Glamping Through Breast Cancer Fears

Doing the Two-and-a-Half-Hour Drive to Grand Junction for My Mammogram First Time Around

Doing the Two-and-a-Half-Hour Drive to Grand Junction for My Mammogram First Time Around

Serving Myself a Wine in Fruita, Colorado

Serving Myself a Wine in Fruita, Colorado

My world shifted into a surreal-like state of uncertainty three weeks ago when I learned that I needed a second mammogram after my first one revealed troublesome findings. I was called back for a second mammo a year and a half ago, so at first I wasn’t overly concerned.

This time though I could clearly see the area that the radiologist told me appeared suspicious. “Your breasts look like chocolate milk, so it’s hard to see clearly,” she continued. I studied the section she indicated and thought that indeed the spot in question looked like flecks of cream clumped upon my frothy chest.

My heart rate quickened despite the fact that I exchanged casual small talk with her as she performed the second mammogram. Calm down, I said to myself. There’s nothing to worry about. Don’t automatically think about breast cancer.

Deepak Chopra Signing a Copy of One of His Books for Me at the Telluride Integrative Wellness Summit

Deepak Chopra Signing a Copy of Books for Me at the Telluride Integrative Wellness Summit

I was ushered into a consultation room, which seemed strange because I didn’t remember going through that step the last time I was in for a second look. Fifteen minutes passed during which time I attempted to practice some of the meditation techniques Dr. Deepak Chopra shared during his keynote presentation for Telluride First Foundation’s Integrative Wellness Summit. I attended his talk and others during an inspiring weekend just ten days earlier and had already been trying to work my program of greater mind/body awareness.

As the door opened and the doctor and the radiologist padded into the room, it seemed like the start of scene two that had become the movie in my mind featuring my right breast. I knew right away that the news wasn’t good. Or at least they weren’t sending me home scot-free. Instead, the doctor talked to me about the calcifications that were visible on the images and together we decided that a biopsy was the best option. (The alternative would have been to wait six months to see if there was a change, but that was not recommended and I couldn’t have imagined being in such a state of not knowing for so long.)

Deep Deepak Reading

Deep Deepak Reading

The next scene opened onto the room where the biopsy would be performed at a later date. My dear, sweet radiologist explained the whole procedure as my thoughts blurred and the sound of her words drifted in and out of my mind. WTF, I thought. I just had a wonderful weekend with an old friend living it up at the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, one of the best happenings in the country, and now I’m being shown a big table with a hole in it where I’m supposed to lie down on my belly in order for my boobs to pend down low. Thank goodness this lovely woman did not actually show me how the table would be raised, which is necessary for the doctor to work on them–or rather it–from below. Jeez.

Living It Up with My Old Friend Margie at the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival

Living It Up with My Old Friend Margie at the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival

I don’t know at what point–or which room I was in–when I started crying but, of course, I choked up and weeped. I received hugs, bucked up and then moved on to the next person I was to meet that afternoon, the Breast Navigation Specialist, and yes, that is a certification that I’m sure requires many hours of training and expertise to pass.

Double jeez when I saw the Breast Navigation Specialist plaque outside the door. But here I was face to face with another gracious and most caring woman who carefully explained what was going to happen during the procedure and what to expect afterward. I really had no right to cry but being the wimp that I am, my voice cracked, I sniffled and started mumbling something about Valium. The release form was quickly produced so that I could take the necessary meds before arriving at the hospital the day of the biopsy. I was sent on my way after having filled out minimal paperwork and received more hugs along the way.

I can’t remember what took place during the two-and-a-half-hour drive home to Telluride from Grand Junction. I think I cried more, however, I’m quite sure I gave myself a good talking to about how I was going to throw everything (and more) of what I learned at the integrative wellness summit into gear and that I was going to handle this with all the serenity of a Buddhist monk. Or at least I was going to think positive thoughts about the procedure and the eventual outcome and I was not going to freak out. I had already become passionate about the teachings of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight, a brain scientist who also presented at the summit, and was convinced that my left-brained mind chatter did me more harm than good as a general rule. I realized that it could make me doubly crazy with this current situation and I was determined to keep it in check.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor Talking at Telluride First's Integrative Wellness Summit

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor Talking at Telluride First’s Integrative Wellness Summit

Left and Right Brain Differences as Presented by Dr. Taylor

Left and Right Brain Differences as Presented by Dr. Taylor

My Stroke of Insight: The Book that Would Help Me Change My Thougths

My Stroke of Insight: The Book that Would Help Me Change My Thougths

Steve, my boyfriend of almost seven years, welcomed me home with big hugs and grave concern. He exhibited a sensitivity that astounded me, since guys don’t often respond well to these kinds of situations, especially with regard to women’s breasts. He listened to my news as I played my movie back to him. In the weeks that followed, his supportive response never wavered and much to my surprise, he took in every thought and feeling I had about the upcoming procedure and its possible outcomes. I talked about how I couldn’t get the image of “the room” and “the table” out of my head. I told him about my dream–or rather nightmare–of having had my right breast removed–how I even saw the glistening scalpel. I shared with him my concerns about my added risks–the fact that I never had children, that my Mom was an only child and that I was an only daughter, which meant there was little basis of comparison within the females of the family. My maternal grandmother had, however, had breast cancer at a not-so-old age and I told him how I vividly remembered the dreadful scar from her radical mastectomy and the falsies I’d sometimes find after she’d stayed in my room at the lake. I told him how I couldn’t string two sentences together–a real problem for a writer–and how sick I felt about not being able to make deadlines or effectively work on the promotion of my book, A Tour of the Heart. He listened to it all.

At the same time he saw me working my program as best as possible, being cheery as much as I could despite the worries that crept into my mind, no matter how hard I tried to chase them away. I had had bladder cancer when I was a young, beautiful woman in Paris and was poked and prodded for ten years after that until I was finally declared cancer free.

“Your fears are very real,” my therapist said. “Have you cried?” she asked me after I told her I was struggling with a big lump in my throat, tightness in my chest and shortness of breath.

The Workbook for Joy

The Workbook for Joy

“Not so much,” I replied, making a mental note to cry more. I had been so focused on thinking positive thoughts that I ended up stuffing a lot of my feelings. In addition to visualization, I was big on practicing laugh therapy/meditation, something that was also presented at the integrative wellness summit by the lovely Christine Eartheart from Joy Potential along with Dr. Taylor. It helped and I had gotten pretty good at it to the point that my four cats were giving me startled and strange looks as if to say, “Now she’s gone completely bonkers,” whenever I broke into one of my belly laughs.

But I did need to let out my fears more. I started sharing the news with others–mostly girlfriends–which helped tremendously. In the midst of all this, I spotted the cover of an edition of People Magazine quoting Jackie Collins, who recently died from breast cancer. She said this about her disease: “I didn’t want people to know because I didn’t want people’s sympathy. I think sympathy can weaken you.” Thankfully my therapist had pointed out the importance of connecting with others–it’s not about sympathy at all. We are one; people want to provide comfort and support.

So by the time the biopsy was looming on the horizon, I had calmed down considerably. I was prepared to endure what I perceived might be a painful and humiliating procedure and to deal with whatever outcome would be presented to me.

“We’ll get through this together, Hun,” Steve said many times over, words of compassion greater than I could have imagined.

Driving to Fruita, Colorado

Driving to Fruita, Colorado

Fruita, Colorado

The First of Many Healing Desert Scapes in Fruita

Since Grand Junction is a distance away and we were looking for a distraction, we came up with a plan to camp in Fruita, about forty minutes from the hospital, on the Saturday night before the big event and then stay in a hotel on Sunday, the night before that Monday’s appointment. It was a great move and we felt very happy and relaxed within the warm and soothing environs of the desert landscape. We were so at peace there that we decided to spend both nights at our beautiful and extremely well-dialed in campsite at the North Fruita Desert Campground.

Steve Setting Up Camp

Steve Setting Up Camp

Situated in the heart of about forty acres of some of the best mountain biking terrain in the U.S.–perhaps the world–Steve was thrilled to find himself on a reconnaissance trip of sorts in an area little known to him. Sure, I pedaled around but for me–and really for both of us–it was more about imbuing our senses with all that is wonderful eating, sleeping and relaxing in the great outdoors.

Our Set Up in Fruita

Our Set Up in Fruita

Bike at the Ready

Bike at the Ready

View from Our Campsite

View from Our Campsite

Happy Campers

Happy Campers

We live in gorgeous Telluride, Colorado, however, camping offers a more transformative experience. We cooked every meal outside and spent long moments gazing into the crackling campfire chitter-chattering about who knows what while listening to wide and varied tunes from Merle Haggard to Steely Dan. Steve even serenaded me one night on the guitar as I fell fast asleep in the tent.

Grillin'

Grillin’

Dinner Preparations

Dinner Preparations

Tunes at Sunset

Tunes at Sunset

Our Campfire

Our Campfire

I barely thought about the impending procedure and we spoke of it even less. Although I did say, “I know I’m going to be OK, one way or another. I can handle whatever news I’m given.”

Bananas Foster Pancake

Bananas Foster Pancake for Breakfast

Carmelizing My Bananas

Carmelizing My Bananas

Voilà

Voilà

And Heating Up an Almond Croissant Too

And Heating Up an Almond Croissant Too

Steve and I ventured into REI Sunday afternoon to gear up for future camping trips. It seemed strange to be back into “civilization” after having soaked up the great outdoors for the past couple of days, but here we felt in our element. Plus, the sales assistant was super chill and helpful, which made us fall in love with camping even more. (Steve inevitably bought a ton of stuff, including a new sleeping bag.) The whole experience proved to be yet another wonderful distraction for both of us and then afterward we hit a community pool for showers.

I tied my hair back that night and wore a ski cap, so that my long locks wouldn’t reek of campfire smoke the next day at the hospital.

Steve Trying Out a Sleeping Bag at REI

Steve Trying Out a Sleeping Bag at REI

Showers!

Showers!

We enjoyed another feast from the grill and a deep and delicious sleep until we were awakened with the sound of rain and the angst that Steve’s old tent wouldn’t hold up. Miraculously, it didn’t leak although we emerged from it the next morning in a hurried state out of fear we’d be rained on while trying to take down the camp. (That’s no fun at all.) The sky soothed me by its muted, color-saturated tones, but there was little time for picture taking because Steve kept warning me of sheets of rain in the distance headed our way.

Fruita Sunrise

Fruita Sunrise

Steve Packing Up Our Camp

Steve Packing Up Our Camp

I tumbled into the hospital with a change of clothes and toiletries in hand. “Only in Colorado do you go from campsite to treatment room with little more than a stop in the ladies room,” I said to Steve. It helped to joke about our situation because the tightness in my throat and chest was creeping up on me. “I’ll take the Valium and Extra Strength Tylenol as soon as I do my toilette,” I told him.

Take four of Maribeth’s movie on her right breast. I met with the doctor and two female nurses/technicians/radiologists in the procedure room where all was explained to me once again, although this time with perhaps more detail. “I don’t need to take out all of the calcifications,” the doctor said. “Just enough to get a good tissue sample.”

“About how much?” I enquired. And he showed me by measuring the end of his thumb, which appeared to be about an inch. As much as this sounded like it was going to hurt, l was thinking that maybe it would even out my breasts. My right breast had always been bigger than the left; perhaps after this, they’d both be the same size. (This line of thinking was prompted by an experience that a friend shared with me re: a similar procedure. And yes, I couldn’t help letting a bit of vanity enter into the complexities of my thoughts.)

I was up on the table before I knew it, very awkwardly–although gently–positioned with the loving care of one of the technicians whose job was to focus solely on me. The doctor explained what he was doing and what I’d likely be feeling as he numbed me up with the skill of a Parisian seamstress piercing a delicate piece of silk with her needle and thread. I felt the discomfort and stinging he warned me about and then braced myself for an eventual shot of pain, which the doctor cautioned might follow. It didn’t–his carefully-measured dose worked like magic.

My personal care provider tried to distract me with smalltalk about skiing in Telluride and the like while rubbing my neck. “Maybe the calcifications are from having eaten too much cheese during the time I lived in France,” I quipped as the tears rolled out of my eyes and fell like huge droplets onto the table beneath me.

There was no mind chatter. Dr. Taylor would have been proud of me. I was totally in the moment, observing and accepting what was happening to me with all the right-brained softness that comes with mindfulness and being in flow. So what if the Valium helped some.

Contemplating My Morning's Desert Sunrise

Subconscious Thoughts During My Procedure: the Morning’s Desert Sunrise

Taking Fifteen Minutes to Figure Out How to Fold Up the Dang Camp Chair: Perhaps What Steve Was Thinking About as He Waited for Me

Perhaps What Steve Was Thinking About as He Waited for Me at the Hospital:  How it Took Fifteen Minutes to Figure Out How to Fold Up the Dang Camp Chair

It was over soon enough and the doctor mentioned that he thought he got it all. My technician cleaned and applied pressure to my wound as I sat upright on the table. “Don’t look,” she said.

“Oh, I won’t,” I replied as I looked to the left. What a big mistake that was because my sight zoomed down into the hole in the table zeroing in on the little platform beneath it where my breast had been wedged. I saw blood and ooze upon shiny metal as this goo registered in my brain as my own little horror film. Blaaaaeh, let’s cut that scene.

I padded out of the hospital and greeted Steve with a smile. “How’ya doing, Hun?” he asked.

“OK,” I responded as he pulled out and we talked about what to do next.

We decided to have lunch, since I hadn’t felt like eating at breakfast. He chose Mexican and I ordered a giant margarita to go with my huevos rancheros. No tears were shed, which was different from how I’d expected I’d be after all the medical doings.

The Long Dreary Drive Home

The Long Dreary Drive Home

A Brighter Scene as We Approached Home

A Brighter Scene as We Approached Home

I slept most of the two and a half hours home, went to bed early after tons of kitty love and woke up sore and tired the next day. I kept up with the pain meds and icing and then finally unfurled the Ace bandage that was used to bind up my breasts. I felt relieved and not at all anxious about the doctor’s call.

“I think the news will be good,” I told Steve that morning. He just looked at me and nodded.

The doctor called early afternoon and the news was indeed good. “The tissue sample is benign,” he explained. “There’s no need for worry.”

My Post-It Note

My Post-It Note

Boy, do I love happy endings and this one arrived right on cue. I’ll take that plot line and thank all at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado for taking care of me in such a loving and professional manner. I’m also immensely grateful to Steve and other loved ones and friends for having been so present for me.

I was able to take the Steri-Strips off over the weekend and take a good look at my breast. Aside from some bruising and little cuts, it looks healthy and well and not much changed from before. Inside though I’m a stronger woman and ever-so grateful that all worked out all right.

Moi

Moi

Please note that I’m sharing this very personal story largely in honor of this being Breast Cancer Awareness month. I hope that every woman of “un certain age” reading this will make sure she receives regular mammograms and that the men reading this will encourage their ladies to do these screenings, too. Men can also contract breast cancer, so I hope they will do the necessary to stay healthy as well. Early detection is key, which is partly why I felt I’d be OK even if the result came back malignant. One in eight women will have breast cancer in their lifetime–that’s a very real statistic. (I’m to go back for another mammo in six months.)

I also wanted to share this in case you know someone that’s going through something similar. Reach out to them and provide support whether in the form of comforting words, a hug or another gesture of love and understanding. The waiting game can be dreadful and medical procedures provoke a lot of stress.

I want to add that I’ve often been in awe of healthcare providers for what they do and how they’re able to handle so much blood, gore and emotions. Once again, the team at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction is exceptional.

And I’d like to suggest turning to nature–or whatever soothes you–as a distraction from the scary thoughts that enter our minds when faced with such trying news.

Love and peace to all.

ONE MORE THING:  I definitely recommend REI for all your camping and outdoor needs, including snowsports, cycling, hiking, paddling, yoga and more. And for buying cool clothing and gear at a discount, check out REI-Outlet.

 

 
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    This blog is a personal blog written and edited by Maribeth Clemente. This blog sometimes accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post may not always be identified as paid or sponsored content. The owner of this blog is sometimes compensated to provide opinion on products, services, Web sites and various other topics. Even though the owner of this blog receives compensation for certain posts or advertisements, she always gives her honest opinions, findings, beliefs or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blogger's own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question. This blog does not contain any content which might present a conflict of interest.
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