abnormal cells were seen at the outer edge of the tissue that was removed. I am being followed by an oncologist who has recommended MRI’s and sonograms every three months for two years since there is a risk of recurrence.

It’s been quite an ordeal, full of hope, fear, love, pain, faith, despair, gratitude, renewal. Kind of like life.

Still, I am hopeful that I am one of the lucky ones with a story to tell with that proverbial happy ending: About the time that they found something, that thing that I didn’t even know existed, that potential game changer that caused me to take stock and count my blessings. Once again, reminding me of life’s perpetual fragility and great good fortune.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t stress the importance of regular health screenings. After all, you may not have an acupuncturist reaming you out with threats of bigger needles for failure to follow her directives when it comes to scheduling preventative diagnostic tests. Perhaps you only have that all-knowing voice inside of you reminding you to take good care of yourself. Always.

Or maybe you just have me, urging about the importance of preventative health screenings and the gift of early detection.

As for me, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed and praying for good follow-up medical reports. I’m also hoping the next time someone asks me to undress and change into a skimpy gown, that it’s not my doctor.


  • Jill Rachel Jacobs

    Writer, Commentator

    Jill Rachel Jacobs commentaries, features, essays, have appeared in The New York Times, Reuters, The NY Post, The Independent, The Washington Post, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, The International Herald Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, NPR'S. Marketplace and Morning Edition. Ms. Jacobs has interviewed noted actors, musicians and humanitarians including Jessica Lange, Bette Midler, Dick Van Dyke, Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Goodall, Gabriel Bryne, Carrie Fisher, Herbie Hancock.