Be Not Afraid

Normal: The Story of a Mammogram

I dressed up a little today – a new shirt with my jeans and my flashy orange shoes given to me by a much more stylish friend. It only seemed right to look nice as I headed off to be groped by a stranger (and a machine) bright and early.

I’ve never had a mammogram, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I did expect it to hurt – I’d heard all about the squeezing and squishing, and since the reason I was having one in the first place was because of breast pain, it was to be expected.

The drive was surprisingly easy (where was this clear highway during my chemo treatments?), and the waiting room gorgeous. It’s plush couches, soft spa-like music, and low lighting seemed world’s away from my oncologists office just up the block. Of course, I could care less what my oncologist’s office looks like-it matters far more that she’s an amazingly compassionate, thoughtful, and brilliant doctor. But still, the extra touches were soothing as I waited nervously for my name to be called.

Once I was escorted back to the dressing rooms and had changed out of my cheerful blue top into a drab, ill-fitting hospital gown that kept gaping just where I didn’t want it to gape, I sat down in yet another lovely waiting room. I was easily the youngest woman there, and the only one with short post-chemo hair. I wondered what the other woman’s stories were, what battles they might be facing, and what fear they might be feeling. It didn’t seem like the type of place where one usually strikes up a conversation, however, so I settled on quietly praying for them and their intentions.

Finally, I was called back to the examination room, and the real fun began. The technician was friendly, and had been good enough to read my report before meeting me, so she knew all about my history and why I was there. Though I appreciated her kindness, I looked down as she gazed at me, pity in her eyes, and said, “You poor thing! You’ve been through so much.”

Her hands were warm and her movements sure as she assessed the various scars on my body that might show up on the mammogram. Then gently, but forcefully, she positioned my body to be scanned. It didn’t last more than a few seconds, but the pain was so intense it brought tears to my eyes. I felt awful – I could tell I’d made her feel badly. And so as quickly as I could, I put on my brave face and smiled, making a bad joke about this being one easy way to make sure you were awake in the morning.

Unlike when I get a PET scan and have to wait for one to two days for the results, the tech immediately began reviewing the images as I stood next to her. I didn’t bother glancing at the computer, as I knew the images would mean little to me. Instead, I watched her face, willing her expression to stay calm and even.

But within seconds I saw her furrow her brow and bite her bottom lip. She didn’t say anything for a while, but just stared at the screen, that same pitying look in her eyes.

“I’m going to have the doctor take a look, but I think we’re going to get you set up for an ultrasound of this left breast.”

She turned towards me and put her hand on my shoulder.

“You’ve been through so much…I’m sorry. But I think we should do this.”

She walked with me back to the waiting room – leading me as if I were a child. I sat down in the cushy chair and was immediately thankful for the library silence.

Within just a few minutes, my name was called once again and I was led to another examination room by a different woman. Once again I had made it into that special club no one really wants to be in – those of us whose situation demands immediate attention and special treatment. How nice it would be to just be normal today, I thought.

The tech who began my ultrasound exam was bubbly and talkative, exactly what I would usually want in a nurse but exactly what I didn’t want at this moment. She told me several stories about her precocious son – none of which I really heard, though I hope my smiles and nods were convincing.

I didn’t watch her face as she examined me, but asked,”Is there something there?”

“I’m going to take these pictures to the Doctor and he’ll be right in.”

She turned to leave the room and then turned back towards me.

“We just know that you’re obviously capable of creating these things, so…”

I didn’t sit up as she left the room. I stayed on my back, my eyes closed. And I thought: One diagnosis? Okay. Two diagnoses? Two diagnoses?

I prayed the kind of prayer that if written down would look something like a child’s angry drawing-the wordless, senseless, guttural, primal kind. I told myself that I had to remember all the beauty I’d experienced this year, this life. I had to be grateful.

But I also begged-for more time, more life, and to just this once be normal.

The nurse came bounding back in.

She made some notes on my file while saying, “Okay, the doctor is confident that there is nothing there after reviewing the ultrasound. It was just a fold of skin that showed up in the mammogram.”

“Wait. That’s it?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat.

“I’m okay?”

I sat up.

“Yep,” she said, handing me a piece of paper with the results.

“Your doctor will have the report in time for your visit and we shouldn’t have to see you again for at least another year. Have a great day!”

I looked down at the paper trembling in my hands as she abruptly left the room. There was a check next to the first sentence. I didn’t read all the words, but focused on just one: normal.

After changing back into my shirt in the dressing room I stared at my face in the mirror. I leaned forward so that my forehead was touching the glass and let it’s cool touch wash over me. My hands were still shaking and I felt breathless, as if I’d just ducked and dodged a bullet.

Before driving home I sat in the car and let the cool air hit my flushed face. I prayed hard in thanksgiving for normal. But I prayed even harder for the women whose paper wouldn’t get a check next to normal, and that God might bless me with the kind of faith and strength that would be able to thank him even if that had been my fate today.


On Monday morning I have my PET scan. It’s a normal three month check-up, but an important one, especially because of the chest pain I’ve felt lately (though that could still be and hopefully is nothing!) If the activity that my Doctor saw last time is still present or has increased, I will most likely begin radiation. If the activity is gone or has decreased, I’ll be declared in continued remission (yay!) I would so appreciate your prayers Monday as I am scanned, and Wednesday as Mike and I meet with my Doctor to receive the results. But even more than that, I would so appreciate your prayer requests. It would mean so much to me if I could pray for you while I am being scanned. Please feel free to leave your intentions in the comment section below, or to email them to me at


  1. rebeccaworthington

    Oh, Ali, I’m so sorry about the pain you experienced today and the scare you had when they were interpreting your results! How nerve-wracking! It sounds like such a traumatic experience and even though the techs were trying to be nice I’m sure it was hard to listen to their comments….I’m so relieved to hear that finally your scan was declared NORMAL and of course will continue praying that your PET scan on Monday goes well and that you are found to be in continued remission! Love you so much and can’t wait to see you, hopefully soon xoxoxoxo Call me if you want to talk xoxoxoxo

  2. My dear friend, I am so grateful that, today, the gift of the word ‘normal’ was exactly what you received. When I think of your courage, I think of a line from Marisa de los Santos’ book Belong to Me: “You are brave, and you are good.”

  3. My prayer journal has your name on it for Monday and Wednesday. May His peace wash over you. May His grace sustain you. And may you feel His loving embrace as He lavishes you with His unfailing love, friend. {{HUGS}}
    All for Him,

  4. Debbie I’m so thankful the visit turned out in your favor. I’ve had that scare before warranting ‘an immediate ultrasound’ and it’s a scary thing how our brain thoughts always run in the worst-case-scenario direction. I can only imagine what you’ve been through, and will continue to pray for you Monday and into the week. Blessings and hugs to you, my friend.

  5. Prayers of love and healing all around you. With each breath that you take, may you breathe in God’s love for you, God’s healing power within you, God’s mercy, and all that you need to be well. What a truly beautiful woman you are. Blessings every day, you are forever in my prayers, Erin

  6. Carolyn Heffner

    Continuing to pray for you Allison. I’m so sorry for all you have gone through.. God loves you and will make you well. Love Carolyn. Will continue to always pray for you and family. Bless you and be well.

  7. Aunt Cathy

    praying for a normal result on Monday from Arizona; visiting with Aunt Mary this week! Have faith!!! Love you all; Aunt Cathy

  8. Diane Pfarr

    Ali … we are praying for your good results on all fronts for you … you are in our prayers every day but extra prayers coming your way. Praying for the peace that surpasses all understanding for you and your family. Hugs to you 🙂

  9. Hi Allison, I’ve been enthralled by your story because it so closely mimics my own. I’ll be praying for you and your family Monday. If you could pray for my new-found remission and my girls I’d be very grateful.

  10. Kurt Chalgren

    Dear, Dear Allison,
    What a beautifully written essay. You are blessed. And you have a gift of communicating your thoughts, moods, feelings, emotions, and even physical/mental/emotional pain and anxiety/angst. Thank you for this beautiful tribute of a strong woman of deep faith.

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