“Life is tough but so are you” read the little frame in the waiting room area at Legacy Hospital’s Breast Center.

I went in for a routine mammogram at the clinic, like I’ve done every year since I turned 32. I didn’t even think about it, just taking it for granted that everything would be fine like it always was. But this time it was different.

I got a different kind of phone call the next day. I was called back in for a follow up appointment as my mammogram came back looking “concerning”. So there I was again, following their recommendations and putting in my responsible efforts.

“Diagnostic mammogram is the next step,” they told me over the phone. I was learning new words. After those results came back looking suspicious, they suggested a biopsy. They explained to me that they would insert a small piece of titanium, as a marker, that would stay inside my breast tissue for the rest of my life.

“The rest of my life”.... big heavy words. I try not to think much about my mortality if I can get around it. What do those words even mean? Why do they have to talk like that? Life. Death. Health. Illness. I tossed these words around in my head, over and over as I waited for the results.

My heart did a few unexpected flutters when my head went to places I did not want it to go to.

They told me that because of COVID-19 no one would be able to come along with me for support. No problem, I’m tough. I’m independent. I can do this alone. But my heart did a few unexpected flutters when my head went to places I did not want it to go to. I was grateful for the mask on my face that allowed me to hide my emotions. Grateful to be able to privately beseech God for His abundant mercy. I prayed silently, unbeknownst to those sitting around me in the waiting room. Maybe the other women waiting were praying too? Everyone puts on a brave front, but everyone surely feels some trepidation inside. How could you not?

I climbed on to the table in the dim room set up for the procedure, a sterile kind of room, beeps coming from various machines every few seconds. A very kind nurse kept her hand on my back throughout the procedure. I joked with her that i didn’t realize I’d be getting a massage too! She kept checking in on me throughout the procedure, telling me what I was going to feel, keeping me posted on what was happening, and asking me how I was doing. I was so grateful to her. I’m fine. I’m strong, I can handle being uncomfortable. I can look pain in the eye and laugh.

So why were there tears streaming down my face? And was that me trembling ever so slightly? I chuckled to myself thinking how I guess you are only strong until you are not strong anymore. Or maybe, just maybe, this is actually how strong looks and feels like. Sweat to the body is like tears to the soul. These were emotional tears, not tears of pain. These were tears of strength.

I guess the nurse noticed the tears and the slight trembling of my body, and she asked me again, “Are you sure you are okay?”

I told I was fine, trying to hold my voice steady from not completely breaking down. I was holding my emotions together by a thread. They were like a dam on the verge of bursting forth. I said to her, “I’m just thinking about my mom right now... and her mom... and all the other women that have been here before me... that have lay here on this table, not knowing what the outcome would be.” I was feeling such a strong moment of connection to all the women in my life. It was powerful and unexpected and it was filled with so many emotions. All these feelings shook me to my core. She rubbed my back, leaned in close to my face and told me, “My mom has been here too.”

What is it about us women that is so powerful? We share this unspeakable bond and connection. We go through so much. So much love, loss, pain, motherhood... And yet we choose to stay resilient. Connected by our scars. United through our hopes and dreams.

Here we were, just a few women in a hospital room; a doctor, a nurse, and a patient.

Just a few women holding each other together in gentleness, understanding, and compassion. Just a few women who have been there before and might be there again, but we won’t give up. We women never take our eyes off of the hope for a better tomorrow.

When I walked out from the biopsy room the nurse said to me, “Well, you can cross this off of your bucket list.” How did she know that I have been carrying this fear with me since I was 15 years old when my mother was diagnosed with her first round of cancer? How did she know that I had been waiting for the call to come all of these years? When will it be my turn?

“Divorce your story, marry the truth” my husband reminds me often. We can choose a different outcome. We don’t need to live out our fears. We can overcome anything we set our minds to. We are powerful beyond measure. We can be our own agents of change. Whatever the outcome would be, I resolved right then and there to fight and get through it. I am the daughter and granddaughter of survivors. Survivors in every way.

Heading out the door, loaded up with ice packs, instructions, and extra gauze, I asked the nurse, “Do you do this for everyone? You were so incredibly kind to me.”

I could tell that she really appreciated that small feedback as she had tears in her eyes and a huge smile on her face. “I do love my job,” she said. She told me that she switched professions later on in life because she wanted to be there for women in their time of need.

She was an angel for me that day, women supporting women with their extra dose of intuition and gentleness.

A few days later I thanked God when I received the results from the biopsy. Benign. Thank God! I don’t need to go back in for another mammogram for a whole other year.

So you’d think I’d just shelf this experience and get back on with the regular programming of my life. But I can’t.

Touched by the experience, I discovered that strong comes in many different ways. I was moved and inspired by the women who held me in their strong embrace, shaken up by the wake-up call, and even called to action to change my story, I am not able to simply move on. Like the piece of titanium that will remain inside my tissue forever, this experience will also stay with me. It has marked me: Connected. Woman. Strong.