Monday, October 19, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I have heard it said “write about what you know”. I know breast cancer.

Cancer has always been a specter in my life. My mother, Betty died of colon cancer when I was 16 years old. Most of her eight siblings died of one type of cancer or the other.

One morning I woke up with pain in my right nipple. It felt like I had been nursing a baby. Not a bad pain, just noticeable. This happened for several days and so I shared it with my husband. He said, “It is probably nothing but knowing you, you’d better get it checked out. Otherwise you will obsess about it.” He was right.

I went to my doctor, he examined me, found nothing but said what my husband had said. “It is probably nothing but knowing you, you’d better get it checked out. Otherwise you will obsess about it.”

Next step was a mammogram. I brought my oldest daughter for support. I was asked twice that day for more mammogram views. Next they asked me if I would have an ultrasound done on my breast. I said “Certainly, is there something you are seeing?” The answer to that was yes, but we can’t yet tell what it may be. It is probably nothing.

Ok, suck it up. Don’t freak out yet. A fabulous woman does the ultrasound, she is careful and thorough, reassuring. Over and over she ran the cool slick liquid under and around my breast, stretching it, pushing. Finally, she stopped. She told me that there was something hidden there in the area under my breast, close to my chest wall.

The next step was a needle biopsy. They gave me the option of coming back another day… I told them that now was good for me. I took a Xanax; they waited for it to take affect and then began. I had heard that this procedure was painful. I held tight to my daughter’s hand. Outside of a slight prick I felt nothing. I did hear the loud snap of the device as it collected the breast tissue. My daughter was fascinated by the process.

They gave me some pain medicine and some tiny ice packs to fit into my bra and sent me home. They were the best, kind and gentle but honest. They told me it would be several days to find out the results. I was in shock. I now freaked out a bit… I was sure it would be cancer but held out a slim hope for a benign result.

Much of what follows is hazy, shrouded in denial and pain and confusion. Accuracy in dates is not what I have to give you. I can share my feelings and the events I recall.

The call came. It is cancer. I don’t know where I was. I think that later that day we went on the candy rounds with my nephew for Halloween.

Next was the selection of the surgeon. I had a recommendation from the breast care center. I spent time online looking and found that I was already at the best place for my care. All of my surgeries and treatment took place in the same hospital complex.

The surgeon explained all that would happen to me, my options and her recommendations. I chose a lumpectomy. In the end she took out about one-third of my right breast. Having the lumpectomy and a sentinel node biopsy was not particularly painful and I am a huge baby when it comes to pain.

Recovering from the lumpectomy – now that hurt badly and took far longer than I anticipated. The weather was horrid and cold and wet and our power went out several times for hours during my recovery. A very good friend visited from far away but the visit was disastrous. I had expectations that were not in anyone’s power to meet.

When breast tissue is removed, fluid races to the breast. This is partially for healing purposes. I was told that it was best for the fluid to be reabsorbed by the body. Unfortunately for me an excess of fluid built up and my breast ballooned to a very, very painful state. I went back to the surgeon’s office and my breast was drained using a needle and a suction jar. The relief was instantaneous and made me cry. This happened twice and then my breast began to heal.

More on my journey tomorrow.

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