Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I feel a little uncertain writing about what's going on.  It may seem crazy to some to share here, in this space, these intimate details and fears. 

But I'm grateful for the urge to write, to come here and put words on a page.  I feel like I'm on shaky ground, and writing orients me, plants my feet firmly underneath me.

The next few days are going to be challenging. 

Earlier this month, when I first went to see the doctor about my swollen lymph node, in a fit of bravery I also scheduled an annual physical and routine mammogram.  I hadn't had a physical in two years, and had yet to schedule my first mammogram, even though I'm 42 - two years over the recommended age to begin having annual mammograms.  Fear has always stopped me, before.

The physical was Friday, and the doctor recommended an ultrasound of my neck, as well as an ultrasound of my ovaries; when I delivered Finn they discovered cysts and I was supposed to follow up and monitor them.  Six years ago.

My mammogram was on Friday.  I knew going into it that follow-up pictures and ultrasounds are very common, so I steeled myself for the call that said I had to come in for follow-up.  My doctor even said to me that many women have to have follow-up visits, and - in her words - she advised me "not to freak out".

All my bravado didn't help much when the call came today, asking me to come Monday for more pictures and a bilateral breast ultrasound, to follow up on questionable images that appeared in the mammogram.

Over the next five days, I have an ENT appointment for my swollen lymph node, neck and ovary ultrasounds and an additional mammogram and breast ultrasound.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared.

My rational brain says to me:  Good for you, Ellie. You're covering all the bases, looking for answers, facing all of these issues head-on.

Unfortunately, not all of my brain in rational.  As I hung up the phone after getting the call about the follow-up mammogram, I was trembling with fear.  No more, I thought.  I can't take anymore.

On the heels of this thought was a craving for a drink. It hit me like a tidal wave - a knee buckling desire to hide from everything. 

I walked to the couch and sat down, taking deep breaths.  The craving followed me like an imp from hell, leaping madly about and cackling:  you don't have to feel this, you know, .

I sat with the craving for a while; examined it curiously.  I can go to the liquor store anytime I want to. The kids are at school, I could have a couple of pops and sober up by the time everyone got home.   The imp waved its hands over its head in delight, squealing:  yes!  yes!  

Feeling something almost like regret, I sighed, because I knew I wasn't going to drink.  A drink would leave me ashamed, afraid and alone, and none of my other problems or fears would be any better.  I know this, but it doesn't stop the cravings from coming.  I'm an alcoholic; the urge to drink may always be my default reaction to fear.

I stared at the phone, knowing I should call someone in recovery and talk this through, but I didn't have the energy.  Just sit with it for a while, Ellie, I thought. Think it through.

After a while it came to me, what the trigger to hide is about: uncertainty.  While I am afraid of a scary diagnosis from any of these health issues, I'm much more afraid of the not-knowing. 

What I can't stand is being in this purgatory - this limbo - where my anxiety is free to run wild.

This is what life on life's terms is really about: uncertainty.  The irony is that the uncertainty is always there, but it's only when something comes along to knock us off the rails that the full scope of uncertainty comes into view. 

It's like we're walking along a flat, grassy plain, the moments and days sliding effortlessly by, when suddenly we round a corner and are met with an obstacle: a rocky mountain path. 

We have a choice. We can fall in a heap at the base of the mountain and bemoan our situation, disappear in a drink, a drug or other form of escape, wondering why me?   Or we can climb, slowly but steadily, and tackle the mountain one step at a time, instead of collapsing under the thought of its massiveness.

I choose to climb.


  1. I don't blame you for being afraid one bit. I've been too scared to schedule my baseline mammogram. I'll be thinking of you, and I know no matter what happens, you'll conquer and stick a flag on that mountain.

  2. Oy. I am thinking about you right now!
    Also, the uncertainty, the what-ifs, the mindless racing my thoughts can do while I wait-- those are the things that get me, too.

  3. Not knowing is the absolute worst. Been there, done that. Hang in there.

  4. "Feeling something almost like regret, I sighed, because I knew I wasn't going to drink" spoke to me, that annoying feeling of knowing we're grown ups now.

    Obviously I am praying for you here and other than keeping yourself occupied, you know I'm going to suggest meetings, meditation and prayer. Your anxiety is natural to a degree but don't let your disease raise it unnecessarily my friend.

    Oh and if you want to vent, I'm here!

  5. Big hugs, Ellie. We are with you for every step of this climb. You're not alone.

  6. As they say in rock climbing: CLIMB ON!

    We're here at the bottom. You're safetly attached with the harness, and we're holding the cable. When you let go, you'll feel like you're falling but you're not. We're right here, cheering you on.

    p.s. This metaphor brought to you by exactly one rock-climbing excursion when I was 15.

  7. You are a strong, incredible woman! My prayers are with you. And visualize all of us giving you a gentle but big group hug!

  8. I too am at my worst when I am in that in between place of not knowing. I recently went through the mammogram call back which resulted in follow ups and ultimately a needle aspiration (everything was fine in the end)but the whole experience left me feeling uptight and shakey. I knew drinking was not the answer but I think I will always live with that voice that once and awhile whispers that it is. Step by step you will walk through this.

  9. Sweetheart, here's the truth about mammograms. (I work in Radiology so trust me on this, OK?) Honestly they aren't that great. BUT because ultrasounds are more expensive (more than twice the cost of a mammogram) they reserve those for when the mammogram is faulty. WHICH IS OFTEN!
    Please know this is SO SO very normal.
    I promise.
    But glad you are getting it checked out.

    Love you. Feel free to email.

  10. As hard as it may seem....Keep Climbing!
    Baby are moving forward and through.

  11. praying for you, to hear good news from all of the appointments and peace while you wait. Lots of hugs.

  12. So glad you are writing through this.
    You're taking care of yourself, seeing the professionals who can give you answers and help you address any problems.
    Not knowing and not sharing are not good self-care ... so I'm glad you've chosen to be brave and open. Prayers that all is well ... or easily fixed.
    Your blog is a gift. Keep sharing!

  13. Good for you Ellie...find all the answers. I had to go every 6 months for 3 years after my first mammogram to monitor density...all fine for years until August 2010 when my doctor felt a ridge. Scheduled an ultrasound asap (few days later) which fell on my daughter's birthday even though I was told it could wait until my scheduled mammogram the next month. I needed to know. I didn't want to be worrying about that while taking our daughter to college her freshman year or for another month. All was fine...(sorry for rambling)It's better to know. My thoughts are with you!

  14. When I had to go for a mammmogram and ultrasound at age 35, I remember being so so angry. I think that was a shield for the anxiety.

    Now when I feel anxiety I listen to my Mindfulness and Acceptance for Anxiety CD. In one of the meditations she says, about anxiety, "Is this something that you *must* not feel?" And then I soften to it, and realize that I really can feel all the things I feel.

    Another thing that helps me is the one that says "remember, the goal is not to feel better, but to get better at feeling all the emotions we have."

    I'm climbing right there along side you.

  15. A joy shared is multiplied; a fear shared is divided. We are all with you, every step of the climb. Your words have helped us climb with our own fears; now we reciprocate. Just don't stop sharing your fears and joys with us.
    Lee Ann

  16. Oh my, I can feel your raw emotion in this and relate to a good portion of it. I need to be brave like you and schedule my first mammogram (I'm 42 also). Thank you for sharing this because there is strength in numbers.

  17. I started mammograms at 25. We have a very strong family history. You are in the hardest time right now, not knowing. Knowing, whatever it is, is much easier. You can formulate a plan when you know. I understand. I finished treatment for breast cancer in April of this year. I am 34. I am well today because I WENT LOOKING FOR IT! Hugs dear lady. Feel free to get in touch with me, if that would be helpful. Brandy Wheeler

  18. Oh, Ellie. I know this time, this waiting, way too well, and for too many rounds. If you can stay, if you can breathe through it, and be kind to yourself throughout the whole thing, it's worth all the effort. And the climb.

    Virtually holding your hand.

    Peace, ease and love to you.

  19. Praying for you to get through this period of uncertainty. Remember that 9 out of 10 growths are benign!


  20. Hi Ellie. I just wanted you to know that you are on my mind constantly these days. I am saying prayers for you and your family. I love your blog and it is a blessing to me. Please know that all of us out here love you and see you as a blessing. We are here for you and will be here for you when you feel like returning.

    In the meantime, know that this reader out here turns to you many difficult days for help and wishes she could help you for once.

  21. Hi darlin'. Just checking in. You know where to find me.

    Love to you.

  22. Ellie -
    While you have no idea who I am, I read your words so often, and the experience, strength, and hope they give me always help. I am keeping you in my thoughts. Hope you are remembering to breath as you climb.
    Lee Ann