Being vulnerable is not easy. The ask to write about my journey is a difficult one because as I talk to my PINK’D sisters, I know I am the lucky one. How appropriate it is to craft my blog’s introduction the same week that I sit at Nebraska Cancer Specialists receiving my first infusion of Zoledronic Acid for osteoporosis at age 46, celebrating my Daddy’s 75th birthday, embarking on year 2 of a pandemic, and mourning my PINK’D Sister who lost her fight at 35 years young. Fly high, Nicole.
If you don’t believe in serendipity, my story about discovering a 2.7 cm, stage one, estrogen positive, HER 2-negative tumor might change your mind. My name is Peg Johnson – most call me PJ. I am a wife of 20 years, a mother of two amazing boys, a daughter, a sister, a niece, a loyal friend, a corporate executive, and a breast cancer survivor of 8 years (March 2021).
It all began mid-January of 2013. I was at my annual gynecological exam where I was reminded that it had been three years since my last mammogram. How could this be?? I was usually religious about getting the test yearly since both of my paternal aunts had breast cancer. I had even elected for yearly mammograms starting at age 30 – WAY too early for insurance to approve, yet something I felt I needed to do for myself. As I left the doctor’s office, I was encouraged by my favorite nurse, Kelly, to “get it done,” as she handed me the generic, pre-printed order I’m sure she gives to all women over 40 or who have a family history. Side note: I still thought there was NO WAY that 3 years could have passed so quickly – records must be wrong! HA!
From my car on my drive back to the office, I called for an appointment, as it was top of mind and the paper with the number was staring me in the face from the passenger seat. Shockingly, they had an immediate appointment (everyone knows that NEVER happens), and I had the time, so I drove directly there. Yearly routine boob squish: CHECK CHECK for another year . . . or so I thought.
I got right in, fast and painless, when the tech said, “don’t get dressed quite yet PJ – take a seat in the waiting area,” as she commented that my breasts were dense, and there is a noticeable change from previous years. She speculated it was probably fibroids, but they needed another set of pictures to be sure.
Time was standing still; ‘noticeable change’ – what the hell did that mean? I was told to make an appointment for the next set of pictures. Thinking back on that moment, I felt like my head popped off and I could probably have been more polite when I said” No thanks.” I’ll sit right here and work from my Blackberry (yes, I said Blackberry!) until an appointment becomes available today. I’m NOT leaving – my feeble attempt at a sit-in for immediate boob justice!
Fast forward, yet same day. More photos – many more photos – 2D, 3D, you name it, they took it. A few days later while having lunch at Granite City with my husband Dan and my parents, a call came from the same nurse, my FAVORITE nurse from my OBGYN’s office, that she scheduled a needle biopsy of my left breast on January 30th, 2013. Again, she told me to ‘get it done.’
Biopsy day was not fun. You lay face down on a cold metal table – boobs in holes as they come at you with needles to take the samples. It was uncomfortable and I was scared and crying. The radiologist can’t tell you anything (we have ALL been there before where a technician says “the doctor will call you”). But she did let a warning slip out when she said: “I have seen your pictures, I have been doing this for a long time, and I want to prepare you – you will be getting a call.” Some might think she over-stepped, yet I see it as jump-starting my fight, arming me with the power of knowledge, showing compassion and care – a true medical professional.
I went back to the office, ice packs in my bra to ease the pain of the biopsy site, picked up Nate and Luke from Mamma Rosa’s (our nanny) as Dan was out of town on business, and went home, alone with my thoughts:
- Do I call Dan? He is out of town on an important company trip. I need him. I’m scared yet I have no true results, BUT I needed him.
- Do I call my mom and dad? And say WHAT PJ? I knew nothing concrete, and to scare my MOM, how is that fair?
- My sister? A friend? Call them to talk me off the ledge? NOPE.
I did what I always do – mask my emotion to ensure I don’t inconvenience, frighten or worry anyone else. I put those crazy kids to bed and waited for the call that I knew would come with news no one wants to hear.
January 31, 2013 @ 9:10 CST changed my life forever. Diagnosis: breast cancer.
So why serendipitous you ask? A telephone number stared me in the face relentlessly from my passenger seat. The luck of an immediate opening for a mammogram. The rarity that I had time to give to my health THAT day. Three years had passed since my last check-up because life happens, and women say, “I’ll find the time, some other time.” Things happen for a reason . . .