This is a long one, but it’s a culmination of me writing from January 26th to March 1st. I wanted to capture my raw thoughts, but not publish until I had final determination of what the heck was going on with me.
Years ago, when D2 couldn’t even walk, we did the Making Strides Annual Breast Cancer Walk. At the time, I wanted a charity to support and ended up choosing it, I cannot remember why. I didn’t know anyone who had breast cancer, but though it was a good cause. I would raise money and be more than proud to walk. We created a team called the Grouchy Ladybugs. I came up with the name because that was D2’s favorite book at the time, and I thought it was really fitting. In the story, this little lady bug thinks he’s super tough and wants to fight no matter how big the contender is. To me, that was kind of like someone fighting cancer. It’s this big overwhelming thing and here are these women, small in the grand scheme of things, putting on a heck of a fight. We did the walk for a few years in a row, and at some point something else was scheduled that weekend so we couldn’t go and that was it. We never did the event again. We are going this year. What changed? Well, perspective changed. I went in for my now annual mammogram. Yeah, I am now of that age, so I get to have the lovely squish every year. The experience is different for everyone, I heard that sometimes it was painful, others not so much. I had gone a few years back for a baseline, but this was the real deal. It’s not a fun appointment, but the ladies over at Memorial West are outstanding. They really treat you well and do their best to make you comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. A few days later, I got an alert on my phone that my online record had been updated. I logged in, expecting the all clear but stopped in my tracks the moment I opened the results. I think the term was “inconclusive, due to possible dense tissue.” What the heck does that mean? Google, please help me here! Well per Google, it means one of two things. There’s something there to be possibly concerned with, or you just have dense tissue in there and it’s nothing to worry about. I read on, and saw that I needed to make another appointment for another, more detailed mammogram and breast ultrasound. Damn. Being the data junkie that I am, I read that about 10% of all standard mammograms result in call backs for this type of thing. Not great, but ok, it is what it is. I told Darin that night and he was concerned. I was too, but told him we shouldn’t really worry about it until the ultrasound, I read that it really helps get a clear view. I’m pretty good at the tough girl act. I was scheduled for the following Friday.
Friday came and I have no idea why, but I felt like I knew something was wrong…. Oh wait, I am that person who always thinks of everything that could go wrong, so that’s just me, never mind. I went in and had the diagnostic mammogram, which by the way is more painful than the regular one. They tighten the clamp down more, and the clamp is a zoom in thingy, so it’s smaller and that means the pressure is more concentrated. After that awesomeness, I waited some and then had the ultrasound. That’s pretty awkward to say the least. You get the gel squirted on and the lady goes to town with what looks like a corded shaver with no blade. It took forever but other than the weirdness, it wasn’t so bad. When the technician came back in and said the doctor wanted to talk with me, I knew something was up.
I waited for what felt like forever and the doctor finally came in. She explained that I had what they would refer to as “indeterminate calcified areas.” She said that means they can’t rule out an issue and therefore I would need a biopsy. A biopsy. Ok. Another nurse came in and said she’d walk me through everything and get me scheduled. She stated that I would probably be in pain and could not exert myself or do anything physical for a few days following. I was now scheduled for the following Friday. These weeks just keep getting more and more stressful. I got my paperwork, and special soap that I needed to use before my procedure and headed out to Darin. I don’t even remember the details of the conversation. I think I was still digesting what was happening. When I got out front, Darin was waiting and asked how it went. I said, I had to come back next week. “What for?” he asked, “a biopsy,” I replied. The words felt alien coming out of my mount. I shared appointment details as we headed home and I could tell he was concerned. I tried my best to put my strong face on, but deep down, I was scared. Tough girl face is harder when you are trying to hold it for weeks now.
Of course I made the number one mistake someone like me makes. I Googled the procedure and found there are several ways it could be done. I guess I would have to wait for the actual procedure to really know for sure. As far as healing time and experience? Well, that varies based on the method they use. The responses go anywhere from not feeling a thing to a lot of pain and healing time. The week crawled. Most days, I didn’t feel like working out but I did my best. I knew I couldn’t get all upset. My fate as not sealed. This thing could go fine and the results could be all clear, but again, I am a worst case scenario kind of girl, so I really had to spend a lot of time being busy and not thinking about what could go wrong.
The day of the biopsy finally arrived. I had read all the different ways it could be performed online and had no idea what I was really in for. I’ll start by saying that I could not ask for a more amazing staff. All the people at Memorial are top notch and put patient care and comfort first. If you are squeamish, you might wan to skip the next couple paragraphs. I’m going to tell it like it is, at least for this particular procedure (which could vary depending on the facility) because I think it’s important. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I want to share my experience.
The appointment starts with the standard check in process and the little half robe up top like you would have for a mammogram. It’s nice to have a waiting room where all the ladies in there are there for similar things you are there for. When they called my name, I was nervous. The nurse, Linda, took me into a room very similar in size to a single occupant hospital room. There was a regular chair, where I sat so she could take vitals and on the other side of the room was a very interesting looking chair. It looked like a very tall straight backed, stiff wheelchair, but the wheels were small and under the bottom of it. There was also what looked like a mini mammogram machine. They explained that they would have to get me in position and the mammogram looking machine would hold me in place. I’d be receiving a local anesthetic injection, feel some burning and then they would start the procedure. They advised me not to look at what was going on and to just try to relax and breath as much as I could.
I sat in the chair and they wheeled me over to the mammogram machine. They positioned me and clamped down. If I ever said the mammogram was painful and clamped down hard, this was at least twice that. They took pictures and they plug coordinates into the machine. They gave me the numbing and that hurt like when the dentist sticks the needle in your gums, except this was my boob! They then make an incision, about a quarter inch or so long and they insert what they call a needle into the incision. I say “what they call a needle” because it was really more like a soda straw as far as how thick it is. I didn’t feel that part, thankfully but I was in constant pain the entire time from the clamping part. The machine sucks tissue through the needle and then they take it over to a microscope to make sure they got the tissue they needed. Unfortunately, they did not.
They took me out of the machine to give me a short break and then prepped everything to do it all over again. That’s when I looked over and saw how thick the needle was that was just inside me. I wanted to cry at the thought of having to do all that over again. The process was repeated, with a new numbing injection and new incision. The doctor told me that if they did not get it this time, then I would need to go and heal up, and then we’d have to schedule another one. Thankfully, they got what they needed on the second pass, because I am not sure I could have handled having gone through all that and not have anything to show for it. A titanium marker was inserted at the site of the biopsy and would remain in my body. It’s super tiny and looks a lot like an open padlock. I am told that it won’t set off any metal detectors, so I guess that’s good.
Linda explained that she has had several over the years, as breast cancer runs in her family. Her mom passed at 55. She was so amazing and thoughtful. She talked to me and rubbed my arm during the procedure. I felt like I could talk to her and she would be straight with me. So, I asked. If it is cancer, would you say that we caught it really early on? Her response was everything to me. She explained in detail why my particular calcifications were suspicious. If they are spread out, that’s normal. That mine were clustering, usually means something is up. Still could be nothing, but they have to check. She explained that if it is cancer, it is not at all likely to be life threatening and would have been caught very early and chances of getting it cleared up are good. That was nice to hear. It would take around 5 business days for results. Tough girl face on again for a while longer.
I was pretty tender the next day, but the boys were away camping so other than my hair appointment, (would not have done that hindsight) I just hung out on the couch which was good. I couldn’t help but think about the two very different paths my life could take after getting the results. I started to plan how I would accept either result. The days after that ticked by slowly. With Monday being a holiday, I was terrified it might go into the next week before I would hear anything. I got the call Wednesday afternoon. It was the doctor that performed the biopsy, Dr. Applebaum. After asking how I was feeling, he said “well, I have good news and I have bad news.” The good news was that the cells were not cancerous, the bad news was that he followed that up with “yet”. Turns out, I have cells in that cluster that are the type that become cancerous. He went on to tell me that I would have to have surgery to remove the cells and surrounding tissue to ensure that nothing is left behind that could pose a problem later. He let me know that I should get a call soon with the name and number of the recommended surgeon and that I could schedule it when convenient.
It was a weird day. While I was certainly grateful that I did not have cancer, I had not anticipated that there could be a “yet.” I had a plan for the bad news and a plan for the good news, I didn’t have a plan for “yet” and it affected me in a way I didn’t expect. What does that even mean? Yes, I have to have surgery, but what does that entail? Am I at risk all the time after that? I did my best to research (of course) but while the name of the procedure doesn’t change, it’s different for each patient. Everything depends on how much tissue they need to remove. I made my consultation with the surgeon and all I could really do was wait for the appointment. How was there a “yet” that I had no idea could happen. I knew I should be thankful, and I was, but that “yet” was a lot for me to process. Tough girl face is starting to wear on me at this point.
My surgery consultation day finally arrived. I didn’t sleep much the night before, but was still able to crank out a pretty good workout, which made me happy. My workouts have suffered quite a bit due to the healing time for the biopsy and just overall stress making me not want to do anything on some days. It was kind of a surreal experience. I had to report to the Breast Cancer Center and fought back tears from the moment I entered the waiting area. There were “regulars” that came in for their chemotherapy treatments and some who just had surgeries and were awaiting results. Some had their brave faces on, others said how they wish they never had to see the place again. Some had scarves or ball caps to keep their heads warm, having lost their hair to the treatments. I was scared for what my appointment held, but could only imagine what they have gone through. I was called in a nurse went over my history and the findings up to that point and then the surgeon came in. She did an exam and then went over the details with me. She explained that the cell growth I had was a precursor to cancer and that while the tissue collected in the biopsy did not have cancerous cells in it, there was still a chance that cancer could be found in the tissue she planned to remove. Wait, what? I thought this was being removed as a precaution, I thought to myself. She went on to explain that this type of surgery leads to the discover of cancer about 25% of the time. She stated that she would narrow those odds for me to probably 15% since it was discovered so early on. Wait, what? I felt like I was processing what she was saying at the slowest possible speed. It took me a minute to understand that she’s telling me it is still possible that I have cancer when I thought I was free and clear. She went on to explain what the procedure entails. Again, if squeamish, the next paragraph is fun.
She reminded me of that titanium marker left in me. That was going to act as her beacon to find the area that needed to be removed. I’ll get that local anesthetic again, lovely, and this time they will insert a wire into my boob. It will go from the outside in to the titanium marker. Then, with this thing sticking out of me, I will head in to the operating room. I’ll be totally knocked out and they will make an incision and open me up until they get to that marker. She’ll cut out what she needs to and stitch me up. How much gets cut out? Well, she said it was the size of the old 50 cent gumballs. Not the little ones, the big ones. They’d send that to the lab and I’d get a call about a week or so after that with the results. She went on to explain that the void will fill with fluid and eventually scar tissue. I should look the same from the outside but would take some time to heal. She said most people take about 4 days off of work and that I could not even attempt to resume activities like running or swimming for at least two weeks. Of course everyone varies so she said to listen to my body.
She also explained that there would be one of two paths after the results are in. She’d either be having me come in to discuss options if cancer is found, and she said there would be many because we would have caught it so early on. Or, I’d be in for a follow up appointment and from that point forward considered high risk. I would have to have mammograms every six months, and they would discuss different things that can be done to aid in prevention of my cells getting all out of whack again. There’s even a breast cancer prevention pill, if you can believe it. Before she left, she informed me that I have to have an appointment with a regular physician to be physically cleared for surgery and they would call me to schedule the procedure. The nurse returned and gave me lots of scary reading materials and sent me on my way. I left kind of in a daze. I feel like every time I think I am getting an answer, I get more open ended questions. Tough girl face doesn’t even come on anymore. It’s more like numb girl face.
It’s more than likely my surgery will take place in May or June, so that I can enjoy everything we already have planned. She stated that was fine, there was not going to be any change between now and then. That gives me quite a bit of time to digest all this and figure out exactly how I feel. I am trying my best to be grateful, and I am, I just can’t help but feel scared and a little shitty quite frankly.
So, I wait and I digest. At the end of the day, no matter the outcome, I want to make sure that I acknowledge that I am truly grateful. This experience has and will continue to make me think every day about how grateful I am for the wonderful life I have. Even if I have to take a different path in the future, I have seen first hand that so many more women have had a struggle far greater than anything I will experience. So, this October, we will fund raise and walk again. I’ll be celebrating whatever outcome I face and walking for those women who have had to fight this giant we call cancer.
If you are a close friend or family member, and you are wondering why I didn’t tell you until now, it’s simple. I needed to do what was best for me. I can’t express how stressful these last several weeks have been. It would have just stressed me more to have to keep everyone posted. Not to mention, if the news was worse I would have wanted to digest that more before having to update anyone. There’s nothing you could have done for me. No words you could have said. I didn’t want to cry with anyone. In fact, I tried not to cry at all. I am pretty good at tough girl face, but won’t lie. I had a few really rough and dark days. It’s not because I don’t appreciate you and love you, but because it would not have helped me get through this. It would have only made it worse. It’s what I needed to do, for me. I hope you can understand that, and besides, I am sharing now. 🙂 If you are wondering if you can do anything for me, there are a few things….. First and foremost, if you know a women of age who is hesitant to get screened, please encourage her to do so. If you or someone you know is not yet of age for mammograms, be sure to do your self exams. They could quite literally save your life. Second, walk with me. I invite anyone and everyone I know to join our team and walk beside me this October. Third, if you are feeling saucy and want to pitch in to send some chocolate covered fruit my way after surgery, I won’t complain! Haha. And finally, do what makes you happy and spend time with people you love. Stay tuned for more posts as things progress.