Ten days before Christmas, my best friend and I went together for our routine mammograms. I am embarrassed to admit, mine was way overdue. Our plan was to take late afternoon appointments, then have dinner and do some Christmas shopping. Since it was late in the afternoon, there was no immediate read by a radiologist, so we were sent on our way. After the mammogram, I had an immediate feeling of uneasiness. Two days later I received the call that all women dread; more films needed because of an irregularity bilaterally. Both? I was sickened.
Knowing myself and how crazy I would become if I waited, I took the first appointment the next day to have a compression mammogram to be followed by ultrasound if necessary. I sat and waited quietly for what seemed an eternity only to find that I did indeed need the ultrasound. Performed immediately, it suddenly dawned on me that within the next 15 minutes I would have very good idea as to whether or not I had breast cancer. Both of the technicians who worked with me were kind and professional. There was very little speaking which to me made it even more surreal. I searched their eyes for a clue as to what the answer was; but they are well schooled and gave no hints.
Finally, the radiologist came in, did her own quick ultrasound and stated that with 99% certainty I had fibroadenomas in both breasts. I know that fibroadenomas are benign I had one in my early twenties. I was breathing a huge sigh of relief, but in the back of my mind I was worried about that one percent. Next step was a breast surgeon.
Taking the recommendation of two colleagues, I choose a well known breast surgeon in Philadelphia, Dr. Dahlia Sataloff, associated with one of the major teaching hospitals. Again, I was struck by the total silence in the waiting room. No one even makes eye contact. When my name was called, I looked up from the magazine on which I was trying to focus to see the doctor herself waiting to greet me. When has that ever happened? I knew immediately I had found the right person for me. After a consultation, exam and view of my films she too concurred that she believed both lumps to be fibroadenomas. However, a biopsy would be needed to be certain. More time spent waiting.
The internet can be a double edged sword. A plethora of information is at our finger tips, but as we all know, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. I did my reading to prepare for the core needle biopsy, but in truth, there was little that could be done to alleviate my anxiety. It is true, the procedure itself, is relatively pain free. The mass in my right breast was deeply imbedded close to the chest wall, so I did experience discomfort. The left was done with nothing more than a pinch from the lidocain injection, BUT THE NOISE. Each time a piece is taken the machine makes a noise that reminded me of the dentist's office. A little pressure is put on the site where the needle is inserted, and steri-strips are applied and you are good to go and wait some more. In my case it was only 48 hours. The diagnosis confirmed with a phone call from Dr. Sataloff....BENIGN. I will see my surgeon again after 6 months for a follow up and additional mammograms.
I am lucky, grateful and I must admit still apprehensive. It is a bit unsettling to know that I still have two masses in my breasts. There is much discussion about whether the biopsy really samples everything. Back in the day, when I had my first experience, technology and medicine were not as sophisticated and the immediate line of treatment was surgery.
I am haunted by this experience. It's been a couple of weeks now and I still think about it every day. I think about the women who receive a different result and it seems that no matter where I turn, someone else I know is being diganosed. Maybe it is just my age, 51 that makes me more aware of the frailty of the human body.
Post Script: I would be remiss if I did not send a universal thank you to the radiologist, technicians and staff at the Women's Imaging Center of Pennsylvania Hospital for their compassion, kindness, patience and professionalism on a very difficult day. Also....big thanks to my family, friends and colleagues for lots of hugs and support. (Especially Lee)