I never considered myself lucky--until I won a free mammogram.
- Posted on Jan 1, 2007
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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