The Prevention of Breast Cancer

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.

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(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.

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30 Responses to The Prevention of Breast Cancer

  1. Jody says:

    Oh my goodness…so much for you to deal with. I am just waiting to hear those words evey time I have a physical….cancer/heart disease/stroke…take your pick.
    I send my best wishes for you Donna 🙂

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  2. Nancy K. says:

    What a nightmare! It sounds like they are taking a very aggressive approach to make sure that they don’t miss anything. I’m glad you switched doctors and went someplace where you felt more comfortable and respected. I’m praying that this turns out to be just a scare and a warning to stay on top of things.

    At least they didn’t find an obviously cancerous growth!

    Hold onto your Hubby and hug your sheep ~ you’ll get through this…

    Like

    • It has been an interesting journey Nancy- a lot of anxiety. But they are moving forward quickly getting me diagnosed so I cannot complain. And so far no cancer diagnosis! Thank you for your pray, and I will definitely hold on to my hubby and hug my sheep (and goats too!). And I will get through this regardless.

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  3. Laura says:

    Good for you for taking the time, and finding what you did in time to get help.

    My mom had a similar situation, though only on one side. Because this was some years ago, she had a lumpectomy and radiation, and was cancer free for over 10 years before she passed on (not cancer related).

    It is becoming more common – all cancers are becoming more common. Is it because we have greater ways of detecting them? Or is it our environment?

    Those of us who have chosen farm life do it in part, I believe, because we have more control over our environment, what we eat, and our physical activity.

    You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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    • Thanks Laura for your thoughts and prayers. It is hard to know why cancer are more common. They are certainly diagnosing breast cancer better now than in the past. I was hoping farm living would help my health but I am not noticing that it does yet. I do have concerns about all the combinations of chemicals we are exposed to though. I am wondering about my soy consumption contributing to this problem too.

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  4. Tammy says:

    Donna,
    Your quiet strength always amazes me. You have had such a time lately, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
    Take care,
    Tammy

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  5. Michelle says:

    What a load you’ve been carrying! And all us blogpals knew about were the animal injuries and deaths and your back pain; I’m sure the concern over what your exams would reveal made dealing with those significant problems even worse. Thanks for sharing; we’re all pulling for you!

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    • Thanks Michelle. It has been a load with my back troubles plus this. I did not realized you fell apart so bad when you hit 45. My dad says I am falling apart tooo quickly, I need to space it out a bit. I wasn’t going to share since it is not farm related, and it isn’t really cancer, but as it drug on I started thinking maybe it would help someone else like Shadowfax’s blog helped me. So we (Tom and I) decided to go ahead and put it on the blog.

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      • Karen Anne says:

        I started falling apart at about 50. I had always thought people fell apart when they reached 80 or so. They aren’t kidding when they say youth is wasted on the young. Use it while you got it.

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  6. Tamra says:

    I wish you well with your hurdles. And yes, cancer does suck. Finding it early and getting treatment early does save lives and I send you my all my best wishes and supportive thoughts.

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  7. Karen Anne says:

    I am thinking good thoughts for you.

    I realize this isn’t the operation you’re going in for, but the Times had an article just the other day at:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/health/research/09breast.html
    that says they now believe a lot of women don’t need the removal of a lot of lymph nodes in breast cancer surgery, so they can avoid lymphedema.

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  8. Teresa says:

    What an important message you’ve given. It is so brave and caring to share such personal information with the world. Of course, you have our best wishes as you go through this. Blessings.

    Like

    • Thanks so much Teresa. It is a little awkward talking about breasts but I figure I have a mostly female audience that might benefit. Plus it is a long tale but I thought the details were important too. Breast cancer detection is getting really sophisticated.

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  9. Brittany says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be thinking of you in the coming weeks.

    Like

  10. Monique says:

    Donna – you could get the book by Susun Weed: Breast Cancer? Breast Health!! Here’s the website:
    http://www.breasthealthcancerprevention.com/

    It offers yet another way to look at all this stuff (if you want that……sometimes it just gets confusing to have other perspectives…but I offer it up for what it’s worth).

    Hang in there and take good care.

    PS – there’s a saying………first the body whispers…..then it yells…..then it screams. Your body wants your attention! I’m not all that flaky (most of the time), but have you ever read Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life ? It’s all about the mind/body/soul connection… it’s food for thought.

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  11. Jackie Craw says:

    Wow Donna, You are really going through it. When it rains it pours. I will be praying for you for sure. Thank goodness they can detect these things early. I had to have a breast biopsy once, OUCH. If it isn’t too awkward for you, keep us posted. We all care about you.
    Jackie

    Like

  12. sheepsclothing says:

    So sorry to hear about the pre-cancer. Scary stuff. But it sounds like at least you caught it pretty early, and the detection and treatment has gotten a lot more sophisticated over the last few years. Will be keeping a good thought and hoping you’re in the clear on the 7th.

    Like

    • Thanks Denise for the good thought and hope! It is scary stuff but as long as it stays pre-cancer I will happily take my tamoxifen and get twice yearly checks. I had no idea breast cancer evaluations had become so sophisticated and complicated- it is quite impressive actually.

      Like

  13. Franna says:

    Wow – add my voice to the surprise and support. Prayers are forthcoming from here. You did good with early detection and choosing a doctor and facility that felt right. The progress with detection and treatment is great.

    Like

  14. Kathy says:

    Hey, Donna…
    I had heard about this, but wanted to wait until you posted to let you know you’re in my thoughts and prayers as you go through this. I can only imagine the stress you and Tom have been going through, even though you caught it early.
    And I know that even though you are in the profession, that doesn’t necessarily help – especially when you have to deal with unprofessional techs(louts) who are both crude as well as rude.
    I know you’ll beat this. And just remember…you have allot of friends to help you even if some of us have to be leaned on through the computer or phone.
    Hang in there, Kiddo.
    Hugs, Kathy

    Like

    • Thanks so much Kathy. I definitely appreciate the thoughts and prayers right now. I have made it through my lumpectomies (although still in recovery mode) and am anxiously awaiting the biopsy results. Hopefully I will have those back in the next day or two. In the meantime I have been reading about breast cancer on the internet which is probably not helpful at this stage of the game. So the sooner I know what I am actually dealing with, the better. If I do have breast cancer I am going to need a lot of help.

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  15. Pingback: Yesterday was the last day I took Tamoxifen | Schoonover Farm Blog

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