Yes, the “C” in the post title is capitalized for a reason. Cancer.
It started off according to plan. I scheduled my annual ob-gyn visit and fully expected to have the usual chat. I made a couple of observations during my exam and my doctor prescribed me two relatively usual follow ups: a mammogram (my first), and a uterine ultrasound (also my first). After the usual scheduling delays, I ventured into the Women’s Center at Sutter Hospital in San Mateo to complete my testing.
First up was the uterine ultrasound. The first set of tests netted possible tumors/fibroids/lesions that had the potential to be harmful. More testing was required, and I was sent away with a vague feeling of dis-ease (and disease, in fact) and another appointment to attend. I completed my mammogram with little discomfort and fairly quickly, and found it to be a relatively harmless procedure. Given all the negative experiences of family and friends, I was pleasantly surprised.
The second set of uterine tests was completed on the following week — an extended, internal ultrasound and biopsy/tissue testing. While I was in the exam room, one of the nurses tracked me down…to let me know that I needed another mammogram and additional testing on my left breast because there might be “an anomaly.” At that moment, I actually began to doubt my status as “healthy” and started to wonder if there was something systemic wrong. One set of extra testing is concerning, but requiring additional tests for multiple organs seemed to indicate a systemic issue. My heart began to race.
The second mammogram and ultrasound was also relatively painless, but raised serious concerns about a possible tumor in my left breast. The doctor let me observe the mammogram and ultrasound images — there was a 10mm dense lump that clearly was different than the rest of my breast tissue, and had characteristics of a tumor. The doctor advised a biopsy, and reassured me that she felt it was only 20% likelihood of cancer.
20% likelihood of cancer is still frightening. I don’t bet because I have horrible, terrible luck in almost any game of chance. Despite my otherwise robust health, there was a persistent voice in the back of my head warning that this was the beginning of a long journey. What about all those hamburgers I ate — and those glasses of wine? I certainly could have treated my body better over the past 41 years. I tried to put the worry aside and focus on making a difference in my healthy living today — I recommitted to working out, eating better, reducing stress, and drinking less alcohol. But still….I needed a biopsy, and now I had results to wait for.
I walked into my biopsy — over a week later — scared and tense. The doctor did everything she could to reassure me — she explained the procedure, explained the “post procedure” instructions, and answered all of my questions. The doctor asked me to look away as she made the incision — but I asked to look. I simply needed to know what was going on at every step. She kindly let me watch the procedure on the monitor (I got to see the biopsy needle go into the tumor, and the actual biopsy happening). Watching gave me the small sense of control I needed in that moment. Even more remarkable, she showed me my tissue sample on the slide — about 1 1/2 inches long, the tumor clearly delineated on the slide. It didn’t look “evil” — the tissue wasn’t black or strangely colored, it didn’t smell, it didn’t ooze. I was slightly reassured by the visual, but that 20% positive diagnosis statistic was still lurking in my brain. I am not a lucky person.
And then the waiting…and the continued worrying…. While I waited for my results, I distracted myself as much as possible. I read three books. I entertained a friend that visited from Nashville. I went to the gym 2-3 hours a day, leaning on endorphins to prop up my mood and the exercise to give me a feeling of health.
I got the call this afternoon from the doctor who performed my biopsy. It’s a benign tumor. I’ll need to track the growth of the tumor annually for the next several years, and we will remain careful to make sure it doesn’t grow too fast….but there’s no cancer.
And suddenly I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
I’m sharing my story because I think we need to openly discuss our problems — because we need to lean on one another for emotional support, treatment ideas, and experience sharing. I want my friends to know that you can talk to me if you have a similar experience, or need a sounding board. It’s been a really tough and stressful few weeks, and I’ve leaned very heavily on a couple of friends to support me. You know who you are — and thank you. Meanwhile, I wanted to share my experience, now that I have a resolution, in the hopes that it might help someone else.