On January tenth I was belatedly reading blogs I had gotten behind on. One of my favorite medical blogs is Movin’ Meat about a doctor who works in Emergency Medicine. So I was reading his December 20th blog titled “Cancer Sucks“. It started off innocently enough talking about seeing an increased number of cancer patients. But then he writes that his wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer. It talks about the ordeal of getting diagnosed and the options for treatment. Then at the end he writes “And if you have breasts, or know someone who does, remind them to take a moment and do a breast self exam.” So I then and there did a self breast exam and guess what? I found a new abnormal breast lump. The classic hard, non-tender, not very mobile, pea size mass.
So I saw my woman’s health practitioner the next day, who confirmed my lump, and I had a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on January 13th. The mammogram was abnormal, showing a cluster of large, irregular calcium deposits near the mass. The ultrasound did not show anything which is not good because a cyst would have been good news. So I was scheduled for a stereotactic breast biopsy- fancy words for a biopsy done with x-ray help.
(Not my mammogram but one with similar findings from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK12642/)
I was a little unhappy with the original clinic I got the mammogram from because the ultrasound techs were talking about my calcifications with each other in front of me even though I had not been told my results yet. Plus the doctor after the ultrasound came in while I was unclothed, briefly introduced himself and did a breast exam. He then went on to explain a “stereotactic exam” and after his explanation I still hadn’t figured out it was a biopsy, his explanation was so poor. Fortunately they gave me a sheet explaining it better. But if their doctor can’t even explain the biopsy well enough that a reasonably intelligent person can’t tell it is a biopsy then how is he going to explain results to me.
So I switched to a different clinic for my biopsy done January 25th. And the Comprehensive Breast Center in Everett is wonderful. They explained everything well, treated me like a person, and were with me talking to me and rubbing my back through the whole procedure. Despite all of this, the first biopsy of six hurt quite a bit because the lidocaine wasn’t working. More lidocaine took care of it, but I became really shaky. On January 27th I received the results that the biopsy showed lobular carcinoma in situ and atypical ductal hyperplasia, both conditions that increase your chance of cancer but are not cancer themselves. Again the Breast Center came through with really good complete information about the conditions, my risk of getting breast cancer and what should be done. It turns out with these diagnoses I have a 32% lifetime chance of developing breast cancer. I will need twice per year imaging alternating between MRIs and mammograms. I need an open excisional biopsy where they take out a ~1.5 inch sphere of tissue in the area to make sure there’s no some cancer already lurking there. And after that I should take tamoxifen which will cut my breast cancer risk in half- to a more manageable 16%.
They then recommended I get an MRI before my surgery to make sure there are not other areas that needs a biopsy first. So I had my MRI on February 4th. I received the results February 7th that there’s an irregular contrast enhancing 8 mm mass in my right breast (other one) and that I should get a biopsy of it before my surgery. So on February 10th I had a biopsy done guided by MRI images. This time I took Valium. At this biopsy they were all still very nice, but the person placing the IV caused me more pain, I felt the first biopsy again because the lidocaine wasn’t working, and they used larger needles this time so there was overall more discomfort and later bruising.
Then on Valentine’s Day, I met with the surgeon. He specializes in breast cancer. He gave me the results of my second biopsy which shows radial scars. This also can be associated with breast cancer so I need an open excisional biopsy of that side too. He stated that he believes there is a 17% chance my left side will show cancer and a 7% there will be on my right. This will be done with general anesthesia, and I can go home the same day. He will take the 1.5 inch sphere from both sides in the areas of the abnormalities.
My surgery is scheduled for February 22nd (next Tuesday), and I will get the results on March 7th. So wish me well with these last hurdles. When I pass these with flying colors, I will start the tamoxifen and start reducing my chances.
But I will reiterate what Shadowfax stated in Movin’ Meat. Cancer sucks “and if you have breasts, or know someone who does, remind them to take a moment and do a breast self exam.” It could save your life, and it may have saved mine.