“I have good news and bad news.” And so it began.
Dr. Kelly Fritz, my surgeon, matter-of-factly continued. “The bad news is that you have breast cancer. The good news is that it was small, only 1.2 cm and I think we caught it early.”
My mind went blank. Thank goodness my husband, Leon, was with me to hear what she said after that (something about greater than 95% chance of still having a long and full life, blah, blah, blah).
No one, man, woman, or child, wants to hear the words, “you have cancer.” It is unbelievably scary, overwhelming, and devastating at first. It is life changing, and can be life affirming.
My new journey with cancer actually started on Monday, July 26. A colleague casually bumped up against me and the books in my arms pressed up against my chest.
I suddenly had an unusual tingling in my left breast that stayed with me for a good three minutes. How odd. The same thing happened a few days later, on Thursday, July 29. That tingling felt like pins and needles. That’s fine if your foot or hand falls asleep; it is not fine when it is your breast.
That night, I tried to find a reason for the tingling. And so it began. A lump between the 6:00 and 7:00 position on my lower, left breast. My husband felt it too. I called my gynecologist’s office the next day and scheduled an appointment for August 3. When I met with him, I couldn’t find the lump at first, but when I laid down on the exam table, I found it quickly. So did he.
He gave me two options: I could “wait and see” what happens since it was likely to be a cyst, or, for my peace of mind, I could get a comprehensive/diagnostic mammogram and sonogram. The difference between a diagnostic exam and my regular annual mammogram was that I would be scheduled when the radiologist would be available to read my tests immediately.
Thank goodness I went for the diagnostic exam instead of the “wait and see” option.
On August 19, right in the midst of Residence Life staff training, I went to St. Mary’s Hospital for the tests. I am familiar with the diagnostic imaging center because I have been going there for years for my annual mammograms (which I admit are a little uncomfortable, but they really do not hurt).
This time felt different however. I was admittedly nervous. The mammogram was done quickly and then I went for the sonogram (which does not hurt; it is just a little messy from the goo they use). After using the wand for a few minutes, the technician found what she was looking for and I could see it too: a small, dark oblong spot in the middle of the screen.
She left and returned with the lead technician and they started doing measurements on the screen. After some quiet conversation between the two of them, I was told I could get dressed and either leave and get the results in the mail, or wait while the radiologist finished a procedure and then she could meet with me. I waited.
Twenty minutes later, the radiologist called me in. We stood in front of several lit up x-rays. She showed me my mammogram from my last exam in January and compared it with the one that was just taken. I couldn’t see anything unusual, nor could she. She went on to tell me that because I have very dense breast tissue, there was nothing visible in the mammograms. However, the sonogram was a different story.
There, clear as a bell, was the lump. She didn’t have to point it out to me. I naively asked if it was a cyst and she quickly replied, “Oh no. This definitely is not a cyst. I recommend that you get a biopsy.” That was the first time my brain shut down. I was so hoping that it was just a cyst. What are you telling me?!?!
I wept on my way home that afternoon and I admit I had a stiff drink when I got there. I called my husband as I left the hospital and he came right home. This was not the news I was expecting.
My gynecologist called me a couple of hours later and confirmed what the radiologist told me. He offered me the names of two general surgeons so I could try to make an appointment ASAP for the biopsy.
The next day, I called Dr. Fritz’s office having gotten several good references about her. Leon and I met with her on August 25 and she recommended a lumpectomy. Based on our conversation, she knew that I wanted that lump, which did not belong inside of me, out of me. The biopsy would be performed on the tissue they extracted. Surgery was scheduled for Monday, August 30; the first day of classes.
Above is only part of the story. Pick up our next issue for more Joanne Goldwater’s struggle with breast cancer.