My Mammogram Showed ‘Everything Was Fine’ — But It Wasn’t

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Rachel Garlinghouse

“You have the best intuition of any person I’ve ever met.”

The words surprised me. Because with four kids, I’m pretty much a hot mess mom cliché. I feel anything but put-together. I barely have time to shower and pee, much less listen to anything other than Paw Patrol in the background while I’m washing the seventh load of laundry in a twelve-hour period.

I didn’t know how to respond to my therapist’s words, so I just smiled.

In the days following, I kept thinking about what she had said to me. And I asked myself, How did I know that what my body was telling me was true? Important? Urgent? How did I ever manage to listen to my inner being when my house was so audibly loud all the time?

The answer is: I don’t know. But I’m so glad that I did.

In March of last year, my daughter, then only a few months old, would constantly rest her tiny hand on my upper breast. The area grew increasingly tender. I would move my daughter’s hand, and she would move it right back.

Then my seatbelt became uncomfortable. Then my cross-body purse. And I knew, something wasn’t right.

I went in and saw my gynecologist who recommended an ultrasound and mammogram. I immediately scheduled the imaging appointment for a few days later. After the appointment, I waited twenty-four hours for someone to call me with the results.

Like clockwork, a nurse called me. “Everything is fine,” she said. “They want you to come back in six months for another ultrasound.”

I was so relieved. I had two breast lumps in the past and opted to have both removed. They were always benign masses, so I figured I was on #3.

But something was different this time. I couldn’t let go of the fact that this one seemed different.

I called the nurse back and she ran through the usual questions with me. Did I drink much caffeine? Was the lump changing? I told her, I need to see a surgeon, just to be sure. She gave me a few names and numbers, and I immediately scheduled an appointment with one of them.

The weeks that followed were a blur. I had an initial appointment, then a week later a biopsy, and then three weeks later, a follow up appointment to get my test results.

I sat on the exam table, scrolling through social media, waiting for the doctor. She came in, and I just knew something was wrong. Moments later, she proclaimed that I had breast cancer, and then bombarded me with drawings, charts, and brochures. I have no idea how I managed to drive from her office to my kids’ babysitter’s house to pick them up. I was completely stunned.

56 days after I was diagnosed, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy, direct-to-implant. I was given the option of radiation and a lumpectomy (where only part of the breast tissue is removed), but I simply didn’t have peace about that choice.

Was I terrified? Completely. But did I know it’s what I needed to do? Absolutely yes.

A few weeks after my surgery, my pathology results came back from my removed breast tissue. In it, previously undetected invasive breast cancer was found. Confirmation that the decision to have a mastectomy was the right one.

Losing my breast was hard. It’s still hard. I have the appearance of breasts, thankfully because implants were an option for me, but they have no feeling. They are quite perky. They are fake. I’m thankful for them, but they make me sad, too.

Cancer is an asshole. It steals, and it doesn’t care your age, the number of kids you have, what’s going on with your career or your marriage. It comes when it chooses to. And what we do about it is up to us.

I’m incredibly thankful I chose to take a few minutes to listen to what my body was telling me. On multiple occasions over my cancer journey, listening saved me from complete devastation, possibly even death.

So when you hear that voice urging you, nagging you, listen to it. Yield. Doing so may just save your life.