Sunday, March 11, 2012

Finding Out

For a few days in late January, my right boob felt weird. It didn't necessarily hurt, but it just felt a little different, the way you might say, "My stomach's feeling a little off today." The weird feeling prompted me to poke around, and I found a clumpy area. I wouldn't necessarily have called it a lump, but just an area that was thicker than the rest of the breast. So I called Dr. Houck who saw me that afternoon. She felt it and said that it seemed to be a cyst. She suggested that I come back after my next period because cysts will shrink based on the time of the month. On February 6, I went back and again she said,"It feels smaller to me, so it's probably a cyst, but I'll refer you for a mammogram and ultrasound anyhow."

Since I felt no urgency, I looked for a day that would be convenient to have the girls in childcare and scheduled the mammogram for February 24, two days before my 40th birthday and party. When that day came, I paid for 3 hours of daycare at the YMCA and figured I'd see the doctor and then hit Wegmans to shop for some birthday party stuff.

The mammogram and ultrasound technicians were friendly and chatty, although I did think that the ultrasound tech was taking an awful lot of measurements while I laid there. She left and came back with the radiologist, Dr. Montgomery, a few minutes later. He felt the lumpy area and then told me to go sit down. Before he even said anything, I blurted out, "Cut them off."

He went on to read me the "You have cancer" riot act. Seriously, he was friendly, but left no doubt in my mind that what he saw on the ultrasound and mammogram was not a cyst. I later found out that what they had seen was given a BiRAD score of 5 out of 5, meaning it had every characteristic that a malignant growth would have.

I was left alone in that room to call Paul, and then they scheduled me for a biopsy on Tuesday. That meant that I'd live through my birthday weekend, including my 40th birthday party, knowing that I had breast cancer but not knowing a thing about it or what could be done.

The time crept by for Paul and me, but when Tuesday arrived and I went back for my biopsy, Dr. Montgomery again reassured me, in case I'd forgotten, that it was definitely cancer based on what he felt while poking around in there with a needle. (I know I'm making him out to be the devil, but he actually was quite a nice guy. Just honest.)

The good thing about having such an obvious cancer was that they were willing to schedule me to see a surgeon even before the diagnosis was made. Throughout the whole visit, I'd been told that they work with the CNY Surgical Physicians and Drs. Congelli and Schu were the ones who did breast surgery. However, when I asked for an appointment as soon as possible, they put me in with Dr. Cooper. I figured if I didn't like him and his knowledge of breast cancer, I'd just go find someone else. But I just wanted someone who could *help* instead of diagnose.

On Thursday, March 1, Reese and I were in McDonalds getting lunch because it was Maggie's first day of Lunch Bunch at school. I had ordered and paid and they were getting the food onto the tray when the phone rang. Dr. Montgomery confirmed that I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, grade 2, as I carried my tray to the table. I ripped off some of the Happy Meal bag and took notes as he told me that my estrogen and progesterone receptors are positive and everything else is negative. He said that those are good qualities to have. I felt such a huge wave of relief to actually have a diagnosis that I wrote smiley faces on the scrap of paper.

The next afternoon, Paul joined me as we went to Dr. Cooper's office. After over 90 minutes in a crowded waiting room, I played my cancer card for the first time. I cried to the receptionist that I shouldn't be kept waiting for so long on the day after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She was sympathetic and soon I was in an exam room. My tears were out of frustration, not because of the cancer, but she had no idea. And I really did understand when she said that Dr. Cooper was held up in surgery (of course I'd want him taking my time on me), but that waiting room was hot and crowded, so I did what I had to do.

Soon, Dr. Cooper came in and was wonderful and friendly and knowledgeable. Paul and I looked at each other at one point when he stepped out and breathed a joint sigh of relief. We'd found our guy, and this would be fixed. He spent almost an hour on that busy Friday afternoon answering every question I had and reassuring me that this is fixable.

His suggestion right from the beginning was a double mastectomy, just as I'd hoped from the beginning. The lump I'd felt has two small satellite lesions, which tells that my breasts are predisposed to cancer. I don't want or need them anymore. Get them off me and get that cancer out of me.

He also assumes that I'll go through chemotherapy. The frustrating part here is that a surgeon is a completely different doctor from an oncologist. Although Dr. Cooper could answer questions, he is not the guy who will be doing any of the post-surgery stuff. Treating the fact that my body grew some cancer is done in a whole different branch of medicine.

Dr. Cooper had his schedulers set me up with a plastic surgeon because the easiest way to get my new fake boobs is to do it all in one operation. I got a call on Monday that I'd be seeing Dr. Baum on Friday, March 16, and I said, "No way. I'm not living with cancer in my body for two weeks just waiting for an appointment with the plastic surgeon." I called Dr. Cooper's schedulers back and within an hour, my appointment had been moved up to the following day.

Dr. Baum is knowledgeable and experienced but has the bedside manner of a robot. After he explained to me what my options were, what would be done, and showed me pictures of his work, I asked him what the risks of reconstructive surgery are. He rattled off a monotone list, "Infection, Blah, Blah, Blah, Death..." I almost laughed when I realized that this guy's social skills are completely unrelated to his ability, and I told them to book him.

On my way out, the schedulers told me that it looked like both surgeons were available on Friday, March 16, so that's when the boobies will come off. I got a call the following day confirming it, so it became a matter of just counting the days.

1 comment:

  1. Trust me on this point: spending 4 years at SUNY Upstate, there are no courses in "How to be nice to a patient." Remember, almost every med student was a geeky, unsocial, pre-med student in college. None of us learned squat about how to be charming. I'd say the social skills of a robot is a serious upgrade to most surgeons I know. :)

    All of the charming ones became pediatricians, oncologists, or Beverly Hills plastic surgeons.