Friday, April 1, 2011


I am an official, card-carrying member of the Cancer Club. I unwittingly applied for membership on October 1, 2010 and was formally accepted on December 8, 2010. Here is how my story begins.

During my annual mammography exam in October 2010, the techs (one experienced, one trainee) tell me they need extra views of my right breast. This is generally not a good sign, but I don't ask questions; I have dense breasts and I know this makes it hard to get a clear reading. Or perhaps this is simply an exercise for the trainee; maybe she didn't get a good image the first go-round. I submit to the extra views. I get dressed, go home and get on with my life. 

One week later,  I receive a letter from the imaging center with good news: My test results are normal! Wow. Really? Whew!

Fast-forward a few weeks to early November 2010. A second letter arrives in the mail. Upon further review, the letter states, a "subtle architectural distortion" is noticed between my 2009 and 2010 mammograms and "given family history" (my sister had breast cancer ), an ultrasound is recommended. 
Hmmm. So if I didn't have family history, would this "subtle architectural distortion" simply be overlooked? (This is a scary thought — since more than 75 percent of breast cancers are found in women with no family history.) In fact, I come to learn that a woman's risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (a mother, sister or daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Yikes.

I set up the ultrasound appointment immediately. Then I do a self-exam to see what they are talking about. BINGO! I feel a quarter-sized lump in my left breast. I recall the extra views they took during my October mammogram — this must be why. Still, for whatever reason, I am not worried. In fact, I don't even mention it to my husband. I just go in for the ultrasound.

While I'm laying on the table waiting for the procedure to begin, I tell the tech about the lump in my left breast. She says the ultrasound is for my right breast. Huh? But what about this lump here? I ask. She rolls the ultrasound wand over my left lump and assures me it is a simple cyst. She then turns her attention to imaging my right breast. 

As I wait at the edge of the chair in my little blue gown, the tech goes out to find the radiologist. The room is cold, and dimly lit. I wait a very, very, very long time. While I wait, another woman enters the room, hands me a heavy packet stuffed with pamphlets about breast cancer and says in a sheepishly cheerful tone, "There's really a lot of good information in here!" Of course I find this extremely odd; no one has mentioned anything to me other than the fact that I have dense breasts. So I listen to the voice of reason inside my head that tells me everyone is likely receiving this literature because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. (Even though I know it is now November.)

After about 40 minutes of waiting, I poke my head outside the room and ask a passing nurse if they have forgotten about me. The tech comes in to say they are still waiting for the radiologist. I am obviously in denial because I don’t ask any further questions. 

Finally, the tech returns. She tells me that I need to have a biopsy of the area in question. It’s a simple procedure, she explains, and my breast will be numb so I won’t feel any pain. She then very casually mentions that I can return in two days to have my biopsy done. Two days? Two DAYS? Why do I need to come back in TWO DAYS? I don't actually say this, but she can see the terror in my eyes. No one has mentioned the words cancer or malignancy. 

Deep inside I realize something is up but my denial is stronger.

"Oh, you can wait until Monday if that's more convenient for you." Why yes, waiting is definitely more convenient for me. So I make an appointment for a week from today — Monday. I’m certain this will give me enough time to wrap my head around this biopsy business. And so I go home. And I do not tell my husband. (To find out what happens next, see Cancer Club Part II.)


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