A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mammogram Results

A month ago I went to have a mammogram done. A week and a half later I got a short form letter from the hospital saying that they had found something on my mammogram. There was a sentence saying that most of these findings turn out to be benign, but, of course, I began to worry. The news came just before my brother and I had to leave for the Grassroots festival for four days. I quickly made an appointment for the end of the following week to have another closer mammogram done. Soon after we got to the festival I told my brother about the letter. My parents would be arriving soon for a 12 day visit and I would have to tell them too. My brother tried to reassure me that it was unlikely that I had cancer because we have no history of breast cancer in our family, but I knew it was wiser to stay open to the possibility in case he was wrong. I wanted to be prepared for the worst. I didn't want to take my life and health for granted.

Despite the shadow from my news, we had a decent time at the festival, no real problems, just a bit of thunder, lightning and rain. I can't remember the first time we went to this festival, but it must have been within the last decade. We try to make it an annual event since neither of us get to hear live music very often. For the last couple of years we've stayed in a mildly run down motel that's maybe 15 minutes drive away from the festival. It's good to be at the festival, out of doors and around people listening to music and eating good food, but it is also nice to go back to the motel and withdraw from all that, go back to home base.

Off and on throughout our trip I would consider the possibility that I did have cancer and wonder how long I would have to live. My breasts did not feel lumpy, but my left breast did seem to me to ache more than usual. I began to pray that if I did have cancer, that it would be in the very early stages of it because then I might have a chance to recover from it. I couldn't quite get myself to imagine what it would be like to have a breast or both breasts removed surgically. I'm not very fond of my breasts since I put on all this weight due to taking some of the anti-psychotic medications, but that didn't mean I wanted to lose them either. Before I got really ill in 1998, I had thought that I would live to a ripe old age because both of my grandmothers had lived to be 94. After I began to recover from my illness I knew anything could happen and stopped taking my life for granted. The hard fact is that many people who suffer from schizophrenia die a good 25 years before the general population.

I think the reason many mentally ill people die so young is 1) due to suicide and 2) due to not taking care of oneself by going to doctors during the early stages of problems. I hadn't had a mammogram done since 2007 when I should have been having it done once a year. Presently I don't have a gynecologist and haven't had a Pap smear done sine 2007 too. I'm at an age when I have to be more responsible about going to doctors and resist my urge to put it off for another day, week...year.

Since I became psychotically ill, a part of me has become tired of life and willing to let go of it. Contemplating my early death seemed possible and if I had to die, I wished to die well, with some dignity. I needed some time to prepare. Buddhist are very much into contemplating death and preparing for its eventuality. I have several audiobooks on it, but never got very far in listening to them. I still have a touch of a superstitious mind and believe that if I think about death, somehow I will bring it closer to me and die. I'm pretty sure that's another illusion and the only way to deflate an illusion is to pop it by doing what you are afraid of doing. This attitude didn't get me to listen to those audiobooks, but it did get me to face death more squarely and consider it.

The part of me that wanted to live prayed that I didn't have cancer. I haven't accomplished much in my life except surviving domestic violence and acute psychosis. I still wanted to write at least one book, a book that might include some of my artwork, possibly a CD of a few of my songs. All that required time, persistence and discipline along with some talent, all of which I wasn't sure that I had. Still I prayed.

My parents arrived two days after we got home from the festival. I had done some cleaning, but because I was worrying much of the upstairs was not ultimately cleaned. The downstairs, where they would be staying, was in good shape. They had a bedroom with two twin beds, an eating/studio room, a laundry/kitchenette room and a very small bathroom. I had also had a new phone/computer jack installed in the bedroom, so that my father could have free use of my computer while he was here. This meant that I did not have the use of my computer, but I found that I got along without it while they were here.

After I told my parents about the mammogram result, they both insisted on coming with me when I had the second, closer mammogram done. And so we went. They waited in the waiting room and I was taken by the same woman who did my mammogram the last time to the same mammogram machine. She said this time it might hurt a little bit more, which it did. She only took an image of my right breast because the left breast (which I had been worrying about) was all clear. A few moments after that she came back with the results: no cancer. Not just no cancer, but no benign lump either. Nothing to do except thank the Higher Power for the thumbs up sign. The woman then went on to talk to me for a bit saying that she didn't like bringing women back in, but that if she had any doubt due to what was on the mammogram, she didn't want to wait for a year to go by before another test was taken. She then showed me the before and after picture. On the before picture was an area that was lighter than the rest of the image indicating something, but the after picture showed no such indication. She said the first image was just a skin fold and that the tighter second image showed this. The main thing was, I was okay. I thanked her and told her she had a tough job. I was grateful to her for being so thorough, despite the worry it put me through. I knew she deserved a lot of credit for being willing to do this work for other women's health. She agreed that it was a hard job; I knew she needed to hear what I had said to her and hoped that it made her feel good. All I knew was that I was feeling pretty good myself. When I saw my parents in the waiting room I made the double thumbs up sign and smiled.

And so we were all very relieved. My parents went on to stay for another week and a half. We went to two plays, two movies, a historic Native American site and out to several good restaurants including two Thai and two Indian restaurants. I had to do a lot of driving, but it was worth it because my family had such a good time.

So no breast cancer and another chance to get back on track. All throughout this I did not meditate. Time to return to it. Time also to return to my writing. One of my old friends who I found on Facebook encouraged me to continue with my memoir, so did my mother. Just having them give me encouragement is all I need to renew my commitment.
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