The year I turned 35 my physician requested that I get a baseline mammogram. No one in my family had been diagnosed with cancer, so I was in no rush. I was a single parent with three teenaged daughters so when on earth was I supposed to schedule that? Needless to say, I did not get around to scheduling a mammogram.
A couple years later, I went to my annual checkup with my primary care physician. Having been diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on one of my first few pap-smears, I made sure I kept up with my regular appointments as much as possible. I mentioned to her that I had an itch that was driving me a little crazy in my left nipple area. She just told me to use some lotion and it should be fine. I was a little doubtful since the itch was not on the surface. It was a fairly deep feeling, not like a bug bite feels on the surface of your skin. It was not something I was able to scratch and feel any relief from the itch.
I did finally get around to scheduling a mammogram when I turned 40. Happy birthday to me! I think the convertible I purchased for myself that year was a much better gift! What an experience that was. I was one of the lucky ones who had to go back for a second round of it. I was told that I probably had dense breast tissue and it was nothing to worry about. I went back, was informed that since the first one appeared to be a bit hard to read, they would have to squeeze even harder the second time! If they have you back for a second visit, they ask you to wait so someone can read it before you leave. I waited for what seemed like forever, probably about 20 minutes in reality but it doesn’t feel like that when you are waiting. The nurse came back out and told me everything appeared okay and that I could leave. No more follow up. That was a relief!
Two years later, my physician provided me with another referral for a routine mammogram, or so I thought. I went in and explained what happened a couple years prior and they started with a harder squeeze this time. I went on my way after it was over. A few days later though, I received a call back from the imaging facility. I was being asked to come back again. They said, no big deal, this happens a lot and scheduled my appointment. I arrived at the appointment, ready to just go in and wait after for a few minutes and then move on with my day. After all, that is what happened the last time too. It should be just fine. Nope. Not this time. I went in and sat back down to wait. Shortly, someone came out and said that they would need to take me back for a needle aspiration biopsy. The doctor explained that when they view the films, they look for a normal flow of tissue and they didn’t quite see it in my breast so they wanted to investigate further.
Needle aspiration biopsy is basically what it sounds like. They use an ultrasound machine to guide where they were going to use a very, very long needle to grab some tissue to send off to the lab. Because it is a long needle, they numb the area with a local anesthetic first…basically a needle before the big needle. I was in the room for around 45 minutes. The doctor apologized several times telling me she had never had such a difficult time getting a sample from someone. Umm, okay? Not sure what to make of that. She finally completed the biopsy and told me it would take around a week to receive the results.
I went about life as best I could. At least I was taking my daughter to visit one of her college choices and we would be gone for the weekend. We spent some quality time together, wandered through one of the large shopping malls in the area, watched a movie and toured the college. Kept as busy as I possibly could. I hadn’t told my girls anything yet, as a matter of fact, I had not told anyone in my family at that point. I didn’t want to worry anyone with it since there couldn’t be anything wrong with me, right? I didn’t have the time to deal with a major illness. Who would take care of the girls? Who would clean the house and provide food?
Monday morning, on President’s Day in 2012, I received a call asking if I could make it to an appointment at 1pm that day. Typically, I worked outside of my office, but on that holiday, the clients were closed and I would be working in the office right across the bridge so I said, sure. I would take my lunch and head over. I called my friends who I knew would be home that day, he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer and his wife was a teacher and the school was closed. They met me there. We went into a tiny room and with four of us in there, we were standing on top of each other. The doctor then said the diagnosis was invasive lobular breast cancer. She did not know what stage, she did not know any more details but said I now needed to begin scheduling appointments. One thing she said that I took to heart was that although the surgeons in the area of South Jersey where I lived were good, she recommended that I explore other options outside of the area for the best surgical care. Go to Philly, go to NYC but don’t do it around here.