Friday, April 1, 2016

I don't have cancer!

I have walked through a breast cancer scare these past couple weeks.  All my friends and family already know this story, but I am hoping that, by documenting it here someone else will find it when they are frantically googling like I was a couple weeks ago. My hope is that they'll find a bit of comfort in knowing someone else has "been there, done that" before.  If you are that person, feel free to email me privately if you have questions beyond what I answer here.  My email address is at the top right of this page.

My husband's mom and grandmother both had breast cancer years ago.  When I was about 25, he started asking me to get a mammogram to set his mind at ease. I had to explain that they don't do mammograms on 25 year olds unless there is a problem suspected.  So for the past 15 years, he's anxiously awaited a time when I was old enough to get it done. I, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic about the test.  But I went anyway because I'm a rule follower and you're supposed to start doing these lovely tests when you're 40.  I turned 40 back in November.  So on March 8, I went in for my first mammogram ever.

I had been told ahead of time that it's not uncommon for first timers to be called back for additional images. Since the doctor who looks at your mammogram Xrays doesn't have a previous year's records to compare to, they have a tough time determining what's normal for you. So I went in knowing that was a possibility.  While doing the test, the tech showed me on the screen where one breast had an area of dense tissue -- a very common thing where you have spots in your tissue that are simply thicker than the rest.  It doesn't "mean" anything, but sometimes the radiologist will ask for more magnified pictures of that area to be sure there's nothing hidden in that thicker tissue. The tech told me not to panic if they called for more pictures in a few days.  She made sure to tell me that she didn't think there was anything wrong, but she wanted to give me a heads-up so I wouldn't be concerned.  But she said "If you get a letter, it's even better!"  So in my mind, that meant a phone call in a few days meant there was reason for concern (or more pictures) and a letter meant everything was okay.

Almost a week passed without any word from them, so I assumed everything was fine. But then I got a letter in the mail.  I almost threw it away, thinking that a letter meant everything was normal. I almost threw it away because I felt like it was just going to say things were fine, but I went ahead and opened it.  I scanned down the page looking for the words "normal" or "everything is okay" but instead found that there was "reason for further evaluation" of my right breast. It instructed me to call ASAP to schedule a diagnostic mammogram.  I immediately called & scheduled it for Good Friday because I was off work that day. It was about a week and a half out, but it was a convenient time. While scheduling, the lady on the phone slipped & mentioned the "suspicious finding" on my chart. It worried me briefly but I convinced myself that's probably just what they call any need for more images. But in the days leading up to the diagnostic appointment, I couldn't help but get nervous that there was something more going on.

Good Friday came and I went in for the tests. I had been told my husband could be there to hear the news with me, so he sat in the waiting room for 2 1/2 hours while I paraded around the back of the office among other half-dressed women, all wringing our hands and praying nothing was wrong.  I had the mammogram first.  I was positioned in several odd poses, compressed in all sorts of crazy ways while the tech circled me & adjusted the machine over and over. When she swung a screen around to see where to position the machine, I saw it. On the screen, there was a little red circle around a strange little white rectangle with a bumpy top.  It looked like a Lego block inside my breast.  I pointed & asked what that was. The tech said "That's why you're here.  That's the spot he was concerned about due to the irregular shape, so we're getting some magnified images of that particular spot."

That's when I knew that it wasn't just dense tissue they were looking at.  I had an actual THING in there.  A lump.  A mass.  Some thing was growing inside me when it shouldn't be there at all. The panic set in and I had to work hard to keep from crying and hyperventilating.  The tech sat me down in a chair after she was done & said to hang out for a minute.  She was going to show the doc my pictures and see if she'd gotten everything he needed.  When she returned, I had talked myself off the cliff.  She said the doctor felt like he needed to see it under ultrasound as well, so they moved me to that room.

The ultrasound tech came in, did her measurements of this thing in me and then called in the doctor.  He looked at it, did a quick exam and then said to meet him in the room next door after I got dressed so we could discuss it.  They called Larry from the waiting room to be there, too.  He explained that I have a tumor in my right breast but he believes it's a benign tumor called a Fibroadenoma. Of course he couldn't guarantee that's what it was, but he offered us two options.  (1) Wait six months & then look at it again to see if it had changed/grown, etc. or (2) Biopsy it to confirm the diagnosis.  Larry and I took about 5 seconds to decide we wanted a biopsy! The idea of leaving it there without knowing for sure what it was for six months put my stomach in knots.  No thank you.  Let's figure this out!  I'm a bit of an information hog, so getting answers and info is vital to me.

My biopsy was the following Wednesday. Leading up to it I was a nervous wreck.  I didn't think I was, but as the test approached, I realized how worried I really was.  I just wanted to get it over with & have some answers!

The procedure itself wasn't so bad, aside from baring myself to yet more people I don't know. By the time it was over, I realized that 6 people had seen or touched me. Eeeeek!  For the biopsy, I was laid on a bed and they gave me several shots of lidocaine to numb the area.  They used a needle biopsy gun tool to do it.  Basically it's a long, thick needle that they feed other needles through.  They are attached to the handle with a trigger that sort of shoots them out when they get it positioned right.  Those needles have a grabber thing on the end which snip off little pieces of tissue and pull it back out.  They also inserted a small metal clip into the tumor so that they could find it later on future mammograms. Or if it turned out to be malignant they could use the marker to measure the tumor and locate it during Xrays. Fortunately, the lidocaine shots numbed the surface, the underlying tissue and the tumor itself so once I got those shots, I was completely numb for the entire thing and watched it all on the ultrasound screen.  It was really sort of interesting to watch.  When it was over they put steri-strips over the tiny incision (about 1/4" long) and a bigger bandage over that, then taped an icepack on top of it all.  Of course, this is all before I got moved to the mammogram room for a "gentle" mammogram to check and make sure the clip they inserted was placed well and had not migrated to a less optimal spot.

They told me that the samples they took would have to soak in some sort of solution for 24 hours before they were looked at, so I would not hear anything for at least 24 hours. But since it was late in the day on Wednesday, they suspected it would be Friday morning before the doctor called with results.  The nurse, the ultrasound tech who assisted during the biopsy and the doctor himself all confirmed my phone number and assured me over & over that he'd call Friday morning.

On Thursday I was at work (I work at a school) when my phone rang in class.  All the teachers knew what was going on, so when I grabbed my phone and ran out of class the teachers who were in the room knew exactly what was going on.  I was a couple doors away from the school cafeteria so I went there to be able to sit in a quiet room and hear the doctor and talk.  He told me that my biopsy had shown NO cancer cells, that the tumor was indeed benign and was absolutely a fibroadenoma like he'd originally suspected. He told me I didn't have to be looked at again for 12 months and I could just go back to a normal mammogram routine at that time.  When I hung up, I cried. Tears of happiness, tears of relief, tears of anxiety releasing from my tense shoulders. I texted my family and a couple close friends, then got up to return to the classroom but I couldn't stop crying.  When I reached the classroom door where I had been the teachers in the room were looking out and spotted me and gave me the "WELL????" look.  I was crying and wiping tears but I was able to mouth the words "It's not cancer" and give them a thumbs up.  They cheered, they yelled, they ran into the hall to hug me and cry with me....which made me laugh & cry some more.  The kids in the room were stunned, not sure what was happening at the door way.  When they asked what was happening I said "I don't have cancer!" and they were shocked---of course they had no idea there had been an issue before. Some of them stood in shock while others ran over to join the cheering and hugging party.  It was a really sweet time!

It took a few hours for the high to wear off and life to sort of resume some normalcy. 600+ friends on facebook cheered along with me at the "It's NOT cancer!!" post I made.  For a few hours, I felt more loved and a little like a rockstar, than I ever have before.  When you're wrapped up in that much love and joy, you can't help but feel like the queen of the world.

24 hours later, I'm still elated to have received such good news.  Who knew I would ever be praying for a diagnosis ending in -oma, but in this case a fibroadenoma is the absolutely best case scenario.  Unless it grows or starts hurting, I don't have to have it removed or do anything about it.  It is literally marked for life (with the little metal clip from the biopsy) so we can always keep an eye on it.  It does not increase my chances of having cancer. No one really knows what causes these tumors, but they are 100% benign.

And so, it's with great happiness I can say I DON'T HAVE CANCER!

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