I’ve been a government employee for a little over ten years. The benefits are great, to include six hours of annual leave and four hours of sick leave every paycheck. I can always find a reason to take annual leave, which is why I can never seem to accumulate more than one week over a period of six months. On the other hand, I’ve got about 260 hours of sick leave waiting to be used. In December 2010 on a dreary Monday morning, I thought to myself, “I’ve got so-o-o much sick leave and so-o-o little annual leave. All I want is a couple of days off. I wish I had a reason to use my sick leave.”
Literally the next day, Theresa the receptionist at my primary doctor’s office called me and said, “Judine, you haven’t been to Dr. Patel in three years. Is he still your primary physician?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I replied. “I only make an appointment when I’m sick. (Laughing to myself) That’s why I have so much sick leave.”
“Well, it’s time you get your annual physical.”
Light bulb moment … Thank you G*d! Here’s my reason to take some time off from work. Since the doctor’s office doesn’t open until 10am, I’ll have to take ½ day of sick leave. I made the appointment for Friday of the same week.
The day of the appointment after drawing my blood, Dr. Patel asked, “When was the last time you had a mammogram?”
I didn’t even know. “Doc … The first and only time was about six years ago. That was only because my breasts were throbbing so bad I had to make an appointment. The mammogram found my milk glands were swollen. There was nothing for me to do about it, except take Advil for the pain.”
“Well, it’s time you get a mammogram.”
Light bulb moment… Thank you G*d! Here’s another reason for me to be away from the job. I made an appointment on the next Friday for a mammogram and a follow-up appointment with Dr. Patel to get the results of my blood tests. This would be another ½ day of sick leave.
Life using sick leave was good right about now.
For my follow-up appointment, I found I had low Vitamin D, which could be corrected over the next nine months with over-the-counter supplements. At the diagnostic imaging center, the mammogram hurt, but the pain didn’t last forever. I laughed when the technical turned the machine in a vertical position. Did they expect me to be a contortionist for a breast x-ray? Whatever, I enjoyed the time off, and now it was back to my usual 40-hour work schedule.
On Monday of the second week, the diagnostic imaging center called and left a message on the answering machine of my home phone. I don’t check those messages too often; that’s why I wasn’t aware of the phone call.
On Tuesday of the second week, the diagnostic imaging center called and left a message on the answering machine of my home phone. I don’t check those messages too often; that’s why I wasn’t aware of the phone call.
On Wednesday of the second week, the diagnostic center sent a letter to me by mail. It said something very general to the fact of when I receive the letter, give the office a call. It was then I checked my phone’s messages to find out the center had been trying to reach me all week. I already had annual leave approved for Thursday and Friday of the week for a writer’s conference. Sensing the urgency in the diagnostic center trying to get in contact with me, I called them early on Thursday morning, thinking I would simply provide some basic information, and then go to the conference.
I remember distinctly how chipper the nurse sounded who answered my call. She said, “We need you to return to the center for a better picture of your right breast. It’s 9 o’clock now. Can you get here by 10:15am?”
“Oh, okay,” I hesitantly replied, not thinking anything serious was wrong. Then I hung up the phone and thought – I could be using sick leave for this appointment, but I’m not going to complain.”
As soon as I checked in for the second mammogram, a technician whisked me into the back and said, “You are going to get your results today.”
“Oh, okay,” was my response, still not thinking any serious was wrong.
Within 15 minutes, I was holding the x-ray photos, and the technician told me to go directly to my physician’s office. I said, “Right now? I don’t have an appointment.” She gently replied, “We’ve called the office; they know you are on the way and are expecting you.”
When I get to the Dr. Patel’s office, the lobby is brimming with patients. I’m starting to get a little ticked off right about now. On any other day, if I had called the office in the morning to make an appointment, because I didn’t feel well, Theresa the receptionist would have told me no. Today, they are graciously allowing me to wait while the doctor sees the other patients with appointments and I’m not even using sick leave. Urghhh!
However, the nurse whisked me back into the examining room within ten minutes. “Judine,” Dr. Patel began, “You have calcifications in your right breast. You need a biopsy to find out whether you have cancer. If the calcifications are cancerous, you will need a lumpectomy. You are very lucky because this is early detection. Is there cancer in your family?”
Stunned, I quietly replied no.
“Low Vitamin D is indicative of cancer. You will need to immediately make an appointment at a hospital of your choice for the biopsy.”
I rushed out of the office, began crying and shouted, “OH DEAR G*D – I JUST WANTED SOME TIME OFF FROM WORK. I DON’T WANT CANCER!”
This is the time I could begin to negotiate with G*d. If I don’t have cancer, I’ll do this. If I don’t have cancer, I’ll promise to that. But I didn’t feel like negotiating. Cancer was too big a deal, and I didn’t want a self-imposed obligation to fulfill. If I had cancer, it would be G*d’s will. I remembered in the Bible, I Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 18 states, “Be thankful in all circumstances..” Then there’s a quotation from Charles R. Swindoll, “Nothing enters your life accidentally.” I scheduled the biopsy appointment for Friday of the third week, knowing in one week I would have the results, and find the purpose for going through this trial in my life.
By the fourth week I had a mentally strenuous 38 hours of work, especially knowing I would not find out the results until 3pm. Using sick leave yet again was no longer fun. While waiting at the front desk to check in, a woman stood in front of me, and it was visible she had lost all of her hair from chemotherapy. I silently prayed for her and for myself, the same prayer as the one remembered on the day I first found out I needed a biopsy. I was not going to be worried about the results, because G*d had a purpose for me to fulfill.
A nurse whisked me into the evaluation room after a ten minute wait. When the doctor walked in, she asked, “Judine Slaughter?” I replied, “Hopefully for the next fifty years.” She quickly said, “I have good news. You don’t have cancer.” What an emotional sigh of relief.
Thank you G*d! I walked out the hospital feeling G*d had given me another chance at living.
That was my test. My testimony is threefold:
1. The calcifications could only be seen with a mammogram; they could not have been felt. With the advances in breast cancer research, technology, and training the diagnostic center staff potentially stopped the calcifications from growing into a lump, which could have become more dangerous if cancerous. Please remind any woman over forty years old to get a yearly breast exam. It could save her life.
2. My family means the world to me. During the two weeks of waiting to find out if I had cancer, we spent more time talking openly about anything. Don’t wait for tragedy to strike before reaching out and connecting with loved ones. Call them today, and tell them how much you care.
3. I’m glad I have so-o-o much sick leave. G*d has kept me healthy for almost fifty years, which better enables me to spread the good news of a living G*d than if I were sick. This story is just the beginning.