First a little background.
My grandmother, in 1959 was given six months to live. She had breast cancer. She did die eventually, from cancer in 1982. Her sister, my aunt Sylvia died in the 1970s of the disease. One of my father's sisters (my grandmother's daughter and my aunt), had a double mastectomy a few years ago. The other sister, is currently battling the disease.
So, yes, though they say the "genetic" form does not come from the father's side of the family, I often wonder about that.
But given all of that, you can imagine my shock when I found a lump in my breast last Tuesday.
So my first reaction? After crying in the shower? Well, to be honest, I had myself dead, buried and missing everything still to come my in my daughters' lives before I turned the water off.
Then I calmed down enough to call my gynecologist and make an appointment. Still though, I couldn't bring myself to tell them why. And here's something else you should know a this point in the story - I skipped my exam last year, and two years ago, when I was supposed to go for my first mammogram since my baseline, I didn't. Which of course only added to my anxiety and fear. I just don't like doctors, too many of them as a child and I felt good, not sick. I mean real good. Healthier than I've ever felt before in my life.
On Wednesday, I met some friends for a bike ride and was given some shocking news, one of them was just diagnosed with breast cancer. She's good though, in that it's stage zero, caught really early (who knew there was stage zero?). And as is her way, she's still laughing and telling funny stories even in regard to that. But she did tell me what she went through at first (only six weeks ago), and hearing that she felt the same way (crying in the shower and all), helped me realize, my reaction isn't abnormal.
Later, I told another friend, who shared with me her experience; hers was benign. She also sent me a link to this article on WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/features/advances-in-diagnosing-breast-cancer. That's where the 80-20 comes from. I read that up to 80% of breast lumps are harmless and that made me feel better.
I told Chris Wednesday evening when he got home. He stayed, and continues to stay calm. I'm not sure if that's real calm, oblivious or the complete unwillingness to face the possibilities but I'll go with the first; it makes me feel better.
I called the doctor on Thursday morning, told them I'm a chicken-shit and told them what was really wrong (i.e., not a normal check-up) and they fit me in 90 minutes later. The doctor seemed encouraged that my lump was painful and also noted that it almost seemed bruised but said I needed to have it checked out immediately and gave me a scrip for a mammogram and ultrasound.
At home, I called our local radiology group, explained the situation and was given an appointment on Tuesday; it was the earliest they could fit me in and also get my old mammogram out of the archives.
My friend, the one with the breast cancer, told me the waiting for the diagnosis was the worst part; she felt better once she had a plan, even if that plan included surgery and radiation. I get that. I feel better when I have the appointment. I feel better after talking to yet a third friend, who unbeknownst to me, went through this a few months ago, only to find out she had a cyst and was fine. As she said, 80% if you had those odds in the lottery, you'd play every day and she's right. I also realized that women seem to talk about the ones with breast cancer easily but, in my world anyway, it seems no one never talks about the near misses. Hearing more about the near misses made me feel better
By Thursday night, I felt more positive and was able to get some stuff done on Friday and Saturday but by Sunday morning, I woke up feeling anxious and scared again and this pretty much carried me until Tuesday - major mood swings, distracted, but mostly hyper and anxious.
Tuesday, I sat on the couch until it was time to shower and leave for the radiologist. Though I never allowed myself to dwell on it, I deep down hoped they'd tell me it was a cyst and nothing more needed to be done.
No such luck.
After taking four shots of my right boob (the one with the lump), they checked out the left. An hour later, after numerous trips back and forth to the mammogram room, focusing on my left breast, and me freaking out inside more and more, they took me for an ultrasound. And all that time, I'm thinking, sure, my right breast has a lump, and won't it be ironic if my left turns out to be the problem?
In the ultrasound room for all of two minutes, I think that question is answered because they only check the right and the radiologist comes in, takes one peak and says, "I want you to see a breast surgeon. Not a regular surgeon, a breast surgeon." And she gives me the name of the one I had already determined I would use if there were a problem (she's famous in our area).
She asks if my doctor gave me any indication of what it could be, which he didn't. But let's face it there are two things in any one's mind at this time it can be, cancer or not cancer. If it's not cancer, who cares what it is ... it's not cancer! She gives me no indication either. She does tell me it looks suspicious. She does tell me that I need a biopsy. She does think the surgeon will be able to do it in her office but if not, I'll have to return to the radiology group.
She asks if I have any questions. Are you kidding, I have hundreds of questions but none of which I'm sure she can or should answer. Many of which flew out the door when she told me she wanted me to see a breast surgeon. I do ask her how soon she thinks I'll get into see the surgeon (notorious wait list stories abound), and she says, the surgeon determines appointment priorities based upon the report she submits. She goes on to say there will be wording in her report to indicate this should be a top priority. Great. That gives me no comfort.
We wait for 30 minutes while they prepare my films for me to take, and I hit the road. Out in the parking lot, I call the surgeon to make an appointment (I had to wait for them to get back from lunch). They get a whole bunch of information from me over the phone, including the fact that my mom is a patient of the surgeon (mom has cysts). When she asks about my family history and I tell her there's a history of breast cancer on my dad's side, she asks, "Who?" I do not appreciate her intake of breath when I reply, "Every female," which is as close to true as I recall. She tells me Dr. M. will look at the report when the radiologist faxes it over and they'll
call me back with an appointment.
I cry for a good chunk of the ride to get home.
At least the couch waits for me. The couch, and the espresso corretto in which I indulge.
Later, my doctor (the other Dr. M - my gynecologist), calls me to tell me he's seen the report and to ask if I've received an appointment yet from my new Dr. M. (the breast surgeon). To which I reply, "Not yet." He says he's going to call them to light a fire and says, "It's good we didn't wait on this." Ah, yes, more comfort. Though I do appreciate his attentiveness to my case.
Within twenty minutes, the new Dr. M (the surgeon), calls to give me an appointment on Friday morning at 9:30. I do not know if it's just an exam or if they will do the biopsy then. I'm hoping, praying for the latter. Recovering from the stun, I'll call to ask.
In the meantime I wait again. I'm still on the couch but I think I'm going to get off now. One of the things my friend, from last week, the one just diagnosed told me to do was get some sleeping pills. I haven't yet but I will today. Surprisingly, I have no problem falling to sleep but I've been waking earlier and earlier and this morning's 3:30 wake-up call was the last straw. I'm exhausted.
Getting up early this morning though was good. It gave me a chance to IM with the other friend, from last week, the one who sent me the article on WebMD. Talking to her always gives me a better perspective.
I realized a couple of things. Worst case scenario, yes, that would absolutely suck beyond words and thought, but I know worst case, I don't want to spend whatever time I have left sitting on this couch. Any other scenario, well, if I'm sick, I'll get treatment; I'll get better. If I'm not, well, I don't want to even contemplate that level of joy for fear of jinxing it.
No matter what though, I know I have a great group of friends and family that will see me through.
I was going to publish the above piece the other day but then I realized my girls didn't know what was going on and I didn't want to risk them seeing this. We had decided not to tell them since we had no answers and didn't want to worry them unnecessarily.
I was hoping when I wrote this piece I'd finish up with the fact that I was in the 80% category.
I'm going to cut to the chase, I'm not.
Monday I'm having a lumpectomy. After that it will be probably be chemo and radiation but that will be for the "yet to be named" oncologist to decide. It will depend upon whether my lymph nodes are clean or not. So we pray some more.
I'm not sure why I'm writing this and even as I do, I still don't know if I'm going to publish it. I'm not a very private individual - I wear my heart and my thoughts for everyone to see - so having the world know does not bother me. Writing it though does feel like a way of extracting a poison from my mind, as does talking about it. So I think I will continue.
I think you all are going to get dragged on this trip with me whether you like it or not.