Bursting My Bubble
Updated: Apr 20, 2021
"Chris, do you know anything about your mammogram yet?" my internist texted me a few hours after my flight from Las Vegas landed in Florida.
"No. Did something show?" My heart was pounding.
"Can you talk?" he continued. My head was spinning.
"I think I found a lump," my mother said to me one day after I got home from school. She rubbed the place where her collar bone met her breast bone.
"I have the same thing," I said back to her. "Everybody does." What did I know? I was in grade school and had never even heard of breast cancer. She called her doctor to make an appointment. Within a few days, that doctor sent her to an oncologist.
It turns out she was right, and she was wrong. The lump she found was just the end of her collar bone. She did, however, have another lump farther down on her chest, right under her breast and close to the middle of her rib cage. The surgeon scheduled her surgery immediately but told her that he didn't think it was anything to worry about. To this day I remember that he explained that most masses that are pliable and moveable are benign, and that's what Mom's was.
Mom & her bony collarbone
When I got home from school the day of Mom's surgery, my father was sitting in his rocker crying. The surgeon was wrong.
Believe it or not, cancer care of any kind just 50-60 years ago was in its early stages. If a woman had breast cancer, even stage one breast cancer, the treatment was radical—complete mastectomy with removal of all lymph nodes. Recovery was not easy. It took a long time for my mom's body to heal from the assault; the mental damage was something else.
My mother survived almost 40 years after that surgery. She never had a recurrence, but cancer was always on her mind. She would not watch any show—fictitious or not—that had a cancer theme. As she aged, she refused to discuss anything having to do with her cancer with me. She never even checked to make sure I was following protocol and having mammograms. I hated that instead of celebrating being a survivor, she mourned her cancer until she passed away in 2005....from something that was not cancer.
My mom about 35 years after her surgery.
After you have mammograms for so many years without a serious problem, you get to be a little over-confident. Sometimes you let your guard down. Sometimes you start to become cocky. Sometimes you don't do what you are supposed to do. Sometime you make a huge mistake. Sometimes a phone call yanks you back to reality.
I was over-confident, and for three years, I did not have a mammogram. Any woman will tell you that they are not the most pleasant experience. My internist nagged me, and I kept promising I'd get one. I traveled instead. I wrote instead.
When my doctor called me that Tuesday afternoon, I crashed. He told me that the mass was small but asymmetrical. My spidey senses tingled. Asymmetrical is not a word you want to hear in the same sentence with lump or mass or tumor. Quite simply put, malignant cells tend to divide asymmetrically.
I mention the following because I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take your life, your health in your own hands.
I needed an ultrasound and diagnostic mammogram (DM), but it took a month before I could get an appointment at radiology. For some reason, radiology canceled the mammogram, so when the ultrasound came back inconclusive, I had to reschedule the DM. They could get me in April 27, they told me. You did, perhaps, hear my screaming around 1 pm PST on March 25; they suddenly found an opening on March 26.
On Monday, March 30, I received notification that I needed another ultrasound, biopsy, and stereotactic biopsy. It took me five days to navigate the phone trees of my internist's office and the radiologist. On Friday, April 3, Desert Radiology scheduled me for those additional tests; they had no openings until April 30. After those results came back, they told me, I would see a breast surgeon.
It was on that afternoon that my patience ran out. I decided to call a breast surgeon myself, and her office got me in within three days. The following week, she did the biopsy herself, gave me the results this
week, and scheduled my lumpectomy for next Wednesday. As long as there are no malignant cells in my lymph nodes, I'll have follow that with six weeks of radiation (wearing my face masks all the way). My doctor believes that that will be the only treatment, and I trust her. She has not lied to me yet.
Let me be very clear about one thing: We must be responsible for our own lives and health. We must be our own advocates. We must take our lives into our own hands. If I had not done so, I would still be waiting for the original biopsy.
I would not be honest if I didn't say I was afraid. I am afraid. I am also angry. Angry that a malignancy has invaded my body. Angry that a malevolent thing has burst that bubble I believed was protecting me all of my life. Angry that something evil has dared put this detour in my life.
But, I trust my internist. He tells me I picked the best breast surgeon in town. I trust my internist and my surgeon. They both tell me I am going to be okay. I trust my husband. He tells me that he's not going to let anything happen to me..
I believe all of them.