The Coupon That Saved Her Life

I never considered myself lucky--until I won a free mammogram.

by
- Posted on Jan 1, 2007

Christy Ortiz holds the coupon that saved her life

Some folks are just plain lucky. You know, the ones who win things or get their names drawn for a prize at a raffle. I wasn't one of those people, so I never bothered with contests.

But one spring day about 10 years ago, I was leafing through the newspaper at breakfast. An ad with an entry form swam into view. The word "prize" made me sit up and take notice. I pushed my plate aside and spread the newspaper on the table. 

What's the prize? I wondered. The ad didn't say. Not that I especially wanted anything. God had blessed my life. I had healthy parents and a loving family. My husband, Cat, and I had seven wonderful children—three grown-up and four still at home.

I loved my job as an English teacher. What was it about that ad in the paper? Why did it seem to speak to me? A thrill ran through me. I was excited about winning something. Anything. And for some strange reason, I thought I actually might win. I clipped out the form and entered the contest.

"You'll never guess what I did today," I told Cat at dinner. "I entered a contest I saw in the newspaper." 

"You?" he said. "That's a first."

I tried to explain to him how something seemed to come over me. How I just had to clip out the form and enter.

"What do you win?" he asked. "Must be something good."

"Well, that's the funny part," I said. "They didn't even say!" Cat gave me a look like he questioned my sanity.

Mom came over to babysit the next morning as usual. I told her what I'd done. "Nothing from the newspaper, honey," she'd say when I got home in the afternoon. Then one day, weeks later, Mom piped up when I opened the door: "You got your letter."

"I knew it! I won! I hope the prize is something really neat." I tore open the envelope. What's this? Not exactly a vacation in Bermuda. It was a letter from the American Cancer Society. "Congratulations," I read. "You have won a free mammogram." A coupon was attached. What a letdown. 

"Some prize, huh?" I said to my husband. Cat just grinned, mystified like me. A mammogram. It was true, I'd soon be 40, the age recommended for women to start having mammograms. But I shoved the coupon into my wallet. Every time I cleaned out my purse I shook my head. Something wouldn't let me throw that slip of paper away. 

Finally I just couldn't stand it anymore. Something had made me enter the contest and win that prize, even if I didn't understand what. I pulled the coupon out of my purse. Well, God, I'll do it if you send an angel with me.

I scheduled an appointment at the hospital. The procedure was uncomfortable, but it took only about an hour. There, I thought. I finally collected my prize. A weight lifted from my shoulders.

Days later I received a letter from the hospital. Somehow I had a feeling of dread as I opened it. When Mom saw me reading it she looked alarmed. "What's the matter?" she said.

"I have to go back for another mammogram," I told her. "They want to compare the two tests because I've never had a mammogram before."

"That makes sense," Mom said. "No need to worry." Mom made me feel better. I'd always had regular checkups. I was in good health. But I got weird vibes from the tech at the hospital during the second procedure. "Anything wrong?" I asked. "We'll compare the results," she said. "Your doctor will call you." 

Everything from there seemed surreal. My doctor referred me to a surgeon. Cat gripped my hand as we sat in his office. "Mrs. Ortiz," he said, "you have a tumor on your right breast."

The tumor was large, but it was undetectable in a regular exam because of its position. "That coupon was a godsend," the surgeon said. "Without the mammogram, we wouldn't have known." A godsend. I held onto that thought for comfort. 

A biopsy revealed I had two types of cancer with the strong likelihood the disease would invade my other breast. I elected to have a double mastectomy with simultaneous reconstruction. Cat was my constant champion.

Months of recovery followed, including six rounds of chemotherapy. There were dark times. But through it all I clung to the surgeon's words: "That coupon was a godsend."

After the surgery, my fellow teachers gave me a new, comfortable chair when I came back to school, and things returned pretty much to normal. Except, of course, for the fact that each day I thank God for the best prize of all: my life, better and richer than ever before.


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