My story with breast cancer
While sitting at my annual physical appointment, my doctor said, "Oh, and your due for your annual mammogram!" I cringed because no woman, that I know of, likes getting a mammogram. But, I wanted to be healthy and would definitely regret having breast cancer that was too far along to do anything to get rid of it. My husband and children especially need me around for longer than that!
I took my script home, and later on during the week, called to schedule my mammogram appointment. My previous one was done about six months after I had my son. Everything turned out to be fine then so I didn't expect anything different this time. Just a test that took up some time - no big deal, really.
I went mid October. My circumstances might be a little different than someone else because I have cerebral palsy and I have difficulty staying still especially when my body feels pain. However, I did the absolute best I could. The woman doing my screening wanted me to wait around for someone else to look at my image. I didn't panic because I chalked it up to a blurry image due to movement.
The person never came so they said that they would send my scan to the doctor and they'd get back to me if needed. I didn't forget about the day, but I didn't dwell on the what ifs as of yet. I just figured if they would see a problem, they'd tell me soon. And, about a week later, I received a letter and a telephone call from my doctor asking me to go get a follow up mammogram as soon as possible.
I decided to go to another imaging place because I wasn't too impressed with how the nurses and techs talked to me. They talked to me as if I were a child instead of a forty year old woman. I'll never forget that day. It was raining, I had a miserable head cold and just was feeling terrible. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and everyone was busy discussing family plans. My attendant got there early and waited for awhile in the waiting room.
Luckily, the facility had a much bigger changing room for my wheelchair to get into. Then we sat in another waiting room with magazines. Some magazines were specifically for women with breast cancer. I thought about the other women in the waiting room with me and hoped they didn't hear any bad news today. What an awful time to hear such a diagnosis before a major family holiday. Never thought that it could be me.
The technicians were very friendly and respectful of my disability. One technician said that they felt bad making me go through it but I kept thinking to let's just do it and get a good clear image so I could go home and put this behind me until next year. But, no, they saw something and to be safe, they wanted me to have an ultrasound.
I used to feel happy thoughts of ultrasounds being a mother of two precious children. However, this one sounded cold and uncomfortable. I had to wait with my attendant in a small overly warm room until they could fit me in. My cold medicine was wearing off, and I was just praying that everything would be fine. It felt like an eternity waiting.
Finally, it was my turn to go into another dark, small, overly warm room. My motorized wheelchair can tilt to a recline position so I didn't need to transfer from my wheelchair. The room had two techs and were nice. Then, they called in an oncologist and I knew something wasn't right. She looked, and then very nicely, explained everything to me.
As her words fell from her lips, my world was changing. A business card handed to me to meet with an oncologist to schedule a biopsy. It would be an outpatient procedure and I'd be put under anesthesia.
I became one of the millions of women who embark down the pink journey of breast cancer. Take my hand as you read my column and we will navigate it together.
The holiday season is meant for family, decorating, buying gifts and being happy. However, this year felt completely different since getting the news that I needed a biopsy on my left breast. We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house, and it was nice to feel the support from my family.
I decided not to tell many people simply because I didn't want everyone to worry. This meant especially my nine year old daughter didn't need any worries. We are close, and she knows that sometimes people who have cancer don't always survive. My philosophy was to tell her when I had something to report, and not just speculation.
My mother is a nurse, cancer specialist and clinical researcher. I'm fortunate to know someone so knowledgeable. We talked about my potential choices. She said that if she faced breast cancer that she would have a mastectomy. The idea of having a mastectomy seemed so foreign and scary that I couldn't wrap my mind around it. My family and I sat in disbelief that this was happening.
After the Thanksgiving weekend passed and life resumed to normal, I sat one afternoon staring at the business card of an oncologist given to me after my ultrasound. I didn't want to call to make an appointment. It was just one more step making everything more real. My husband came home from nursing school and sat with me as I called.
A lump formed in my throat as I heard the receptionist say oncologist office. I explained everything to her, and she nicely set up an appointment. I believe it was the next week. All I could do was live as always while holding the weight of my future on my mind.
In movies that focus on cancer patients, time goes by fast. It seems like appointments and tests are immediate. And either the person is cured or, unfortunately, doesn't survive. Well, in real life, time goes slowly when searching for answers. Life doesn't stop for you to deal with your emotions or obligations.
In my case, I had a third grader and a two year old to raise. My husband was trying to support me as I tried to support him with nursing school. I had a house to take care of, pets, bills to pay and articles to write. Life didn't stop for my diagnosis or anyone's for that matter.
My personal care attendant took me to my first appointment with the oncologist. My dad babysat my son and my husband sat anxiously in class. My heart sank as I saw the office building was clearly labeled Cancer Center. Just another reminder of what I might be up against and making my future a bit more hazy.
The office seemed dark and warm. I looked around at the other people and thinking how unfair it is that anyone had to go through cancer during Christmas! My iPhone kept buzzing with text messages from my sister, mother, dad, husband and best friend. Texts of love, encouragement and seeking information. Then, a nice lady wearing pastel scrubs opened the door and called my name.
My attendant and I went in a standard room with blue walls. The nurse seemed very nice and talked to me (which isn't always the case when you have cerebral palsy.) She made a nice comment on how quick my attendant helped me into a yellow paper robe that covered my chest. She said my doctor would be with me soon. She also handed me a big white binder with information on breast cancer. She said that I could keep all of my information and future appointments papers in it. I sighed looking at the binder.
The doctor came in, and he introduced himself. He examined me, which I knew was necessary, but still invasive. He reviewed my X rays and said that he didn't see any signs of cancer, but wanted me to get another mammogram on the left side to make sure. What a wonderful relief I felt as I texted everyone when I went outside after I scheduled another mammogram.
But, the feeling of relief was shortly lived as feelings of doubts crept in when new tests came back. The pink journey continued.
After hearing from an oncologist who looked at my mammograms and examined me that he really thought that I didn't have cancer, I felt elated to say the least. I shared the news with my family and those closest to me. We all felt optimistic, but we knew that he wanted me to get one more mammogram to make sure.
I scheduled a mammogram at the hospital where the oncologist worked. Having cerebral palsy makes the mammogram process much more arduous. Sitting still is impossible especially feeling any kind of pain. My attendant felt so bad having to hold me still in the machine to get a proper picture. I took a muscle relaxer, but it didn't seem to help. But we tried our hardest.
After the mammogram, they did another ultrasound. I prayed that they wouldn't see anything, and I could just go home so I could resume my normal beautiful life. No, it wasn't that easy. A doctor came in that works with the oncologist that I saw. He said that he would feel comfortable if I had a biopsy just to make sure. He saw a cluster of cells and he couldn't tell by the images if they were normal or cancerous. He said that he would send his recommendation to my doctor.
My attendant helped me dress, and the nurses ushered me in a small conference room. A nice, younger woman nurse came in and explained everything again and what a biopsy meant. She tried to make another appointment as I sat there, but my oncologist wasn't available. She said that he would contact me soon to schedule a date for my biopsy.
I took a deep breath and let myself feel the disappointment. I knew that I had to share the disappointment with my friends and family. I really didn't want to tell my husband who was doing his best to complete nursing school. I told everyone, and they were all super supportive and loving.
Christmas 2015 came despite my worries of possible cancer. I decided to enjoy Christmas to the fullest because I really had no idea what was in store for me in the upcoming year. Hugs, kisses and saying "I love you" meant something much deeper now. Saying and acting on love had to be in the present because time was now both my friend and enemy.
After the holidays had passed, I waited for a telephone call to schedule my biopsy. As much as I didn't want to do it, I wanted to find out what was happening inside of me. After a week, I called and talked to the doctor. To my dismay and surprise, he wanted yet another mammogram! He wanted me to take Valium to really relax to try to obtain the best image possible. I cringed. I knew he ultimately was trying not to put me through a procedure that I possibly didn't need. But this was one heck of a roller coaster ride!
My mom took me to the mammogram on a Friday morning. I took my muscle relaxers and fought falling asleep. The real annoying part was when we arrived, they couldn't find me in the schedule! So we had to wait and pray that the medicine wouldn't wear off by the time that they performed the mammogram.
As you probably guessed, the images still showed a mass and needed a biopsy. I scheduled the biopsy toward the end of January. At this point, I still haven't told my daughter about what was going on with me. I didn't want her to worry for nothing at nine years old. But, I had to tell her something since I was leaving early before school and would probably be tired after school. I simply told her that I needed to have some tests done that would leave me a bit sore. She was concerned but more upset that I wouldn't be there when she went to school.
Before I had my biopsy, I read about it and how a high percentage came out negative. My family texted me that morning to give words of support and positivity. Luckily, my mom and husband could both come with me as we were navigating the pink journey together.
originally posted on Breast Cancer News Today