The Importance of Girl Friends
I’ve recently discovered (and subsequently binged) the TV show Workin’ Moms. If you haven’t watched it yet and are looking for an easy, funny half-hour-long show to watch, I highly recommend it. I was watching the episode where one of the main characters discovers that she has a lump in one of her breasts. The episode follows her experience as she immediately tells her friends, who worry with her and support her to celebrating with a girls’ night when the results come back as nothing concerning. And then her husband comes home from a business trip to the aftermath of the girls’ night and finds out nonchalantly that a cancer scare happened without him even hearing about it once. All I could think after watching this episode, was how accurate and spot-on it was. I found it so relatable.
To explain, I’m rewinding to two years ago. I was laying on the exam table for a routine physical when my doctor paused on my right boob and then soon after referred me for a breast ultrasound “just to be cautious", saying that I "shouldn’t worry." Given my family medical history and the fact that I was known to have fibrocystic breasts, she wanted to be positive that the lump she felt was nothing. Being a worrier by nature, I proceeded to do nothing but worry and google every possible outcome when I got home that day. I have always been proactive when it comes to my health, ensuring that I go to routine check-ups and listen to my body so that I know when something feels off. After that first ultrasound, as I waited for the results, I found myself jumping to the possibility of breast cancer. I would try to feel my boob for the lump but could never find it because my boobs are full of a bunch of lumps, so which was the “special one that I needed to look out for”?
Cancer is one of those words that automatically comes off as a terrible nightmare to me. I found myself worrying about what life would look like if it were cancer. I researched what the next steps would be if it turned out to be something. When I came back to the present and calmed down (a tiny bit), I called one of my best friends to blurt out every possible outcome aloud. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but by this point she was well-rehearsed in dealing with my fears, and I hung up the phone feeling like a weight had been lifted – that at least I wasn't carrying this around by myself. She insisted that even if it did turn out to be something, that she would be on a plane flying home ASAP and that we’d deal with it together.
The results of that ultrasound came back as a solid mass, likely benign, with a follow-up ultrasound required every six months to monitor. This should have been comforting news to me but I still felt like I had a cancer billboard flashing in the back of my mind constantly. I got hung up on the term “most likely” benign (what if it wasn’t?). Every slight pain afterwards made me question if it was typical PMS pain, or just a symptom of fibrocystic boobs OR if it was my body trying to tell me something was wrong. That year, I dyed an underlayer of my hair pink. The kids at work asked me a lot why there was pink in my hair, then it just became the norm for my hairstyle. Although I never said this aloud to anyone but maybe a best friend, putting some pink in my hair was a small way I felt like I could control something in my life in that moment. Rationalizing that if I was going to possibly end up with breast cancer then who cares what colour my hair is. As the following ultrasound came back the same, I calmed down and just accepted that this mass was just a new part of my boob.
Then came a follow-up ultrasound this October, when the receptionist from my doctor’s office left me a voicemail sooner than usual and told me to book an appointment with my doctor. I was leaving work when I listened to the message and started to shake. I made it to my car and started to cry as I drove home, the old anxiety coming back up instantly. To calm myself down, I called a friend. I didn’t call my boyfriend. I needed girltalk. That night, my friend had me over for dinner and a quick hangout while she packed to go to her cottage for the weekend. That small gesture of inviting me over for dinner to just hangout and talk for a bit, because she knew I would otherwise sit at home stewing all night about what the doctor might say the next morning, was so comforting and instantly made me feel better. Being able to call another friend late that night when I started to toss and turn in bed, worrying again and have her reassure me that whatever happens that I have a support system calmed me again. That night I was reminded how awesome and important it is to have girlfriends. Women that you can relate to and go to with anything and know that they have your back. There is something so special about being able to openly talk about anything with friends and have them say a variation of “me too” when you exchange experiences. It’s awesome to have a group of friends that you know you can rely on to just hangout with in moments where you need to talk or not be alone.
That next morning, I waited nervously at the doctor’s office to hear my results. When the doctor finally came in the room, I had worked myself up so much worrying that she could tell right away something was going on with me and I burst into tears. She hugged me and reassured me that my results were still the same as before and nothing to worry about. It had been a miscommunication on the receptionist’s part. The receptionist was supposed to have called me and told me that the results were nothing to worry about but that I could come in if I had time to see the updated results of my last ultrasound. The doctor went further to reassure me that if ever a result comes back as something serious that she would personally call me to let me know. I was first frustrated in that moment that I could have saved myself from worrying so much if there hadn’t been that miscommunication. But then quickly felt so reassured knowing that a) my doctor took the time to validate my feelings in that moment and b) that moving forward I would never need to wait anxiously for results again knowing that if it is significant that I’d hear from my doctor directly.
When I left that appointment, I had texts and a missed phone call from the two friends that I had confided in. Later, I had a phone call from my boyfriend who was out of town asking about results. Reactions – this is where I think men and women tend to differ. Although my boyfriend was obviously happy that the results had turned out to be nothing, he tried to hold himself back from saying “I told you so” because for him, he was never seriously worried anything would be wrong. He stood firmly by the “no news is good news” mentality. He wasn’t going to get worked up over anything if there was nothing concrete to worry about. My friends reacted with relief and happiness that it ended up being nothing. I felt like they were sharing what I was going through and that we could celebrate together. This was everything.
If you can have two takeaways from this post, I hope 1) you check your boobs regularly and always listen to your body and 2) you need a girl tribe – the friends who are going to be able to relate and support you. Added takeaway-you’re never alone, there’s someone somewhere dealing with something similar. Creating an open dialogue can be the start of an amazing support system.
As my boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch talking about our days at work one Friday night recently, he shared that a coworker told him that his wife has to go for a follow-up because a lump was found in her breast. My boyfriend’s words of wisdom for his coworker were along the lines of “definitely don’t tell her it’s nothing or I told you so. That doesn’t go over well”. This made me laugh and then think yes definitely don’t do that and tell her to tell her best friends. I know that if I have any moments of over-worrying tomorrow after my next routine ultrasound, that my friends are only a quick text or phone call away.
Written by: Robyn Singer