Checking Boxes & Routine Exams

August 11, 2020

I’m seated on an uncomfortable chair in a hospital waiting room, uncomfortable in more ways than one. It’s a cold, uninviting room. The place I wait for my yearly mammogram. I’m the first appointment of the day and the only patient in the office. It’s silent and calm. For most, this would be a mundane and routine appointment. For me, it’s another moment that brings raw emotion and haunting memories. 

I hold a plain clipboard, answering questions about family history and risk factors. I check off boxes as I move down the list. The further I get down the paper, the more I can feel my chest tighten and my eyes increasingly wet with heartbreak. These questions sting. They are simple, yet devastating and seemingly harsh. 

Anyone in your family diagnosed with cancer, check.

Anyone in your family diagnosed with breast cancer, check.

I continue to read, and painfully…

Check.

Check.

Check.

They don’t ask, but I feel like writing, “My mother died from breast cancer.” I want them to know why I sit here tearful in pain and heartbreak. I want them to know why I will be anxious and fearful until I receive word that I am healthy and clear. I want them to know that while the test is uncomfortable, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as living with the reality that my mother is gone, killed by the very disease I sit here to be tested for. I want them to know this isn’t easy, not because of the complexity of the procedure, but because of the complicated emotions that come from it. 

This is hard in unique ways, ways they probably don’t comprehend. 

As I finish the questionnaire, the nurse calls my name, ready to take me back for the procedure. As I undress, I think of my mother. As I walk into the stale and dim-lit room, I think of my mother. As the nurse places my breasts into the machine, I think of my mother. As I finish and reclothe, I think of my mother. As I listen to the instructions and the follow-up, I think of my mother. 

I work diligently to hold in the tears. Through the lobby, out the hospital doors, until the moment I reach my car. I unlock the door quickly and with purpose, I know what’s coming. I am immediately overcome with emotion. Fear. Sadness. Heartbreak. Grief. Anxiousness. Sometimes when I think of my mother, I can smile and feel joyous reflection. Other times, I think of her and ache with a fierceness that can only be understood by others who have lost someone so significant, it changes their entire composition and being.   

Today is one of those days. I ache. I hurt. I feel exposed and vulnerable. 

For most, this test would be simple. It would be uncomplicated by loss. For me, it symbolizes the death and lost existence of the greatest woman I’ve ever known. The ache won’t stop me from these preventative tests and measures. The ache will simply motivate me to keep pursuing them for my health, for my own family, and for my future. Even if it hurts. Even if it aches. Even if it feels saturated with anxiety and anguish. Even if it symbolizes the loss of my mother. 

I’ll keep sitting in the cold uncomfortable seat. I’ll keep entering into stale and dim-lit procedure rooms. I’ll keep doing anything I can so that my children don’t have to check the same boxes that I do. 

xox, Chels

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Chelsea Ohlemiller

Chelsea Ohlemiller

A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.

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