“So how did you discover your cancer?”
That’s a question I’ve been asked lately.
When you tell people you have breast cancer, most people assume it showed up on a mammogram.
Mine didn’t. And neither did many of the tumors in other breast cancer survivors I’ve been talking to.
I found mine by scratching. Thank God for the itch.
Several months ago I felt a lump and believed it to be another cyst like I’d had aspirated years before. Since my doctor retired in 2015, I hadn’t found another gynecologist, but finding the lump forced me to inquire and I made an appointment with a new doctor last October. In that initial appointment, he felt the same thing I did and sent me for a mammogram that afternoon.
He would’ve ordered an ultrasound for the same day, based on what he felt,
But the insurance wouldn’t have paid for both in the same visit.
The mammogram came back clear. But even though the mammography didn’t show anything, my doctor knew he felt something that deserved further attention. He scheduled an appointment with a breast surgeon to check it out.
When I got to see the surgeon the last of December, she felt something, too, and scheduled an ultrasound.
Because of my history of cysts, and because the tumor was movable and tender, both my doctor and surgeon said it didn’t seem to be anything to be concerned about, but they wanted to be certain.
The worst part of an ultrasound is either not warming up the gel at all, or warming it up too much. After she finished, the radiology tech told me to sit tight while she checked with the radiologist to make sure she had taken all the pictures needed. It wasn’t long until she came back and announced that the radiologist said he didn’t see anything to be concerned about and I was free to go.
Hallelujah!! I was ready to jump for joy – but not too quick, because there was no doubt that I felt something, the doctor felt something, the surgeon felt something – what was I supposed to do about this now?
“So it’s not anything? For real? That’s just great because you know, I’ve had cysts before, but this felt different and it’s been there for several months.”
“How long did you say?” the tech asked.
“Oh, I’d say a good seven or eight months now.”
I got dressed and skipped down the hall, feeling the sun and the cool breeze on my skin as I walked to my car, and drove off into the noon rush hour traffic a free woman! Not a care in the world.
About five minutes into the drive my phone rang and it was the radiology tech.
“Uh, I went in and told the radiologist what you said about that lump being there several months and he said we probably need to go ahead and do a biopsy.”
At this point I’m thinking, well isn’t that just great. Why – why – did I have to open my mouth and offer more information? Why did I have to say anything?
Wait a second – if that one piece of information – the fact that the lump had been there for several months – made all the difference in the radiologist’s determination to do a biopsy – why didn’t someone ask me that question in the first place?
If I hadn’t said that the tumor had been there that long, I wouldn’t have had a biopsy. And if I hadn’t had a biopsy, I wouldn’t have gone back to my gynecologist to hear that the tumor was malignant. He wouldn’t have sent me to the breast surgeon. She wouldn’t have ordered an MRI to show us it’s a more aggressive type of tumor. She wouldn’t have made an appointment for me with the oncologist who determined how we need to treat this in order to beat it.
We wouldn’t be treating it at all.
If I hadn’t answered the question they didn’t ask.