The Diagnosis, Part 1

So how did this unexpected, unwelcome journey begin? I was running consistently, feeling good, eating right, doing everything you’re supposed to do. I’m not overweight, I don’t smoke, and I have a couple of drinks per week max. So what the hell am I doing with breast cancer?

I cut myself shaving under my arm in the shower one morning and thought nothing of it, except “ouch”! About a week later I noticed a swollen nodule in my left armpit where the cut had been. I though “Oh great. Now it’s infected.” Since I was going to the doctor anyway, I had her take a feel. It was a little smaller than a golf ball but very moveable, which is usually a good sign. She felt pretty good about it but referred me to my OB/GYN to be sure. So, off to another doctor’s office I went. She also had a feel and said that it was probably nothing ominous, but I needed a mammogram (loud, dramatic music plays here!) because “she doesn’t mess around with boob stuff”. I love this woman and value her opinion tremendously, but I had never had any urge whatsoever to send a concentrated dose of radiation to a small, delicate area. I firmly believe that repeated mammograms play a role in the breast cancer epidemic. So…here I was faced with a terrible dilemma. I went back and forth for a few days, called around to see if their were any safer alternatives, and finally broke down and scheduled the mammo.

While all of this was going on I was living in the sweet embrace of denial. Helloooo..people with cancer don’t run 13 miles for fun! I felt fine. My endurance and speed weren’t quite where I thought they should be after 3 years of running, but I chalked it up to being 46, working, training, running a home and still having a preschooler to care for. I get kind of tired just typing all that. But I had a quiet, lurking fear in the recesses of my mind. Truth be told, my woman’s intuition had been gnawing at me for a couple of years. I had felt an irregular mass of fibrous tissue in my left breast that just seemed off. I’d had it checked out before and been told that it was normal, but it looked a little worrisome as it greeted me each day in the bathroom mirror. The skin around the area had also started to pucker in or dimple. Now ladies, any time you see your breast skin pulling in or “dimpling”, run, don’t walk to your boob doctor, as this is a hallmark sign of breast cancer.

I probably noticed this for a year before I finally shelled out the money for a thermogram, which I still believe to be a safer method of detecting early breast changes than yearly mammograms. There’s a lot of info on the Internet  about thermography if you’re interested. I must disclose that my thermogram was done one year before my diagnosis. While it didn’t detect cancer, it did show abnormalities in the same breast with fibrocystic changes that should be monitored. I believe that if I had done a baseline thermogram at 40 and then gone yearly, any changes that occurred over those few years would have sent up more red flags. And, right before my first scan I started taking bio identical estrogen and progesterone. Keeping in mind that 95% of my cancer cells have receptors for both (ER+PR+), that was probably the worst thing I could have done other than maybe acquiring a heroin habit. So it’s quite possible that the abnormal changes on my thermogram became full-blown cancer within that year of  feeding my cells the hormonal equivalent of “cancer chow”.

So Tuesday, March 19, 2013, I walked across the street form the hospital where I was working, down the long sidewalk to the radiation building. I was thinking that this was a huge overreaction on my doctor’s part and that I would be back to work in an hour. Wrong! I walked in and waited for my turn under the cold steel boobie masher. I remember staring at the hospital-gowned elderly lady who was waiting with me. Did she already know her fate and was she scared? Or was she like me, thinking this was crazy and wishing she were anywhere else? The mammography tech called my name.

We walked together to the room down the hall with the mammogram machine. She was quiet, but pleasant. Always being the comedian, I made some remark about how awkward her job must have been when she first started feeling boobs all day. She laughed nervously, not really wanting to discuss it anymore. Oh well, my smartass humor doesn’t always find an appreciative audience. So, we just got straight on to the smashing. It wasn’t bad, really. I’ve heard horror stories from other people about the pain. I guess there are perks to having an underwhelming chest! When she was done, she said that she would show my films to the radiologist (cha ching). She turned to me casually at the door and said “Now don’t worry if I come back and tell you he wants an ultrasound. That’s pretty common if he can’t see everything well on the mammogram”. She then put me in a room by myself to wait again.      There was nothing unusual about the room, a chair, a table with 2 year-old magazines, a fake plant. The one thing that sticks in my mind is the clock. It was one of those huge round antique-looking clocks with roman numerals and metal hands. And it was the loudest freaking clock I’ve ever heard in my life. After a few minutes, I started to feel like I was in the middle of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart”.

Thankfully, she returned. “He wants to get an ultrasound.” Surprise, surprise. They wanted to charge me more money. Down the hallway to a different technician and a different machine. This one was a little more warm and fuzzy. I liked her. She started the ultrasound, gliding back and forth over my left boob. She stopped and told me that she needed to show the doctor the pictures to make sure she got everything. When she returned, she moved over to the left armpit and now I was a little concerned. After a minute of this, she once again excused herself to go show the doctor. It was getting a little weird now. I heard footsteps coming down the hall. It was the technician, followed now by the radiologist. My heart sank. The jig was up. No more denial, no more marathon. I felt the tears welling up behind my eyes. God I hate to cry in front of people! He didn’t have to say a word, but after poking around a little with the wand, he began. “We have a number of abnormalities on your scan. There’s a 2cm tumor in the left breast along with several areas of calcification, which is suggestive of cancer activity. The lymph node under the left arm is what you’ve been feeling. It’s 3 times the size it should be and there appear to be other enlarged nodes as well. We’ll need to biopsy the tumor and the node tomorrow .” And then the afterthought. “I’m sorry.”

To be continued…

13 thoughts on “The Diagnosis, Part 1

  1. I don’t really want to “like” this because I’ve had a very similar experience. It actually brings back less than stellar memories. I’m new to blogging and was looking for one to follow. I think I’ll follow you. Oh, and I’m sorry. 😦

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m sorry if it brought back some bad memories, but I hope you’re past them now. I think if you decide to follow, you’ll see that there is a lot more humor in my world than sadness.

  2. This is almost identical to my experience..We’re even the same age. All I could think of when I finally had my mammogram was ” I hope they can wait until after the Half Marathon next month to start chemo”! Serious denial. I wish I hadn’t ignored my swollen lymph node for so long- the treatment is so aggressive. Still running shorter distances after 6 chemo treatments, but damn it’s hard.
    I love that you have a sense of humour about it all.

    • Hang in there! How many more chemo treatments do you have? I think there were only a couple of weeks where I didn’t run at all, but, like you said, it certainly wasn’t in the half marathon league. Running lets you keep a certain degree of control when you have been forced to give up so much of your control to treatment. Keep on going!

  3. Thanks, I’ve just had my 7th treatment. One to go, in a couple of weeks. You’re right abt running providing a sense of control. I only started running after the sudden death of my mother, and I really worried that I wouldn’t be able to use running to help me cope with the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Despite everyone wanting to wrap me up in cotton wool, I’ve found maintaining a training schedule ( albeit, a much less rigorous one) has really helped a lot with recovery from each chemo treatment.
    Thanks again, and good luck with the rest of your treatment. Xx

    • Thank you! I checked out some posts on your blog and enjoyed them very much as well. I am so envious of people who can travel and live and work in other countries. That’s somewhat of a rarity in America; we’re “homebodies”:)

    • I agree, you are a great writer. You are very talented. I’m sorry to hear of all your trials. I do tend to believe that stress and heartbreak does cause cancer, or in the least sets up a hormonal environment for it to grow. I myself am facing the possibility of thyroid cancer. They won’t know for sure if it is cancer until they take out the 7cm nodule and examine it. Like you, I never smoked and always thought I was healthy. Feels unfair, doesn’t it?

      • Thank you for your kind words. I’m sorry you’re having to go through the awful waiting to find out. I feel very indignant about the unfairness of it all when I see people stuffing their faces with doughnuts while smoking. I just know they’ll outlive me.

  4. I don’t know about that, I think you’ll be around for a long time, but just in case, maybe we should take up smoking so that we can live longer, LOL, 🙂

  5. Hi, there. I found your blog yesterday while searching supplements to help reduce side effects of chemo. I start on Friday. I can relate to you so much. I have spent all my adult life taking care of my body. I know the chemo decision is hard on everyone, but sometimes I wonder if it is even harder on health nuts because it clashes with our value systems. In my case (Stage 1 B), there is a 60-70% chance I can do all this and never have needed it, that I would have been fine without it. But as a Stage 1 B Triple Positive with Ki67 at 40% I am at 30- 40% risk of distant metastasis and if that happens it would be very hard to cure. I have not yet come to peace with what I have to do and probably reading Suzanne Sommer’s book Knockout is not the best thing to do the week before starting chemo. I appreciate your willingness to share your experience. It make me feel less alone right now.

    • I’m glad you found me. I know that all the information is overwhelming, and the doctors create such a fear in us that we become terrified of questioning the status quo.

      Of course this is such a personal decision, but I’ll be honest with you. Many times, I really regret my decision to do chemo. Maybe it’s easier to say now in hindsight, but I really feel that it damaged my immune system. I finished chemo in September, and my white blood cell count still struggles to get above 3000. It’s very tough to ward off a cancer recurrence with a wounded immune system.

      I’m not trying to influence you, but if you want some more food for thought, take a look at “A Race For Life” on Amazon. It’s available for download. It’s about a female athlete who survives stage 4 breast cancer with no chemo.

      Keep in touch.

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