Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Breast Cancer Awareness has always been extremely important to me. I posted several months ago about my mom being cancer free for ten years, after her fight with breast cancer.

Awareness took on an added importance in my life over the past week. I have always been vigilant about performing monthly breast self exams, and certainly have no missed a month since my mom was diagnosed when I was 18. Not all breast cancer is detected after feeling a lump, in fact my mom's was not detected that way. It doesn't matter. It takes no time at all. It allows you to know what your breast tissue "normally" feels like and your chances of noticing something out of the ordinary sky rocket. I've heard of people choosing to do their exam on the first of the month, the last day of the month, or around a certain time in my cycle. I do my exam at the same time in my cycle every month. That time was late last week and I found a lump. Now, the exam has become so routine to me that half the time I'm mentally planning my day or letting my mind wander. As soon as I felt it I physically and mentally froze. I tried not to freak out, started over and felt the lump again. I double and triple checked until I knew the exact position of the lump. I called my OBGYN. They got me in right away, but not with the doctor I wanted to see. In fact the appointment was with a doctor that was not part of the practice when I was pregnant nearly 4 years ago. Oh well, he went to medical school and received advanced training in the field of Gynecology, so he would have to do. I was not waiting to get this checked out.

Thankfully, Wes was able to come with me to my appointment. By that point I had waited and worried for 4 days. Knowing that he would be waiting for me after my exam meant the world to me. While I waited for Tuesday to arrive I tried my hardest not to think the worst, imagine possible outcomes, or even think about it at all. I have to admit not thinking about it all didn't happen too often. The doctor did a breast exam, just like every gynecologist does at every annual visit. He also felt the lump. I don't know why, but part of me was hoping he'd have to go searching for it and end up saying, "What lump you crazy woman!?" Honestly if he would have said that I may have smacked him. He had me sit up and explained that if he could tell by feeling a lump in a breast whether it was benign or malignant, he would be a millionaire. I told him I wouldn't have accepted his word anyway. We both agreed, time for some diagnostic testing.

As I walked out to check out and talk to the referral specialist, tears began to well in my eyes. Why had I thought I would know something today. Who knows how long I'm going to have to wait for answers. The referral specialist brought me back to her desk and told me I would have to go downtown to the Breast Center for a diagnostic mammogram and a sonogram that day. What? The same day? Like that afternoon? Huh? She told me to go sit in the waiting room and she would come get me when she had the appointment scheduled. This gave me a chance to tell Wes the not so good news. It was hard to even say, hard to watch his face fall as he heard me say the words. What felt wonderful was feeling his hand going straight to my shoulder, hearing him quietly reassure me that he would always be there to support me and that we would get through this, whatever this ended up being, together. He was a little surprised to hear that we'd be going for diagnostic testing, having the same past experiences as I, that these things take a while to get sorted out. The referral woman came to get me, told me to be at the Breast Center at 1:15. What!? It was already 11. How did she do that. She told me that this wasn't something that Dr. X was comfortable waiting with. Great. While a large part of me was happy for such expedience, happy not to have to worry for days or a week, a larger part of me was even more scared. Did this mean he thought it was cancerous but wasn't going to tell me until they could see the lump? (If you don't know by now that I'm a worrier and often over-think things, now you know).

We stopped to eat lunch downtown near the hospital at a place called Hawthorne's. I've written about it before. It is the place that Wes walked to for take out so many times when Owen was in the hospital having surgery. They have what I call "The Good Sandwich". While choosing Hawthorne's for lunch was a no-brainer, it also made me feel like we were back at the place that we end up at when bad things are happening in our life.

After eating we headed over and checked in for my tests. We were there early and I ended up being called back about 10 minutes before my appointment time. My dad was on his way down to offer moral support, while my mom made sure that everything ran smoothly with the kids and they didn't know that anything was out of the ordinary. My dad hadn't even arrived by the time they took me back.

The room that I was taken too was a good size. Probably about the size of my master bedroom and bathroom at home combined. There were two chairs to sit in. I guess some people have a loved one accompany them. I had never done this before and it didn't even occur to me to have Wes come back with me. It turns out there would have been no reason to have him there. I was asked to change into a gown, but they were only shirt-type gown. Not your average hospital gown that is knee-length. Makes sense I guess since they are only dealing with breasts. A very nice woman named Paula proceeded to take about 8 mammography images of both of my breasts. In diagnostic imaging they like to have images of the unaffected breast to compare to. I've been told for years that a mammogram doesn't hurt, it is just mildly uncomfortable. In my experience it was more than mildly uncomfortable and actually did hurt a little. The more I think about it, part of the discomfort was definitely due to the fact that I had so much trouble relaxing the muscles in my shoulders and other parts of the body that I needed to relax so she could get everything positioned properly.

She took the images to the radiologist, and I waited. And waited. And tried very hard not to analyze the waiting. She came back into the room and told me that the doctor wanted her to go ahead with a sonogram. I blurted out, "Did he see something", even knowing she is not allowed to tell me that. She assured me (or tried to) that sometimes they do a sonogram just to be sure. She had me follow her to a different room and did a sonogram of my breast. Then she went to show those images to the radiologist.

Upon returning to the room, Paula was accompanied by a man wear khakis and a dress shirt who I assumed to be the radiologist. I felt like I might vomit. I expected to hear him tell me what he found looking at the images. Instead he told me he would like to do a sonogram himself to look at a specific spot. No. Way! I thought. Not no way, I'm not letting him do it, but no way there's more? I was crying at this point. And he didn't tell me not to cry. I'm just saying.

After about ten minutes of the radiologist looking around at my breast via sonogram, he handed me a towel to wipe the gel off. He helped me sit up, looked me in the eye and said, "You do not have cancer." Among the most wonderful words I have ever heard. Then I really started to sob. I managed to convey to him how relieved I was. I calmed down and asked him some questions I had. It turns out I do indeed have fibrocystic breasts. I did the right thing by going to the doctor to have him check out a lump that I had never felt before. He asked me some more about my mom's cancer, if I'd ever been pregnant, did I breast feed my babies? Apparently there is a lifetime breast cancer risk index that is calculated based on the answers to lots and lots of questions. I am being referred to a geneticist who will ask me these questions and calculate my risk index. If it is more than 20% I will be a candidate for breast MRIs, which haven't been being used for too long, but are an extremely accurate test for breast cancer.

Obviously I will still be diligent in performing my self exams and keeping up with my annual gyn appointments. I will also start yearly mammography next year.

This was one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me. (By the way, why does that list keep getting longer?) I have long been an advocate for Breast Cancer Awareness, but after this experience I plan to further commit to educating as many people as I can and doing anything I can do to find a cure for this disease.

I shared this very personal story today hoping that even one woman reading it will gain awareness. Especially awareness that breast cancer can strike at any age, making self-exams and yearly doctor's appointments so important. My mom is an early onset breast cancer survivor. And I am only 30. What I am trying to say is that if you think you are too young for this to apply to you, you are wrong.