October 31, 2016
*****A SCARY STORY FOR HALLOWEEN*****
Today is Halloween. It's also October which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
My scary story began in 1992. In May I had a normal mammogram. Two months later I found a lump in my breast. I made an appointment to see my doctor.
In his office he assured me it was nothing; that the mammogram I'd had 2 months earlier was definitive. He tried aspirating the lump, sure that it was a cyst. No liquid was extracted . He sent me home; told me to see him in one year. Like a good little girl I went home and followed his instructions.
I trusted him. But every time I showered and felt that hard lump in my breast it bothered me. I ignored my discomfit.
One year later I presented as advised. Once again he told me the lump was nothing. Said he was "100" paused, then said "99% sure it was nothing; but because you are anxious I'm referring you to a surgeon."
A week later in the surgeon's office he was unable to palpate the lump. I located it for him, he palpated it, said he thought it was nothing but would do an excisional biopsy just in case. He numbed my breast, removed the lump and sent me home, saying they'd call when they got the results.
I went home and waited. A week passed. Co-workers kept asking me if I'd heard anything. I had not and felt that it must be fine, assuming they'd have called me right away if it were malignant.
Almost two weeks later I got a phone call. My doctor's nurse told me the biopsy was malignant; I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma of the breast.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I could hear my heart beating in my head and I almost passed out.
I won't bore you with the details of what happened after that. Suffice it to say I was terrified. The tumor that was large enough to palpate in my breast had been there for a very long time and the chance of metastasis was great. I was very scared.
A month later I had a bilateral mastectomy and 17 lymph nodes were removed. They were clear. Other tests did not show metastasis, The cancer was low grade and neither chemo nor adjuvant therapy was advised.
I was lucky.
The correct protocol, that my doctor should have followed, would have been to send me for an ultrasound of my breast. That would have revealed that I had a tumor, not a cyst.
Because he made an assumption, that proved to be wrong, it is highly likely that he spread the cancer from the ducts into the adjacent breast tissue during the attempted aspiration. Had he left it alone it most likely would have been in-situ breast cancer (fixed in place, instead of invasive).
Once an ultra sound proves a lump to not be a cyst the next step is biopsy asap.
You do not advise a patient with a lump in her breast to wait ONE YEAR to recheck. At the very least my doctor should have advised me to return in 6 weeks or 3 months. NOT ONE YEAR.
The lesson I learned that day is do not assume your doctor knows what he is talking about. AND always listen to your gut. If your gut says something is wrong LISTEN.
I am still alive 24 years after finding that lump BY THE GRACE OF GOD and no thanks to a doctor who was a very good doctor with a prestigious clinic. Granted, doctors are human, they are not GOD; but there is protocol and they should follow that protocol.
One thing that made the experience so hellish for me is that a whole year had passed with me having a malignant tumor in my breast. When it was removed it was 2 cm, the size of an olive. That's a big tumor. I lived, for years, in fear of recurrence, because the tumor was large and removal was delayed.
I also learned, after the fact, what the correct protocol is because I never questioned my doctor.
Don't make the mistakes I did. Take nothing for granted. Question what you are told. If a doctor resents your questions, find another doctor.
And do not fail to do your monthly breast exam.
The vast majority of breast cancers are found by women, not by mammograms.
If you are pre-menopausal it's very important that you do self exam because you have dense breast tissue and tumors sitting in dense breast tissue don't show up well on xray.
After menopause you have mostly fatty tissue and that is why mammograms are great for older women: those tumors show up well in fatty tissue.
And that is my scary story.
Posted by Dinahsoar at 9:56 AM
"....there have been many times when I have shed bitter tears, when if I had understood the situation better, I would have celebrated my good luck instead."