Happy Freakin’ Birthday…
I really wish it were as simple to get a new boob as holding a boob-on-a-stick in front of my chest.
Back in February, I got a very significant mammogram. It was my first mammogram after being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the first time my beleaguered, mutilated, radiation-burned, scarred-up boob was going to go through a squishing since it was mutilated, burned and scarred in the first place. I was frankly more concerned about that at the time than I was about the results. I massaged my scar and my adhesions the whole week beforehand, and took ibuprofen before I left for the local mammogram center so it wouldn’t hurt too much. It didn’t. The mammographer was great, got it all right the first time, no do-overs needed. She came out after the radiologist took a look to tell me that everything looked okay. I was so relieved, I almost cried.
So much for feeling unconcerned about the results. I walked around with a lump in my throat for a solid week afterwards. You don’t realize sometimes how much anxiety you are walking around with until the danger passes, so to speak. Recent struggles with concussions and anti-depressants notwithstanding, after that mammogram, I felt like I was really out of immediate danger for a while, like I could begin to reassemble some of the parts of my life that have not merely been put on the back burner, but tossed on the woodpile for several months now. My breast surgeon had the mammograms read by her big-city radiologist colleagues as well, and I never heard any bad news from her either. The Stalker was halted for the moment. I have been enjoying my reprieve, believe me.
Then I got a letter in the mail. It was from the local radiologist at the mammography center. He was ‘concerned’ about an area on the mammogram that he said ‘needs to be looked at again to continue to be sure that it is normal.’ He recommended further imaging in 6 months. That was last week. I was finally able to call my breast surgeon’s office yesterday to see what the big-city radiologist had opined. Just to get the second opinion. Just to reassure myself that it was probably scar tissue that the first radiologist had his eye on. Just to continue my reprieve until my next six-month mammogram. My surgeon, however, was on a well-deserved vacation this week. Her assistant was puzzled, though, that the surgeon hadn’t called me after getting the second mammogram reading. She looked for it, but couldn’t find it. May I just say here that, like everyone I’ve dealt with at my surgeon’s main office, this assistant was darling, cordial, concerned and didn’t want to waste any time making me wait to find out what was going on. It makes an enormous difference, for which I continue to be grateful. After we brain-stormed for a few minutes, we wondered if the report had been sent to the wrong office. My surgeon affiliates with a few different office locations, so that was highly possible. She tried some technical magic to hook up with the records system at the other offices and was able to pull up the second radiology report and read it to me.
This report stated that “more calcifications” were found in my involved breast and that further imaging was needed sooner, not later. This was not music to my ears. Ductal carcinoma, the kind I had (had? have?), is a cancer of the milk ducts in the breast. As the cancer cells sit there, unpalpable and invisible, multiplying and lurking for a few years, they cause and accumulate dead cells around them, which calcify and turn into hollow bits of course sand with cancer cells inside. Then and only then, they become visible on mammograms. They are still not palpable, but on a mammogram, they look like bright spots of aquarium gravel. Not all breast gravel is cancer, but when one of my gravel bits was biopsied, it was found to be cancer.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (the official name for this kind of cancer) is not invasive. Yet. Some healthcare clinicians don’t even consider it cancer. Personally, I think anyone in healthcare who reads the word ‘carcinoma’ and thinks that’s not cancer is a bloody, friggin’ idiot. If DCIS is not removed, it eventually turns into invasive carcinoma, involving more of the breast tissue and possibly spreading to the lymph nodes. So, one does not ignore breast gravel. I turned out to have so much gravel, spread out so far, that my surgeon had to remove much more than a “lump” during my ersatz lumpectomy. She removed a slab of tissue that measured about the size of an Ipod Nano or a pack of Virginia Slims or slightly bigger than the average rectangular cell phone. In other words, half of my right breast. Many women who get this diagnosis decide to have a mastectomy. When I was first diagnosed, I thought that was kinda nuts. Now, I wish I’d done the same thing because I wouldn’t be sitting here now weeping about this and waiting for my doctor to come back from vacation and hoping her assistant can book me an another mammogram on my birthday this Friday, which is my next day off, and having to alert all my friends once again that I may be under siege again, and at the very least, I am biting my metaphorical nails waiting to find out more about what the heck is going on.
The thing is, I know what’s going on. I have “more calcifications.” After what I’ve been through already, I don’t know what anyone could possibly say to me to make me feel comfortable about living with any kind of calcifications in my breast right now. I would have to be placed on a continuous IV drip of Versed (which is not a bad thought right now) to believe that any gravel bits in my breast are benign. Uh-uh. Don’t think so. And even if they’re benign now, sooner or later, they won’t be. Count on it.
Remember last week when I was talking about how I feel about mastectomy with immediate reconstruction? Remember when I said I wouldn’t let another surgeon touch me with a twenty-foot pole any time soon? Oops, changed my mind!
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