Diagnosis: Breast Cancer…Eventually

My name is Dana. I’m a 35 year old single mother of an 11 year old son, Aiden, and a 2 1/2 year German Shepherd-Corgi mix named Pretty.

Breast cancer runs in my family. My sister was diagnosed at 26 years old,  I have a cousin who got it when she was only 24, an aunt who had it three times,  and two other aunts who had it, plus my grandmother and great grandmother – all on my maternal side. In addition, many of my female relatives, including my mother, tested positive for the BRCA mutation.I’ve been getting annual mammograms since I was 25 years old and all has went well…until this year.

I live in Maryland,  in the suburbs outside of DC, and work in Northern Virginia. My mammogram was scheduled on January 20, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. and I nearly canceled it because we were having some crazy snow and I was so tired from a long day at work and I just wanted to get home. But I decided to get it done so I could mark it off my list for the year.

I can say,  mammograms have come a long way in the past 10 years, but there’s nothing fun about having your breasts smashed and put into positions that would be difficult for even the best contortionist.Image result for mammogram machine

It’s my turn, I make small talk with the technician as she pulls and stretches my breasts into positions that breasts should never be put into, as the machine slowly smashes my breasts, one after the other.

I compete my annual mammogram,  tell the staff I’ll see them next year and leave.

A week later I get a call from the radiology clinic that I needed to come back in for another mammogram and a sonogram. I schedule the next available appointment, which happens to be the next evening and then I call my sister, a breast cancer survivor, in full panic mode.

I’ll never forget that conversation. She answers the phone and I said,  “I got a call from the radiologist that they found something on my mammogram and I need to come back in for another mammogram and a sonogram. On a scale of 1 to 10, how freaked out should I be?”

Hoping my sister, who is one of the most brutally honest people on the planet,  will try to comfort me.  I almost feel like I wanted her to lie to me. Instead, she says, “With our family history,  you should be a 15!” Gee thanks.

We talked a little more,  then I called my mom and then one of the people, who up until all this happened, I considered a good friend. I talked,  they tried to downplay it and I tried to convince myself it was nothing.

I went back in on January 25th and get the magnified mammogram and a sonogram. I learned that there was a tiny mass, about .3 mm on my right breast. The radiologist told me that usually he wouldn’t recommend a biopsy because it was so small; he’d usually just have me come back and repeat the mammogram in a few months,  but given my family history, he didn’t want to take any chances.  He noted that it was probably nothing,  but we were just going to play it safe.

The doctor who ordered the mammogram, who just so happened to be my OB/GYN, had to write the order for the biopsy. I had to wait until the next day and I was calling her office all day telling the receptionists and nurses that I just needed her to write an order for a biopsy because I couldn’t schedule anything until I got that order.

It was a Friday. I wanted to go into the weekend with at least an appointment scheduled. Finally,  after about 6 calls (yes, it was a bit stalkerish, but I just needed to get this test done and be told I didn’t have cancer and move on with life) the doctor got on the phone and she recommended I have the biopsy done at a breast surgeon she recommended, rather than at the radiologist.

Ok, great.  Just give me my order and I’ll get the test wherever you want.  So I call that breast surgeon’s office and stated I needed an appointment with the recommended breast surgeon for a biopsy of my right breast.  The receptionist states that the surgeon doesn’t have any appointments available until February 9th (it’s January 26th). I asked if there was any way I could get in any sooner. The receptionist tells me that the other breast surgeon has an appointment for February 2nd! Awesome! I’ll take it!

In the meantime, I have my anImage result for don't worrynual physical with my primary care doctor. I let her know what’s going on,  and like my OB/GYN, she performed a breast exam – no lumps (by the way,  I was almost molesting myself every night searching for a lump – anything at all – and I never felt anything, either). My primary care Dr. and I talked a bit and she also was pretty sure it was nothing.  But because of the family history,  it’s best to play it safe.

Admittedly, I’m feeling a little better.  No one, including myself,  can feel any lumps,  there’s no abnormalities, my breasts aren’t leaking, the radiologist said the mass was so small that he probably wouldn’t have recommended a biopsy but wanted to play it safe,  given my family history.

So I take yet another day off work on February 2nd to meet with the breast surgeon, she reads the radiologists notes,  gives me a breast exam – she also feels nothing – then tells me to get dressed and she’ll write me an order for the biopsy. I told her, “No. I’m here today for the breast biopsy.” She stated that although she’s been a breast surgeon for almost 17 years,  she had just recently started at that practice and wasn’t certified on the equipment and that she wasn’t able to complete the biopsy.

To say I was upset is a gross under statement. I said,  “Look, I made it very clear what I needed to have done. I specifically asked for the other surgeon, your recImage result for are you kiddingeptionist staff told me she was unavailable until Feb. 9th, and that you could perform the procedure today.  Now, I took a full day off work,  I’m going to be charged for an office visit I didn’t need,  and I have to call the radiology clinic, that I was originally going to call in the first place to schedule this biopsy.” She apologized and I tried to keep my grace, but I did tell her that since their practice is relatively small, the reception/administrative staff should be aware of what procedures that each surgeon could perform so as not to waste people’s time and money.

She apologized and gave me the order for the biopsy. I asked her who was going to give me the results.  I went from only having a primary care physician and OB/GYN to having those two,  a radiologist and now a breast surgeon, so I had no clue who would be giving me the news.  She stated she’d be the one giving me the results.  She asked if I wanted to come in and get the results or if I just wanted a call.

I had taken off so many days for Dr. appointments and I had just returned from 2 weeks of holiday vacation and after all the talks with all the Drs. I really thought it was nothing, so I asked her to just call me when she got the results.

Image result for fineI called the radiology clinic and the earliest I could get an appointment for the biopsy was Feb. 15th. Fine.

I was supposed to have someone take me and drive me home, but I ended up driving myself in another snow storm.

I get a call at my office on February 18, 2016. The radiologist informed me that I had breast cancer and I needed to call my ordering dr., the breast surgeon, to get the exact diagnosis and an explanation of the pathology report and find an oncologist.

She spoke more, but I didn’t hear anything at all.  I finally interrupted her and said,  “Wait. Are you saying I have breast cancer? Full fledged breast cancer?” She said,  “I’m sorry, yes. You have breast cancer.”

I sat in my office,  staring blankly at my computer. How can I have breast cancer? My sister had it.  Why did I have to get it, too? I’m a single parent, what about Aiden?  I don’t want him to see his mom like this.  What am I going to do?  I live halfway across the country from my family.  Who can help me?  What if something happens to me.  What if I die?

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