Remember my last post, when I was kinda crotchety about getting pink eye? (Which by the way, went away the next day! See? WHINING WORKS.) Well, what I didn't tell you is that part of the reason I was irritable is that I was worried. The next morning, I was getting on a train to head into the city, I had an appointment at the Sydney Breast Clinic. Not for cosmetic enhancement--oh, no!-- but to follow up on a breast ultrasound I'd had two days before.
When I had my regular lady checkup with my GP in January, I told her about Becky's breast cancer. I asked her what I needed to do, in terms of detection and whatnot. She told me that, at 35, I was a little young to get mammograms, but that I should get yearly physical exams and ultrasounds.
"Your breasts are quite dense," she told me. "Why, thank you," I said, "But I really just think of you as a friend." Then, I realized she was saying that mammograms aren't always effective for younger women because of the density of their breast tissue. But I took it as a compliment anyway. If y'all have been reading here awhile, you know about my receive any and all compliments policy. But anyway.
So last week, once the kids were back in school and things got quieter, I scheduled the ultrasound for Tuesday. "Are you nervous?" Jason asked me as I grabbed my stuff to go. "Nah," I said, "we know that nothing bad will ever happen to us." And we chuckled, because I was obviously joking, but really? I wasn't nervous at all. 'Cause part of me really believed that.
I'm gonna fast forward a little, because this is meant to be a blog post and not a Tolstoy novel. Wednesday, I went back to the doctor because I wanted eye drops for my burgeoning pink eye. But we ended up talking about the ultrasound instead. There were a few cysts that the radiologist wasn't sure about, but he recommended another ultrasound in 6 months. My GP recommended calling the Breast Clinic in the city, just to get checked. I appreciated that she was being cautious. I called Wednesday afternoon, and they happened to have an opening for the next morning, which I took.
You can probably see where this is going. My friends, I was there all day. I shut that place down! No really, I was literally the last patient there--I got there at 10:30am and left at 4:30pm. A physical exam found a lump (that didn't show up on the ultrasound, as in, they missed that part of the breast.) Then I had my first mammogram, then a second, then an ultrasound. I will post again soon, cause I want to tell you more about some of this. You'll have to forgive this first "brain dump" post.
After the mammo and before the ultrasound, the doctor sat with me in her office. She showed me a shot from my mammogram on the screen. She pointed to an area in the upper right corner. It looked like a gray, ovally shape with some little white dots in it. "I don't like this," she told me. I nodded. And swallowed. I was trying very hard to listen and be a good student. I like to appear attentive. I remembered Becky saying the same thing, and even then in that moment, I smiled to myself.
She told me that the white dots were calcifications. That when cancer cells die, they calcify and that is what enable them to be seen on a mammogram. The ovally shape was a small lump that she had felt and initially thought was a lymph node. It wasn't anything I'd ever noticed. It wasn't anything my GP noticed when she did a breast exam last month. It wasn't anything that showed up on the ultrasound I had on Tuesday. But there it was. Those little white dots. And when the breast doctor tells you she doesn't like the look of something on your mammogram, you listen to her.
Funny the things you have to communicate via text message. This is me Trying To Be Calm.
She told me they were going to do an ultrasound and then a biopsy. The technician spent a long time on that ultrasound. I lay there, my right arm above my head for almost an hour. She told me beforehand, "I get very focused on what I'm doing, so don't let it bother you if I don't say much." I told her I would much rather her focus on her job than make chitchat with me, anyway. Once she got a ton of pictures of the area in question, the doctor came in. They discussed their "approach" for the biopsy--actually there were three areas they wanted to sample.
The location of the lump made it a tricky place to biopsy. And let's just say I don't have an abundance of breast tissue in the first place. And ya know, there are some important things right behind your boobs, like your chest wall and such. So, it's a precision job. They were talking amongst themselves about a particular technique they were gonna use. "It's good for thin people," the doctor said to the tech. "Awww, you guys!! That is so sweet!", I said. No not really. But I thought about it while laying there, and it made me chuckle to myself.
I'm just babbling now. Sorry. It's just that it was such a long day, and so surreal and I've been wanting to write about it. Actually, I told Becky later, as I lay there getting biopsied I was constantly thinking of how I'll write about this, how I'll talk to people about it later. Like, constructing the narrative in my head. I think it was a good way of kind of distancing myself from what was really happening. Becky said that she did the exact same thing. So at least, we are freaks together.
I'm gonna post more about it, but I'll cut to the chase now, cause I'm sure you have lives to attend to. After the biopsy, I put my shirt on and went next door and sat in the doctor's office. I sipped some water they brought me. My hand shook a little. Then, the doctor came in, along with a nurse who brought me a cup of tea. She told me what I already knew by then. It was cancer. Freaking, fracking cancer. (That is the title of my forthcoming book, I think.) She drew some diagrams for me, of milk ducts and cancer cells piling up, and invasive cancer stretching beyond the duct like a little claw. (Which is why it's called "cancer". Like the crab. I never knew that. Did you?)
We hoped at that point that I didn't have the claw. The needle biopsy had confirmed there were cancer cells, but the core biopsy she did wouldn't be back till the next day. So, late Friday afternoon she called me and told me what I didn't want to have to tell my family. There are cancer cells in the tissue surrounding the lump, too. Laying in our hallway on the phone, I wrote "invasive" on the piece of notebook paper I was taking notes on, then put my head down on it while I listened to her talk. The reality is, she said, it probably wouldn't change my treatment that much. I'd still need surgery either way, although it is now more likely I'll need chemotherapy too. Time will tell.
So, that was 5 days ago. Tomorrow, Jason and I are meeting with the surgeon to find out what happens next. I'm not sure when they'll schedule my surgery, but it will probably be soon. This is happening. And with what Becky went through, it is really the strangest deja vu.
I am okay. I am actually feeling fine, mostly. But I am nervous, nearly all the time. Like that tingly, butterfly feeling you get before a job interview or a leap off the high dive. But instead of going away as soon as you do the thing, it lasts for hours. It's draining after awhile. But I've found that exercise really helps it go away, so I'm gonna throw that tip out there for anyone who needs it.
Thanks for reading all this. I have more to say, can you believe? But I'm gonna save it for later. Can you pray for me, if you're a praying kind of person? Or even if you're not? I don't discriminate! I would really appreciate it. I am going to be fine, but I know I can't do this on my own. I also know I don't have to. Thanks, guys! I know this is "just" the Internets, but it sure feels real to me.
More soon. xoxo