I did not believe I would get cancer. (Never mind that my grandmother had BC (breast cancer), and that my mother had BC, twice)
My mother told me to start getting check ups (mammograms) when I was 30. I did not want to, but she would not stop bugging me. Eventually, I went to my GP for a referral. I informed him that my mother and grandmother both had breast cancer. He responded with one question: "Do you have any aunts or cousins who had breast cancer?" I answered, honestly, if a bit deceivingly, "no." "Then you don't need to go for mammograms," he responded. That was good enough for me. I reported to my mom, and pushed the thought of BC and mammograms out of my mind.
A few years later, two friends of mine were diagnosed with BC. They were my age! Their diagnoses woke me up. I went back to my doctor, who asked me the same question: "Do you have any aunts or cousins who had breast cancer?" This time, I gave him a complete answer: "I do not have any aunts or cousins; both my parents were only children, as was my grandmother." Basically, there were no other family members who would get BC before me. I was, so to speak, the "next in line." In light of this "new" information, he agreed with my mom, "You should be getting regular mammograms."
Then I asked him about this weird thing in my breast. I admitted, "I've felt it for several years." He did a quick manual exam, and determined it was nothing to worry about. I felt he dismissed it very quickly. A few weeks later, I went back and asked how he knew whether the thing I felt in my breast was really nothing (a question which had been nagging me since my visit). He did another manual exam. This time, he responded, "I want you to see the surgeon right away." "Why now?" I questioned. "Because it is bigger than the last time," he replied, heading out the door. A minute later, he returned. "You're in luck," he told me, "the surgeon you should see is in, and can see you now." Without further ado, I found myself sitting in the surgeon's office, a little surprised at how fast things seemed to be moving.
The surgeon spoke with me for a few minutes, then did his own manual exam. Then he gave me a referral for a mammogram, and directed me to a particular clinic, with one of the top radiologists in this field. I got an appointment right away. (I don't remember for sure, but I think the surgeon might even have called the clinic.)
The mammogram showed a "radial scar." It was not a malignant tumor, but the shape indicated that it could become one in the future. "It should be removed," I was told, matter-of-factly.
I scheduled the surgery, in the day clinic, at the medical center. The tumor was removed. The pathology was benign. We were done.
After that, I went for annual mammograms and bi-annual manual exams by the surgeon.
The mammograms were especially tedious, because the visit (including the mammogram, an ultrasound, and a consultation with the radiologist) took all morning (at least 3-4 hours).
At first, Moshe would accompany me. Eventually, I told him there was no need. It just wasted both our time. These exams were routine and uneventful.... for five years.
In 2007, the radiologist noticed tiny calcifications in my milk ducts. As part of his exam, he took a core biopsy. A week later, his office called and told me that it is their policy not to give any results over the phone and could I please come in on Sunday afternoon. I "knew" how long things took there, and told Moshe, who was in the middle of a "crunch" at work, that I would go on my own. It did not occur to me that there could be any reason I would need him with me.
When I arrived, there was no one else in the waiting room. Still, I did not feel any concern.
Then, the radiologist called me in. He showed me the pictures from the mammogram. He showed me the white spots that were spread throughout my milk ducts. He explained that calcifications and cancer cells often look the same. Then, in a calm, quiet voice, he informed me that some of the white spots I was seeing were cancerous.
I did not understand.
The radiologist, quietly, and gently, continued to explain. This is very early; most of the cells are contained in the milk ducts; there might be a small invasion into the rest of the breast tissue.... we will know more after the surgery.
I was in shock.
I was not at all prepared to hear this news.
I needed to talk with Moshe, but he was not there.
This was not supposed to happen.
I did not know what to do.
Thankfully, the kind staff did know what to do. The secretary, with whom I had a warm relationship, gently guided me to a waiting room where I could be alone, and call Moshe.
I called Moshe. Then I started to cry.
We spoke for a long time.
When I was calm enough to drive home, I thanked the staff. They had already called my surgeon and arranged an appointment for me for the next day.
I drove home in a stupor.
I was still stunned.
This could not be happening to me. I did everything I was supposed to do.
I was not supposed to get cancer.
This could not be happening to me.
You might also be interested in this related post: The Me I Was Before
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With love and optimism,
We Have Risen From the Ashes of a Broken World
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