October 4, 2023

The Space In-Between Living & Dying: How 4 Days of Uncertainty Felt Like an Eternity.

Four days ago, something happened that left me questioning more things than I had answers to.

Four days does not sound like a particularly long time. Ninety-six hours. 5,760 minutes. A short amount of time in the scheme of things, yet it felt like an eternity.

And I felt every tick of that clock. Every moment a new question. Another emotion. All my fears joined me in those four days, making the normal, everyday functions like eating and sleeping almost impossible.

Four days ago, I found a huge lump in my left breast. This was no ordinary lump; it was visible as I stood in front of the mirror. It felt like a golf ball had somehow lodged itself in there. And I was panicked.

I know I’m not alone in these discoveries. I know women from all over the world are finding lumps in their own breasts every day. Many of little concern, but for some, the discovery of those lumps will forever change their lives.

I also understand that every day people are faced with shockingly sad news from their doctor about their health, and in those moments, they meet their own mortality in the most frightening of ways. I know some of these stories seem more tragic than others. Have sadder endings. Perhaps there’s little hope.

But I’m also aware that wherever you are in your story, whatever you are facing, and whatever the outcome may be, in those moments of uncertainty, your fear, grief, confusion, anxiety, and panic are valid. Your feelings are always valid.

Upon the discovery of this lump, I immediately went into fight-or-flight. I could feel my heart rate elevate. I started pressing and prodding both breasts, repeatedly, for what seemed like the longest time and to the point that I had caused myself physical pain. I rationalised that I’d only had all my breast checks a year ago and I know I have cysts, which are common. I took comfort in knowing this lump had only just appeared because surely I would have noticed before now. That comfort soon turned to alarm, that if it had grown that quickly surely it must be sinister. Advanced. Aggressive.

Round and round I went. Justifying its existence as hormonal. Bargaining that if it was aggressive, I was otherwise healthy and could hopefully fight it. Rehearsing what I would say to my kids, my dad, my family, and my friends. Picturing what I would do if I had to have my breast removed. It was exhausting. It was the feeling of loss and grief, without even knowing the prognosis. It was a long night.

But, of course, with any enquiring mind and a need for answers, I did what I knew I shouldn’t and what no doubt most of us do; I started to Google. Yes, I know this is not the smartest idea under the circumstances and history has shown me this on more occasions then I care to admit. Nevertheless, there I was at 3 a.m. reading the ins and outs of breast lumps.

As incredibly informative as it was, there was now no chance of me sleeping, Google had managed to show me some of the worst-case scenarios. I was wired. And not in a good way. My stomach was churning. My breath was shallow. I felt I needed to get out in the fresh air and run. To exert some of this terrifying energy that was buzzing in and around me.

I began to reflect on the last year. The loss of my mum and the birth of my first grandchild. I liked to believe that was enough big life changes but knew life did not work quite like that and the reality is anything can happen at anytime. I’d seen some people and families face multiple losses and tragedies. Back and forth I went, until I fell into an exhausted but restless sleep as the new day began.

As it was a weekend, I couldn’t get into a doctor to get the referrals needed for the scans, hence the four days. A four days I do not wish to repeat anytime soon.

Maybe it was the grief from losing my mum bubbling up causing my emotions to run away with me. Perhaps it was just the stage I’m at in life and knowing friends and family who have faced and battled this. Whatever the reason, my body and mind were in a heightened stress response, and I could not think straight. To be honest, I felt I could barely function. It’s the not knowing and the fear of finding out. It’s facing the possibility that you are about to go into battle and unsure if you have what it takes. It’s the innocuous thoughts that your life is about to veer right off the path that you had worked so hard to stay on.

It’s a f*cking horrible place to be.

Yesterday, referrals in hand, I made my way to the imaging place. Desperately wanting answers but wishing I didn’t have to do this. I was nervous. First a mammogram, which if you are a woman whose experienced these, you know how uncomfortable, even painful they can be, and with this huge, sore lump, there was an added level of pain.

The lady doing the mammogram was friendly but stoic, and she did not give anything away. This just increased my anxiety. Upon completion, she asked me to wait until I was called for the ultrasound.

Two minutes, five minutes. I don’t actually know how long I was waiting but everything felt like it was in slow motion. Were they discussing the results of my mammogram? All concerned at what they were seeing and preparing the news they were going to give me? It’s really quite astonishing how one can catastrophize and turn something into a disaster of epic proportions without any actual facts or knowledge. I made a note to look into why I was catastrophizing this whole situation.

Finally, I was called in for the ultrasound; the radiographer advised I had lots of cysts. She said this new lump was a two-inch cyst with another 1.5-inch cyst sitting on top of it. I started to calm down at this news. After the ultrasound was completed, she checked the scans with the doctor and confirmed there was nothing sinister and they were definitely all harmless cysts.

I left feeling I could breathe again. I had been given options to drain the fluid for comfort, but that was my choice and no biopsies were required. My body and mind took a collective sigh; however, I was exhausted. Those four days of fight-or-flight and lack of food and sleep had taken a toll.

I was grateful. So very grateful. I don’t have to face what so many do. But I got a glimpse of the feelings and emotions that you face when something like this happens. A bold reminder of what’s important and what we take for granted. My priorities. What I need to do more of. What I should do less of. And what I should stop doing altogether. How important my energy is and where that should be focused. How one day all is well and the next it can suddenly change, so we shouldn’t waste time in places or with people who are not conducive to our happiness. It’s an introspective space to be in.

Four days is not a long time, but it can seem like forever when life throws you a curveball. It can also seem like forever if you’re not living the life you know you should be.

Choose to live today on your terms because the truth is, there is no time to waste. The truth is every day could be your last—make it count.


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