Fear of the Unknown

woman sitting in bed thinking about her fear of the unknown

Photo Credit: Sofie Delauw-Westend61/Shutterstock

Everyone lives with fear. When will the day come when we have to face one of our biggest fears? For me, the day came at age 47, when I went in for a routine mammogram and emerged with devastating news. "We found a cyst cluster. You need to come back for a stereotactic biopsy."

Those words sounded like a foreign language and took hours to sink in. Then, the English translation finally hit me: I might have breast cancer.

Now if you look on the Internet (which they always tell you not to do), it’s easy to find a cyst cluster explained away. Oh, it’s something that happens with age and it’s usually benign. Usually. I was not reassured. My mother had recently finished breast-cancer treatment and my best friend had died from the disease. “Usually” did not ease my worry.

To add to the trauma, I had to undergo a procedure I had never heard of. A stereotactic biopsy is not a plain needle biopsy — it involves lying face down on a table, fitting your breast into a hole, and having a needle inserted from the bottom. I had no idea if it would be painful or how long it would take. All I knew was I was too afraid to take the appointment they offered me for the next day.  Instead, I chose to prolong my own agony and put off the procedure for another two weeks.

What a mistake. It would be bad enough waiting for the results, but the extra weeks of anticipatory anxiety were paralyzing. In the middle of the most mundane activities, a voice inside my head would mutter, “What if you have breast cancer?” I had three children and a husband who needed me.

When the dreaded day arrived, I somehow kept my nerves in check. The radiologist could not have been nicer and the procedure was quick and mostly painless. The next few days would be much worse: the fear was overwhelming.

Three days later, the phone rang at 8 am. I answered with my heart pounding through my chest. As soon as I heard the word “benign,” I realized that I had been holding my breath for weeks. I hadn’t spoken the words out loud to anyone but my husband, hoping I would be fortunate enough to be able to share the happy-ending version of my story. Seven years later, I’m so grateful that I can.


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