Just So You Know...Those Shoes Are Too Small!

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Hello Ms. Samuels, I posted your most recent mammogram result. It appears you need additional imaging. Have you been contacted by the radiology department regarding scheduling further testing? If not, please let me know so we can facilitate this process. 

That was the gift I found in my patient portal email the day before my 41st birthday. 

My heart sank as I thought, “Holy shit! I don’t want to die! What am I gonna do? Why me? Why now?” 

Yes. I realize that all sounds quite dramatic. Especially since I had been doing this dance with mammography since my late 20s. That was when the doctor told me that because of my medical history (mom dying from breast cancer at 49), my lot in life was to die from breast cancer in the same dreadful way my mother had. 

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OK. I know what you’re thinking, “Sherry, you are either still being dramatic or that doctor was awful.”

No. Those were not her words. She gently explained options and what I needed to do to care for myself as the years went on. And I quietly convinced myself that I was genetically predisposed to a cancerous doom. I mean, I always saw myself as being just like her. Everything BUT the dramatics. She was never dramatic. That was all my dad’s genes. 

Let’s be completely honest… If we do the math, this was not my first rodeo. I had actually received a call or message similar to this one four or five times since my first mammogram more than a decade earlier. Nothing ever came of it. Always extra precaution taken for these dense (I think that’s the medical term for them) ta-tas.  

But this time felt different, more scary. She was 42 when first diagnosed and I was just a few hours from turning 41. The dramatic 19-year-old girl sitting on my chest, the one who watched her mother slowly succumb to cancer’s relentless attack, felt like she had stepped right on into her mother’s size 11, black & white high top sneakers that she wore to work as though they were part of a uniform. She always hated those shoes. 

I spent much of the next 24 days with that 19-year-old girl, like dead weight on my chest, begging to be revived. I listened as she whispered softly in my ear, day in and day out, reminding me of how demoralizing and destructive cancer had been. She pulled out all the dramatic stops, bringing life to moments and memories that had been (allegedly) dealt with. 

On Day 22 I broke my silence, crying in my wife’s arms as I shared every thought, memory and fear. I confessed that birthdays often felt like the sands in an hourglass, slowly slipping away until that magic number (42 in my mind) that would mean my demise. I talked about my mom and the pain of watching her suffer as that dramatic (but also deeply loving and sensitive) 19-year-old girl, searched for ways to “fix it” in between her tearful pleas to God to spare her mother’s life. 

On Day 23 I prayed. I prayed for peace, for understanding. I prayed for more opportunities to laugh and play. I prayed for freedom and healing. 

On Day 24 I woke up with a curious sense of peace. I showered, touching the ominous lump in my left breast just as I had done every day since receiving that message from the doctor. It was there, but not filled with stories of doom. Instead it felt like life. That small nodule was filled with a life I had been ignoring. A life full of hope and promise. A life not tied to some pre-determined death sentence created by a scared young woman simply because of genetics.

I lay on the bed in the dimly lit x-ray room as the doctor did the ultrasound. I smiled and joked. No drama. No tears.

“That’s just a cyst. Nothing to worry about. If it starts to bother you, contact your doctor. But for now, you are all good.”

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On Day 1 I worried, asking “Why me? Why now?” 

On Day 24 I had to ask myself “Why not me? Why not now?” 

I believe that as long as we are living and breathing, we are blessed with opportunities to learn and grow. We are blessed with opportunities to be the best version of ourselves. 

But, when we are wearing someone else’s size 11 sneakers and not our own size 12’s, we are choosing to create a life of pain and discomfort. We are choosing a path that does not fit our destiny and will do nothing short of slow us down from reaching our intended finish line. 

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I decided on Day 23 that it was time to release my mother’s story, the dramatics and the pain that 19-year-old part of me continued to hold. It was on this day that I decided to create a new story, one that included health and transformation that would make my mom proud. 

That experience was a necessary reminder in letting go and making sure that every day, when I step into the world, my world, I Am wearing my own darned sneakers…and they will NEVER be black & white high tops. 

So tell me, whose shoes are you wearing? Whose race are you running?