By 2015, I had had a breast reduction surgery and 3 breast biopsies. I was only 45 years old. On my regular checkup in late 2015 there was a spot, in the worst possible place. Mid-nipple line against my chest wall. Another biopsy was in my future. However, this time it was not so cut and dried. They needed to go in under my armpit to access this spot, oh, and not go through my chest wall in the process. After a few attempts the radiologist said to me, “I am afraid I am going to puncture your chest wall. I would like to schedule you for 6-month follow-up imaging to see if this spot changes, and then we will know if we have to access this tricky area.”
Another biopsy.…Well not for me! This is what I thought as I walked to my car. I had already had 3, all negative, and I am not going back in 6 months. This was getting ridiculous! I worked at the hospital where I got my treatment, so not only did I feel a little silly literally hanging over the 3D-Tomo machine as they tried to access yet another suspicious spot but also, as each biopsy came back, I would think why all the fuss over me, it is negative, thank God, but again, why all the fuss? Let them focus on the women who truly need them.
Fast forward 6 months, in my office in the back of the unit I oversaw, phone rings, it is my secretary telling me my dear friends were here to see me. This is an oddity, I thought as I told her to send them back. My best friend and her husband came in looking distraught. My friend said to me, what would you think if (a particular radiologist) said you have breast cancer? I replied, if he said that, then you have breast cancer. To which she replied, then I have breast cancer.
Whoa.…This happens to other people, right?! Not in my center of the universe. As a nurse, I support all those around me through things like this but never in my personal world. My head was spinning, probably not as much as theirs, but spinning nonetheless. I loved my friends up, reassured them, made a plan to touch base later in the day, and sent them on their way. As they left, I said all the things one says—you will be fine, it’s early, they are so good here, and of course, you got this!
As they left my office the voice in my head, that sounded very much like the radiologist who tried to do my biopsy 6 months earlier, started talking, and I started counting on my fingers… And lo and behold, 6 months had passed. I called the doctors office to say I needed follow-up. Okay, they said, and the MRI, ultrasound, etc, etc, etc, were scheduled.
Well, the spot had changed, and I would once again be hanging over the 3D-Tomo machine to get to the spot. This time there was success, and once the needle loc was in, I was off to the OR for what I was sure would be another negative biopsy, except it wasn’t.
It was stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Which came to me via text from my surgeon, kind of. He texted me to say, hey can you call me? I was in the office of one of my colleagues and said, hey, can I use your phone? She was more anxious than I that I was going to call and get my results in her office. The conversation with my surgeon went like this:
Him: Hey can you meet upstairs in your office?
Me: Oh shit, really?
Him: What’s wrong?
Me: If it was nothing you would say so over the phone.
Him: Can we meet in your office in 10 minutes?
While it was DCIS, stage 0, it was not nothing, right? But to quote my surgeon, it is sometimes even a bit harder to have this diagnosis as there is ambiguity around the treatment of it. The path forward was not so clear. But honestly that is another story for another time.
The point of this one is, if my BFF had not come to my office and shared her story with me, I truly would not have gone back for at least the year till my next mammogram. Who knows, it may have stayed DCIS, it may have gone into my chest wall, it may have turned out much worse than it did.
My BFF and I are still here, still fighting the good fight, 6 years later. However, in March of this year I started with some terrible GI symptoms. A parasite after eating at a work potluck…it truly was the worst for months! Then in July abdominal pain along with all the GI symptoms. The best way to describe it, my left ovary felt attached to my belly button. I could not even stand up straight. While meeting with a colleague I got up, as best I could, to get something across the room in my office. Conversation:
Her: What’s wrong with you?
Me: I don’t know, my left ovary feels attached to my belly button. Probably more of this benign GI nonsense.
Her: Can you please call the GYN?
Her: Something else is going on! You have been dealing with this since March and I am not leaving your office till you call the doctor.
Me: Okay, okay.
Her: THANK YOU.
Doctor called; appointment made.
My appointment started with a transvaginal ultrasound. Then to the exam room, exam and chat with the doc. Conversation:
Doc: We need to schedule you for a biopsy; there is an area of thickening that needs a closer look.
Me: Schedule? Please do it now.
Doc: We like to premedicate, it can be painful.
Me: I have a high tolerance for pain, please do it now.
Doc: Okay but it does hurt.
Biopsy complete, and she wasn’t kidding, it did hurt a little. I walk to my car thinking, again, all this fuss and it will be nothing. But again, it wasn’t.
Me (answering phone): Hello?
Doc: Hi, how are you feeling after your biopsy Friday?
Me: Okay, no issues.
Doc: Good. I am sorry to tell you, your biopsy showed endometrial carcinoma.
Me: Dear God.
Doc: I will be referring you to gynecological oncology for follow-up.
Me: Okay, thank you.
After stage II uterine cancer, a total hysterectomy, and brachytherapy, here I am fighting the good fight.
My message is meant to be a little help to my friends, anyone reading this, my friend. Get your checkup; go back if you need to. Don’t normalize tests and treatment, even if you have to go again and again. If my BFF did not have breast cancer, I would not have gone back for my follow-up. If my friend and colleague had not come to my office for a face-to-face meeting and seen me hobbling around, I would not have called my gynecologist. Friends caring about friends has kept me alive to fight the good fight. So, to you, my friend, I say, have you gone for your checkup, have you followed up, have you gone for your repeat tests? No? Please do! This is your friendly reminder to do so, and to do so again, if need be.