Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I "Passed" My Mammogram

(continued from "How I Found It")

I received my letter August 10, with the results of the mammogram; 

"your recent mammogram has been interpreted; it shows no features to suggest cancer"...  "Please remember 10% of breast cancers can not be found on breast imaging"...see your doctor for a clinical exam if you haven't already done so."

Look familiar?  If you are over 40, I hope it does.  What does it mean?  You've done your prevention and had your annual mammogram.  It's your "I don't have breast cancer ticket" for another year.  Whew.  

Taa-daa.  See not cancer.  Some type of mid-life change.  Nothing you can do about it.  Deal with it.

Coincidentally, I had an appointment with my primary care physician the week after I received my letter.  I mentioned the discharge to her and the visit to the breast health center.  She said, "it's probably a good idea to go see the surgeon and have it checked out, 90% of the time, it's nothing, but there are some cancers/pre-cancers that don't show up on mammograms".  "It's nothing probably, if you check it out and it happens again, you'll know the cause."   For some reason, her explanation/presentation prompted me follow up.  

Thank you God.

I made an appointment that afternoon.  The surgeon couldn't see me until the next week, but I wasn't really concerned.  I was just covering the bases to "be sure" everything was ok.  During that week, there were some other changes that started happening with that breast, but nothing that would cause me to think I had cancer.  Again, there were no lumps. Probably infection.  I looked it up on the internet.  Could be cancer, but could more likely be many other things.  

I went to a party that weekend with wonderful friends we don't see often enough.  We were catching up and I was lamenting about being a stay at home mom (being a stay at home mom is kind of out of character for me).  I was trying to live in the moment with the kids, but really wanted to be working full time and there wasn't a lot of work to choose from right now.  She said, "relax, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something."  This benign, reassuring comment haunted me for days.  I started to think, "what if it is something serious?" "what if the universe is trying to tell me something?"  "What if the last year was a gift; to be with the kids full time because I wasn't going to be around for all of the other summers?" DRAMA.  Get the drama out of your head.  You're healthy.  You're being mellow-dramatic.  You're not sick.  You've got to get a job.  Really, too much time on your hands.  So, I waited for the appointment and tried not to think about it anymore.

Of course this last year was a gift.  It's all a gift.  Everyday.  Every minute.  Sick or not.  The time you have with friends and family is time limited...you live far away and don't see them much; everyone is busy right now and as soon as _____________(fill in the blank) you'll spend more time with them; if you work with good friends; layoffs happen, transfers happen and careers change;  or they leave the world much sooner than we wanted them too.  I've always tried to remember that, but it does get lost in the craziness of the days.

Be sure to make a point to ENJOY the holidays this year.  Don't stress out over the stuffing, order pizza if you have to.  Make sure you spend time with the people you love.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So, How did you find "it"?

Everyone asks.  Well, mostly everyone, especially women.  I don't mind.  "So, how did you find it"?  Always looking very expectantly for me to say yes after the first question, "Self exam?" then the second, "Mammogram?"  I say no on both accounts.  Then, there is usually a pause, a look of confusion and a little fear.  Because, if it wasn't found like it was "suppose" to be, then how are any of us safe from it?  My first response would be to say:

But, I think that's an overstatement and somewhat reflective of my current mental state.

THE REAL ANSWER:  Know your body.  I mean, know-your-body.  What it looks like.  What it feels like.  What is normal, what is not. When something doesn't feel right, CHECK IT OUT.  Go to the doctor.  If the doctor dismisses your concerns or provides treatment that doesn't clear up the problem GO BACK.  If your think or feel that your concerns are not being addressed or the doctor keeps doing the same treatment with the same results. FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR that listens to you, provides testing or treatment that clearly identifies the problem and/or clears it up.

THE OTHER CRITICAL PIECE: Listen to yourself.  Your inner voice. Put the pieces together, if they don't add up, what needs to happen next?  Second opinion?  Talk to a friend or another professional?  (P.S. Not the friend who want to make you feel better, the one that tells you your butt IS to big in those pants.)  Don't dismiss your concern or fear by allowing yourself to get distracted by all of the busy stuff you have to do.  Because guess what?  It could be something serious. I have met many women in the last few weeks, who didn't listen to their bodies or took the word of someone else, that everything was ok.  Some waited over a year to follow up on concerns and their journey is much more difficult because of it. 

Please know I am not saying that everyone who has metastatic cancer procrastinated and it's their fault.  Cancer is mean and sneaky.  There are many different types that present differently.  There are no guarantees.  But ignoring changes in your body ESPECIALLY your breasts, can cost you dearly.

So, in a nutshell, (ha), here's how I found "it"...

Nipple discharge.  No one ever asks about it.  In July I noticed a small spot (a little smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser) on the inside of my bra.  I was overdue for my mammogram by about two months, so, I scheduled an appointment.  Over the course of my adult life, (rare, but it did happen) I had occasionally had a small amount of discharge, so I wasn't overly concerned.  I actually thought, it was probably related to some pre-menopausal symptoms or hormonal changes.

I do self breast exams regularly.  I know the terrain very well, and had never found a lump of any kind.  My breasts have always been just regular and boring;  no lumps, no bumps, no family history.  Yey.  

My mammogram was fairly uneventful.  The only exception to this was when they asked if I was having any problems.  "I've had no problems, but I did recently have a small amount of discharge."  (I did not consider this a problem at this point-I thought it was their job to help determine if it was a problem. Right?)

This did stop the presses for a moment.  FYI...when you say "nipple discharge" in a breast health center, it's kind of like saying "bomb" in an airport.  Everyone stops, asks who you've told/seen about this and insists you talk to your Dr. about it. Immediately.

I left the mammogram center and went downstairs to my Dr.'s office.  The nurse said they could refer me to a breast surgeon for follow up.  "Surgeon" seemed a little extreme to me and while nipple discharge seemed to be a big deal, it only happened once and it wasn't very much.  I had talked to several friends about it.  It had happened to almost all of them at one time or another and was usually just an infection. 

I didn't ask the right questions or they didn't give me the right information to make me feel talking to a surgeon was warranted.  I did not listen or pick up on the not so subtle cues regarding nipple discharge. No one said it could be serious or that it could be cancer.  Even if they did, I don't eat meat, I exercise, don't smoke, no birth control,
Every time a new study comes out about how to lower your risk for breast cancer,  
I don't even try and I fit most of the categories.  HA.  Take that cancer.  I said no thanks.