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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Myndee Kay "Mammogram" Larsen

I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t have this amazing survivor story. I have friends who are the medical miracles and their fight should be celebrated. I had a scare, a blip on the radar, a wake-up call if you will. It’s been said that we are never sent challenges that we can’t handle, and for me, I was given all I can handle!

So, why write about a wake-up call? There are a couple reasons. First, when I was preparing for surgery, I met with a counselor which is apparently routine, just to help get you in the right mental state. She found me to be rather closed off and private (Shocker, hope she didn’t take out a lot of student loans to figure that one out). She is the one who suggested that I tell people about the surgery before I had it and also eventually write about it. It should be therapeutic.

Secondly, and this might sound cheesy, but I’ve always had a feeling that my life is not entirely mine. From a very young age, I’ve felt an obligation to people. It’s been a blessing and a curse. But I pay it forward; participate in random acts of kindness, and try being present for anyone who is struggling. Honestly, it’s not always a choice, often I’m compelled to do these things. This paragraph sounds so self-serving, and it is. Many times I benefit more than my recipient does. Through this experience, I learned that the norm of reciprocity is not dead. These people that I have been compelled to take care of, really took care of me.

Shortly after moving to Chicago, I was mentally in a great place, loving my job, loving the city. But physically I could tell something was wrong. No worries reader, I won’t be throwing out embarrassing medical details or over sharing.

Unfortunately, I was forced to miss our staff outing to the Cubs game in order to see a specific doctor who came highly recommended. At my appointment, he immediately set me up for a mammogram and some other tests the next week.

I did call my family at this point. I could tell I really freaked them out. I think Evie will agree with me when I say I’m the voice of reason in our family. I organize the events; make the plans, force action, resolve conflict. So, when I could tell the level of panic was high, I downplayed it all. No big deal, a couple tests, it will be fine.

I really did feel that way until the night before I was scheduled to go to the hospital for the initial round of tests. My mind started playing this horrible game of “what ifs” on me and I could feel the impending meltdown. So, I started dialing my inner circle which consists of about four people who, when I’m desperate, I will share with. Not one of them answered. I took this as a sign that I was supposed to handle it myself but then my phone rang. Shannon was the first to call me back. She was brilliant and truly talked me off the ledge. It wasn’t 2 minutes into my conversation with Shannon that Laurel started beeping in. When I was finally able to speak with Laurel, she went into full crisis mode. The next day I got a phone call from a nurse in the Chicago area who Laurel had somehow tracked down through friends. This nurse was wonderful, she talked me through everything that was going to happen at the hospital, told me what questions to ask, and gave me her number to call back if I needed anything else. Once again, Laurel and Shannon pulled through.

The most excruciating thing about the hospital is that the technicians who run your tests are not allowed to tell you anything because they are not doctors. So, even though they see the results and know exactly what they are looking at, they can’t tell you what they see. You end up playing this game where you try to gauge the reaction. What does that smile mean? Did she just furrow her brow? I did a series of tests that culminated in the mammogram. I was told, after the mammogram, they would do an ultra sound but only if necessary. Well, I got sent to the ultra sound which choked me up. I figured it must be bad if they are doing the additional test. As soon as it was over and I reached my car, I started blaring Matt Nathanson’s “The Weight of It All” and crying my eyes out! I left the hospital knowing nothing.

Let me just digress for a minute and give you a heads up about mammograms. They do not hurt. They are a little bit awkward and the technician does some manipulating that bonds the two of you together for life, but they do not hurt. So if you are supposed to be getting a mammogram and haven’t: Cowgirl up and go get ‘ir done! Call now. I’ve had four and they are no big deal.
I got the call two weeks later that the doctors didn’t see anything on my mammogram. But because of my symptoms it was obvious that something was wrong. I was told to give it three months and see if my body would correct itself. It didn’t. Mammogram #2, three more months of waiting, Mammogram #3, now I’m beginning to realize that medicine is NOT an exact science.
Finally, my doctor felt it was time for me to see a surgeon. Of course the surgeon ordered mammogram #4, and by this time I know exactly how to turn my shoulders and could pretty much give myself a mammogram if I had to. And it was also back to the ultra-sound room. Fortunately, this surgeon figured out the problem, actually where the problem was hiding and encouraged me to have it surgically removed.

This was right before Christmas. So, I asked if it could wait long enough to talk to my family over the holidays. He said yes. Well, I didn’t want to ruin the holidays so I pretty much kept it to myself. As my parents were rolling me out curbside at the SLC airport, I said, “Oh, by the way I have to have some surgery to remove a lump that hopefully isn’t breast cancer. Thanks for the ride!”

It was hard for me to get the surgery scheduled. First, because I didn’t want to do it, I’d never had surgery and the anesthesia freaks me out. Secondly, because all I do for work is travel, with one trip after another, I wasn’t slowing down. Finally, my surgeon said we need to get this done. I ended up missing the NCAA Championships Cabinet and The Summit League Swimming & Diving Championships to have my surgery. Fortunately, the people I work with were kind enough to cover for me. It helped that the NCAA Championships Cabinet was in San Antonio and my boss is obsessed with Texas.

This is the point where my true friends came out of the woodwork. My family was going through a very difficult time and was unable to come out to Chicago for the surgery. I told them this was fine but actually I was petrified. I had friends like Gretchen and Hope let me know all I had to do was say the word and they would make a trip. Dina offered to pay for a plane ticket for my mom. Tony gave me one of the most comforting phone calls I think I’ve ever had.

And then there was Brenda. I was thinking about it and I realized that I never even had to ask her to take me in for my surgery. Once I told her my family wasn’t coming out, she simply said, “Just let me know what time I’m picking you up.” And I know this was a hardship for her because she has two kids at home and a husband who has to catch a train into the city each morning. I know she had to do a lot of juggling to pick me up at 5:00 a.m. and stay with me throughout the procedure. I am forever indebted and eternally grateful for her.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I was scared. From the time I found out I had to have surgery up until the day of surgery, I basically cried myself to sleep each night with worry. To try to find some peace, I ended up calling on some people from my church. I was a complete stranger to these two individuals but they came and prayed with me and after the surgery took turns bringing me meals. People’s capacity to give is astounding and reassuring.

The surgery was a blur. They gave me some valium or something to calm my nerves so I was a little loopy when my doctor came to meet with me pre-op. He had a Sharpie so he could initial where he was going to operate. I remember telling him, “You’re not exactly the person I thought I’d ask to sign my chest.” He got a kick out of that.

I woke up from the anesthesia alright which was a huge concern of mine. Brenda checked me out and took me home to start recovering. The day I got home from surgery a care package arrived from Laurel and Shannon which included a blue blanket which I pretty much stayed wrapped up in throughout the recuperation. The recovery went pretty smooth and again I was truly overcome with the amount of phone calls and cards and people just generally checking in. I had no idea the support system that I have.

I went back to work a little too soon and had one minor black out incident where I smacked my head. It was kind of like the time in high school I decided to hustle and save the basketball from going out of bounds. But instead of leaping and throwing the ball over my shoulder and back into play, I rammed it into my forehead and back out of bounds. These headaches were comparable.

Three weeks after my surgery I had an appointment to go back to my surgeon and find out the lab results. I was very lucky and relieved to find out everything turned out okay. I tested out clear at my six month check-up, I head in for my nine month check up in November, and my one year check up in February. If all of these go well, I can start seeing a doctor less often.

This is something that I’ll have to monitor for the rest of my life. One of my friends was commiserating with me and asking if it was depressing to think that for the rest of my life I’ll have to have these check-ups. I said, “Not really. Basically, I’ll never have a slump because I’m guaranteed to get felt up every six months. And I’ve had countless rich doctors ask me to take my shirt off. And that ain’t so bad!”

This experience is trivial, I definitely get that. But it shook me to my core. My bucket list is in full effect, I am checking things off right and left, not leaving anything to chance. In fact, last year, when this whole thing started several of you may have received the “In case I die, I love you” e-mails from me. Even in a crisis my flair for the dramatic is ever present.

I’ve taken control of my health and try to eat right and exercise like crazy. I’ve taken control of my friendships and try to spend the time on the people who are my true friends and not worry so much about the others. I’ve always had control of my fashion so no adjustments there. More than anything it has restored my faith in people. That’s why I want to start a “Thinking of You” Campaign and do some emotional fundraising. It’s important to me for reasons I can’t fully explain.

To be a participant in a “Thinking of You” campaign is ego boosting and self-esteem raising. So, I really hope you will participate with me. If I don’t have your address, e-mail it to me and I’ll make sure you are included. If I do have your address, just leave a comment that you want to be a participant and I’ll make sure you are! You can participate in this campaign by spending as little as 15 minutes and 45 cents. I hope I have piqued your interest (I'm being purposefully vague) and you will help me out. If not, I think less of you already ;).

40,000 women die of breast cancer every year. It would be amazing if we could touch 40,000 people in our campaign but that may be wishful thinking. I’m going to give it my all and if I’ve ever done a favor for you, I’m cashing it in, help me out.

Thanks for reading my rambling! Talk to you all soon.