Mammograms, Breast Cancer, and Me – Part 1
"With over 3 million women battling breast cancer today, everywhere you turn there is a mother, daughter, sister, or friend who has been affected by breast cancer."
When the unexpected happens...
I'd been feeling the odd mild stab of pain for a couple of months, but I assumed the cause was indigestion. Acid reflux. I do get that now and then.
When I got the postcard saying I was due for a mammogram because it had been two years, I made a face. We had a three-day retreat coming up, and a three-week trip planned to Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island. I already had a ton of things to do.
But then I realized it would be better to get the mammogram over with right away. Just in case the stabs of pain weren't because of indigestion...
I can't say I've ever enjoyed going for a mammogram. I mean, seriously, having sensitive parts of my body squished between two cold pieces of metal or plastic isn't my idea of fun. But I've never hated it or found it horribly painful the way some women do. So I can't say I felt any dread. In fact, remembering those stabs of pain, I almost felt relieved.
I called the number on the postcard for an appointment, hopeful I could get it done before our trip. To my surprise, the woman who answered said they had just had a cancellation, and she could book me for that week, Thursday, August 16th.
So off I went.
The technician was a woman who showed no emotion. I mean, she wasn't unkind at all. It was sort of like being looked after by a robot. She just gave instruction. "Do this..., Do that..." Nothing else. But we were soon finished, and I went on my way after she said not to be concerned if I was called back.
Within a few days, I got a call from the Breast Health Centre telling me I'd been booked for another mammogram on my left breast as well as an ultrasound for Friday, September 7th.
I wasn't worried. Some years ago, I'd had a cyst and I was thinking it very likely that I had another one. At that time, I'd seen a surgeon who had removed the cyst with a large needle. All had been well since.
Mammogram 2 and Ultrasound 1
I had a different mammogram technician this time. This one carried on a bit of a conversation in between instructions, and assured me that getting called back happens a lot, so not to worry. But she was still very professional. I felt I was in good hands.
The ultrasound technician, another woman, was also very nice as well as very professional.
Off to Our Retreat
Les and I had booked our spots for a three-day writers' retreat in Guelph, so we drove there on Monday, Sept. 10. It was great to see other writers, some of whom we hadn't seen for a few years. And I've always loved the grounds and the feeling of actually being away from it all.
However, early the next morning I got a phone call from someone from the Breast Health Centre telling me that based on the ultrasound, the doctor (the same one who had taken care of my earlier cyst) would like to see me at 9:15 Wednesday morning, followed by a biopsy. Was I able to come?
I hesitated for about three seconds before telling her I'd be there.
Yes, we'd be missing part of the retreat, but we had tickets to fly to Newfoundland early Sunday morning. The sooner we knew what was going on, the better. Of course, we'd cancel the trip if necessary. So we stayed at the retreat until after supper; then drove home Tuesday night. At this point, I told a few people what was happening, but I still wasn't overly concerned.
I Meet the Doctor
Early the next morning, I went to see the doctor who had been called about my results. He told me that, based on the mammograms and the ultrasound, I had a 50-50 chance of having cancer. He said the ultrasound definitely shows a mass but the fact that he couldn't feel a lump and the fact that the area was painful were both good signs.
Of course, I was still holding out for its being a cyst!
He said he'd see me next Wednesday to tell me the results of the biopsy, and recommended that I bring my husband or someone else with me. I thought that was funny. Did he think I was going to faint or get hysterical? If so, he didn't know me. But I get that that's what they recommend for everyone. And it is good to have support if the news isn't what you want to hear.
I told him we had planned to leave on Sunday for a three-week trip to Newfoundland and asked what we should do. He said to go ahead as planned. He was actually from the Maritimes and had just been there for a visit. He recommended a few places we should see. And then he told the nurse to make sure he called me on my cell phone.
After making sure I was comfortable, a new female technician used ultrasound to isolate the problem area and then called a radiologist to come in. They were both very nice and I felt at ease. It was as if everyone was part of my team, and they were all rooting for me to be okay.
The radiologist explained what he'd be doing—first freezing the area, and then inserting a needle into the mass they were concerned about to collect three or four tissue samples that could then be tested for cancer. Yes, the freezing was a bit painful, but I wanted to laugh (but restrained myself) because he sounded so much like my dentist when he puts freezing in to work on a problem tooth. I wondered if they'd had the same person train them.
Whatever he used to do the biopsy made a clicking sound, like a stapler, when it cut off and collected the tiny bit of tissue, but I felt no pain.
They told me that the area of the biopsy might be sore for a while, and I walked home. I'd done everything I needed to do. Now we just had to wait.
Life Goes On
The next day (Thursday) I had two dentist appointments for different things, as well as an unrelated doctor appointment.
Friday, I washed and packed and got a new (Les's old) iPad ready to take with me on the trip so I could use Scrivener (program for writers) and update my websites without having to lug my laptop along.
Saturday I spent several hours being interviewed by my one of my daughters-in-law about various things related to my adoption and my life. Then I finished packing and watered my indoor plants.
Sunday, we got up at 4:00 a. m. and Son #3 drove us to the airport so we could fly to Newfoundland, the only province we hadn't visited.
Although I couldn't forget about the biopsy altogether (mostly because I was black and blue and it hurt!), I managed to pretty well ignore the reason for the biopsy and its possible results. I've always known that God is with me (see the memoir I'm currently writing for the reasons), and I knew that whatever happened, he and I could handle it.
"My cancer scare changed my life. I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life."