The Quiet Room

7 Mar

The room is lovely; serene & conducive to quiet speculation or whispered communication. The swirls in the mint green carpet complement the upholstery on the chairs, the hardwood sections of the floor & the paintings that adorn the walls. Even with the obvious hand of a decorator, it remains a nondescript room for waiting but adds some of the comforts of home like fresh coffee in a coffee maker, a small refrigerator stocked with canned drinks & little baskets filled with cheese crackers & various other cracker snacks.  A large flat screen TV hangs on the wall, its audio kept at a somewhat subdued level for those who are inclined to watch. Significantly, there is a box of tissues on the coffee table.

This morning there are 12 of us filling most of the seats. It is quiet & we don’t immediately speak; faces lost in thought; eyes seeing some far away image of a life well lived or a child waiting to be loved. Most of all there is sadness; not only in the eyes of those sitting & waiting, but it seems to hang on the well-appointed wallpaper, left there from years of women who have gone before us this morning & waiting to be brought to life by some memory or word that has been said there far too many times before.

We’re all wearing the same thing – our uniform; a long hospital gown made of the same fabric tied in the front….except for the elderly woman to my right who has tied her gown in the back in the usual way unable to understand that here we wear them differently. We tied them in the front for easy access & there’s something sad about that, too.

We’re all sharing space in this room together because of a similar condition. This is the Breast Imaging Center & it’s not the place most women go to get their annual mammograms.  On the contrary … this is where we go to get follow-up mammograms when the original one we got is somehow defective or irregular or abnormal. This is why we share the silence today & the hollow-eyed vacancy of a stare with tears & fear just rippling under the surface.

Some of us are here for the first time. Some of us are repeat attenders … we’ve gone down that breast cancer road & from that day forward we have come & will continue coming to this place for our annual mammograms because we are survivors hoping to continue to be just that – survivors. We are somehow forever different & we gather here annually to check & recheck our status, hoping for the best.

Because this is soon to be my 9th. year of survivorship, I break the palpable silence. This isn’t my first rodeo but I can look around the room & almost guess whose it is. Even more women have entered the room & taken a seat wearing our uniform. The eyes are a bit more frightened, a bit more haunted, a bit more filled with longing & sadness. I know what’s going on in the minds behind the eyes. I’ve been there… but today I say, “There couldn’t be any women in Lynchburg today because we’re all here.” There’s laughter & even gratitude in some of the faces … gratitude for hearing one of us speak & leading the way to conversation.

We all have such unique stories about how & why we’ve ended up here this morning together & some of us begin to share them … to break the ice … to reach out to our sisters because that is who these women & I have become. Sisters in the fight against breast cancer. One woman observes, “Women really have a lot to deal with” & we all agree….because we’re HERE.

In time some of us begin to tell our stories or ask to hear someone else’s. There’s comfort in numbers, whether sharing a similar experience or learning from listening to the telling of one by others.

Our circle, like our numbers is fluid. We begin with 12, then 15, then 9 as we are called individually to have our mammograms. Some are annual mammograms like me who are there because we are survivors & regular mammogram centers don’t process us anymore. Others are first-timers; there to follow-up on a suspicious mammogram with another mammogram & possibly an ultrasound that will change their lives forever.

I remember being at that stage & I say a prayer that today’s mammogram will be unchanged. I say additional prayers for my new found sisters who will receive life-changing news this afternoon, regardless whether it is positive or negative. Just crossing the threshold of this room today for the first-timers is a life changing experience. For those with bad news, that life changing news will catapult them into another realm where they will be tested as to strength & durability as they tentatively begin their journey down the breast cancer road. For those who are negative & have only experienced a scare, life at mammogram time will forever be tainted with more fear … fear of the “what ifs” & the unknown.

Today I am relieved that my annual mammogram is unchanged. I’ve been here so many times that the staff is more like friends than ‘staff & patient.’ I am hugged by one of the mammography doctors. She is my friend after these many years & she knows, like I know that she & I are sisters & part of that sisterhood of women threatened by breast cancer. As we hug we silently rejoice in the knowledge that today we are both free of that darkest of passengers.

My husband is waiting for me, his brow creased with worry until he sees me & I smile. He tells me how worried he’s been & he kisses me. He gives me a yellow dandelion he’s picked for me because he doesn’t have real flowers. I take it gratefully because it is a treasure & a symbol of the goodness of the day.

On the way out of the building a woman rushes up to me smiling. She & I sat side by side in the waiting room, sharing stories of our illness, which resulted in sharing stories of our courage with a sister who understands.

I tell her I am OK & she tells me she is, too. We hug as though we’ve known each other for ever, but that’s what sisters do. I introduce her to my husband & they shake hands. She is beaming.

We exchange names & promise to keep in touch through Facebook.

She leaves before we do & there’s a spring in her step … a good news spring & I wonder if I have that same step … but I’m sure I do.

This morning the size of my family has increased & that both makes me glad & saddens me. I’m glad to have shared a moment in time with a waiting room full of special woman but my heart aches for every one of us who has ever or will ever hear those words, “You have breast cancer.”

Before my new friend leaves, I tell her I hope all the women we shared the morning with are cancer free & she agrees, even though we both know that is unlikely. We HOPE because our family circle has increased & we want the best for all of them … our new sisters.

And so we HOPE ….

 

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8 Responses to “The Quiet Room”

  1. Betty Hudson March 8, 2017 at 12:18 am #

    I went thru that center 2 years ago after my mammogram was “off”. Thank goodness, they found dense breast tissue only. However, I was told that makes it hard for anything to show up.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • heimdalco March 8, 2017 at 3:34 am #

      So glad everything was OK for you, Betty. As women we face some pretty scary stuff. Thanks for reading my blog entries. Love to you

      Like

  2. John Mason March 8, 2017 at 4:12 am #

    Mom had breast cancer but another form took her from us in 2005. I stand as support for all my sisters in this fight. I pray for a cure every day. Just stay strong and never give up in this fight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • heimdalco March 8, 2017 at 4:49 am #

      Thank you so much, John. I appreciate your support of my blog AND of women fighting the breast cancer fight. Men, unfortunately, get breast cancer, too, so it’s a concern for us all on a very personal level. Thank you again ….

      Like

  3. Judith Perrotto March 9, 2017 at 12:01 am #

    This is so beautifully written and so very moving. For those of us who work at the breast center, we know the significance and weight of those 4 little words, “you have breast cancer” and understand how it will change a woman’s life forever. Thank you for creating a sisterhood among our treasured patients.

    Liked by 1 person

    • heimdalco March 9, 2017 at 1:06 am #

      Judith … thank you so much for your kind response to this blog entry. I wanted to write it immediately when I came home while it was all still fresh in my mind. It’s always an emotional experience for me & yesterday I realized, when talking to the other women in that “Quiet Room,” that it is for ALL of us each year. And we ARE a “sisterhood,” joined together by our vulnerability to this alarming disease.

      Thank you again for the kind words & for reading my stuff.

      One of the very positive things about yesterday was seeing you. Your compassion & empathy make you the very best person for your job.

      Like

  4. Willy March 9, 2017 at 12:39 am #

    I had a break and decided to read and I had tears before I knew it. Yes, it was an experience for me but while I’ve always known it was difficult since the cancer, this really showed me HOW much it affects not only Linda.
    I am lucky to have Linda. A dandelion was lame, but I wanted something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • heimdalco March 9, 2017 at 1:11 am #

      Thank you, Willy, for reading this. Your understanding & concern … & the fact that you took off from work to be with me … make this a little easier for me each year.

      I love you & will keep that dandelion until the petals fall off & it turns to dandelion dust … because you gave it to me & understood that it would mean so much & be significant.

      Like

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