Wednesday, October 15, 2008

For the Girls

Well as you all know, October is breast cancer awareness month here in the US. For many of us every month is breast cancer awareness month because we have unfortunately been touched by it personally through our families or ourselves. In my experience, my grandmother and my mother are survivors. Last week my mom sent me a copy of a speech she gave in Washington, MO. My adorable grandma somehow roped her into it (she's connected to the hospital by volunteering). I am grateful because then I got to read the speech, which I thought was very good. I think it is worth the post not just for personal reasons, but to encourage women to follow their instincts and stick to their guns.

It is long, but worth the read. The last paragraph gets me every time.

Here it is if you are interested. :
"In 2003 when my mom learned that she had breast cancer she took it on just as she does most everything in her life. No hysteria or whining, she just rolled up her sleeves and went to work. She began gathering information on the disease and what her options were. I went with her on a couple of her learning expeditions and was blown away with how she dissected all the information then methodically sorted it all out and made her final decision as to which treatment would best suit her. She was amazing through the entire ordeal. So much so, that just 3 months after her final surgery she and my dad hopped on a plane to go visit with my aunt & uncle in San Jose, CA. From that moment on she began to get on with the rest of her life.

On April 12, 2004, while my mom and dad were away on their vacation to California I had an appointment for my yearly mammogram. This came at a very busy time for me because my husband and I were just in the process of launching our new company Wood Icing, for which we manufacture a faux finish product for the resurfacing of furniture and cabinetry. We had lots of plans to travel coming up and I just did not want to take the time.

So, I probably would have blown it off, if I could have, but the fact of the matter was that my Gynecologist would not renew my prescription for my “Hormone Replacement Pills,” unless I had my yearly mammogram done. (You wouldn’t have wanted to know me without those drugs). But she made no exceptions about her rules. She was a real stickler about it, which I found to be quite annoying and inconvenient at times.

And besides, my mother would have skinned me alive if I blew off that appointment.

Quite honestly, I really did not concern myself with the possibility of contracting breast cancer. It was just a fluke that my mom had come down with it. We had no history of it in our family and besides the general consensus was that the older you get the better chance you have of getting breast cancer. So I really just crossed it out of my mind.
But, as luck would have it about a week after that mammogram, my gynecologist called to say that I needed to come back for a closer look because they noticed an abnormality on my mammogram. Apparently the spot in question was there in the previous year’s mammogram and therefore that was reason enough for a better look see. My doctor really down played the whole thing, saying she was confident that this would turn out to be nothing, but better safe than sorry.

For moral support, my husband went with me for the second mammogram. This would enlarge the picture so they could get a closer and clearer picture of what they were looking at. The nurse showed me the x-ray and the area of concern. I thought it looked just like 5 or 6 little white specks of salt. She explained that the radiologist would take a look at it and they would let me know the results immediately.

After a while I was called back into the room and the radiologist explained that the spot had not grown a significant amount since last year’s mammogram. He showed me in the x-ray how it appeared that these little tiny specks looked as though they were actually in a vein in my breast. His opinion was we are probably just looking at some calcium deposits in my vein. He suggested we just keep an eye on it and I should come back in 6 month for another mammogram. He said he sees this “day in and day out” and he was 99% sure that this was not a matter of concern.

Now while I was tuning him out I was thinking about my friend Terry who had procrastinated having her mammogram for two years prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Terry lost her battle with breast cancer five years later. But what came to my mind at this moment, was the day she came into my beauty salon while she was still battling breast cancer herself and was very upset because her 37 yr old daughter had found a lump in her breast and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer too. But in addition to this sad news, what Terry most wanted me to know was that the doctors had told her daughter that in their opinion the lump in her breast was probably nothing to worry about and they would just keep an eye on it and take a look it again in 6 months. Fortunately, Terry’s daughter insisted on a biopsy and they would treat her cancer before it had a chance to spread any further.

While the radiologist was talking it was as though Terry was tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to stand my ground and insist on that biopsy. So I did. I said to the radiologist “I hear what you are saying and I want to believe you are absolutely correct in your beliefs, but I am afraid I need you to prove this to me with a biopsy” He was wonderful about it and immediately had the nurses begin the process of getting me scheduled for that.

About halfway into this, a nurse came in and said that my gynecologist would like to speak to me before they could schedule this biopsy. As luck would have it her office was located adjacent to the hospital, so my husband and I walked over to speak with her. Once we were in her office she reiterated what the radiologist had said earlier and her concern was that it was an unnecessary procedure, when it was clear to them that this was most likely calcium deposits in my vein and there could be a bit of bleeding going on as a result of the biopsy. We went back and forth in this conversation a bit and I could feel her exasperation with my stubbornness, and as a matter of fact, I did begin to feel foolish for insisting on this.

Fortunately for me and unfortunately for my husband he made the near fatal mistake of asking me if I was sure I wanted to have this done right now and did I want to consider waiting, as the doctor suggests. Needless to say, if looks could kill he would have been dead right on the spot. The doctor caught that look between us and threw up her hands and said “well if you want this we will just get it done for you.” I was sent a bill for $70 for that unwelcome office visit.

Two weeks later my doctor called me at home with the results of the biopsy. It was a positive result for breast cancer. This was for sure the one time in my life I did not relish saying “I told you so”.

As I understand it 2 of those little specs of salt were effected, one was an Invasive ductal carcinoma and one was Ductal carcinoma In-situ. That sounds like a lot of jibberish when you hear it for the first time. But what I found out later that the most compelling word in this for me was the word Invasive. Fortunately, as we found out later, it had not spread to my lymph nodes at this point.

I still question the “What if, I had waited the 6 months as recommended “How advanced would this have become? Would it have already spread to my lymph nodes? There is no way to know for sure. But what we do know is the earlier you catch breast cancer the better chance you have for survival.

In summary, I am so grateful to have had my mother there with me to share her experience with breast cancer and helping me to make what would prove to be some of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make in my entire life.

I am also grateful that my gynecologist insisted on those mammograms every year and stuck to her guns on it without cutting any slack. I will give her the benefit of the doubt on trying to talk me out of the ever important biopsy. Perhaps that is part of her obligation to the insurance company to thwart off unnecessary tests and procedures.

But I am most grateful for having known Terry and for her sharing the story about her daughter’s ordeal.
Which is why I am speaking here today, I wanted to share Terry’s and my story with you, so that if you ever have the misfortune to be in this same place, you will feel Terry tapping you on your left shoulder and me tapping you on your right shoulder. And hopefully this will give you the courage to show up for that mammogram and stand your ground on that biopsy."

By Rose (my mom)
So if this inspires you, my very close friend in Arizona is walking the 3-Day for Breast Cancer. If you would like to contribute money to the cause she could use the help. She is only half way to her goal.
Click here to donate:

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