In the Waiting Room

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Pink ribbons adorn the stores, posters remind us to take care of ourselves. But I don’t need October to remind me of my ongoing relationship with the Big C. I am the last woman standing in my family. I am the youngest of two sisters, a mother and a grandmother and I am still untouched by breast cancer. My sister, my mother and my grandmother all had it. My sister and my mother both died from it. So, yesterday, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I went to my local hospital for my mammogram: my annual declaration of “NO FEAR” and freedom from disease. I say this because cancer can scare us to death–if we let it.

When I entered the waiting room at the Mammography Clinic, there were five women sitting in chairs. They all looked tense–I mean, it’s a tense place. I sat down after completing my intake form, and said loudly, “I’m sure you are wondering why I’ve called you all here!” Everyone laughed (luckily), and the energy in the room changed immediately as we all relaxed; the cloud of fear hanging over the room had begun to dissipate. One woman mentioned to the group that this was her “first time” and I said “welcome!” –more laughter. The older woman next to me countered by telling us that she had been having mammograms for 50 years! The group responded with congratulations, more jokes about starting when she was 3 years old, etc.

Then the nurse came out from behind the desk with my intake form. She had a serious and worried look on her face.
“Is this right?” she asked me. “Your sister, mother and grandmother ALL had breast cancer?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I replied.
“And your sister and mother are both deceased because of it?” she continued, as if she couldn’t quite believe the enormity of her own question.
“Yes, that’s right,” I repeated. What else could I say? The facts are the facts, but I noticed that the joyful release from a moment earlier had died down. The other women had begun to worry on my behalf, too.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve had the BRCA 1 & 2 screening and I am negative for the cancer gene.” I made a circling motion in the air in front of my chest. “This is a cancer-free zone! I am choosing not to let cancer [or the fear of it] scare me to death!” I announced to the room.

The group took a collective sigh a relief and the nurse chuckled, saying “you’re right, you know–attitude is very important.”

After she walked away, the older woman next to me patted my arm and said, “I hope you’ll still be coming here in 50 years.” I laughed and told her I would be 106, if I was and that restored the playful spirit in the room again. We all swapped funny one-liners until my name was called and I went into the radiologist.

This is my yearly ritual. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I do know that being afraid of it is a complete waste of my time and energy. My sister, my mother and my grandmother would not want me to spend any time worrying. I AM the last woman standing in my family, and so I will stand and defy the fear that sometimes threatens to engulf me. I will stand on behalf of the thousands of women: survivors and those who have lost their lives to this cruel disease. I will stand as long as my legs will support me.

Some old Reader’s Digest used to tell us that laughter is the best medicine and I agree. Laughing with those 5 women (who I may never see again) was therapeutic for all of us and reminded me that we are, indeed, ALL in this together.

With love and laughter–

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Dr. Laurel Ross

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