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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Part 2 Discovering Breast Cancer 101

After my mother passed of pancreatic cancer April 4, 2009, I decided it was time to make sure my own health was in line. I was 49 and it was suggested a colonoscopy be performed when one turns 50, especially when colon cancer runs in my paternal lineage as it does. So I saw my regular GP for a referral to a surgeon. (That's a whole other story in itself because it turns out my regular GP had started sharing his practise with his brother-in-law, someone who made my jaw drop and my BP rise the first time I saw him. We're talking underwear model, Ladies. Although a short-lived joy as he is always away, I consider it my the best perk in this entire bizarre saga to date) That scope was performed on May 25, by the same surgeon,that had sent me for a breast MRI in Vancouver. He had the results and the mass on the left breast was normal looking BUT there was something suspicious looking in the right breast that they felt should be pursued.
I remember the conversation quite clearly because I was so frustrated. I had gone all the way to Vanc and back to finally get answers on the left breast and the surgeon wanted to discuss nothing but the right breast.
It was then that I was referred to another surgeon, for what reason is not exactly clear ( my argumentativeness??). I was to call the new fellow's office and make an appointment.
On June 2, I waited in this next surgeon's temporary office in Smithers. He is from Terrace and had spent his Wednesday morning in surgery in Terrace before hopping in his vehicle, backpack in hand and travelling to Smithers to see more patients.
A bit behind, Dr. E barrelled into the examining room where I sat draped in a gown. I remember wondering why yet another person had to inspect my breasts? Wasn't the MRI a "Be All to End All?" And another man at that. Little did I know that at the hands of Dr. E I would end up flashing another eight people in the next few months whenever he examined me. All quite innocently as the Dr. faced me the entire time, oblivious of the open door or open curtain behind him. It got to be a running joke. Before meeting Dr. E I had been somewhat shy about baring the breast even with my girlfriend,, Dr. V. I'm writing this 16 weeks later and I tell you I could flash a pair of Saints and not care anymore. Besides, they're little traitors, the pair of them. (the breasts not the Saints)
I think the Torodol has finally kicked in. I seem to be spinning my wheels here.
Back on track. Dr. E wants me to travel to Terrace, 3 hrs from Houston, to get yet another opinion using an ultrasound with the new radiologist Dr. B. I call her Dr. Pain. Although it was never scheduled, Dr. B and the ultra sound tech decided they could also biopsy the growth seeing as I was there. Barry and I were floored that there was even a question of not biopsying that day? Isn't this what we had travelled so far for, not just a consult?
The biopsy is done with a big, thick, evil "needle-gun." It looks like a knitting needle with a very sharp end- one of those long sweater needles, not the smaller sock type. This is stuffed into a gun apparatus. The breast is supposedly frozen, mine repeatedly to no avail, and the knitting needle inserted repeatedly into the tumor and surrounding tissue, taking a "bite" out of the tissue before being withdrawn and then re-inserted. The samples are collected into a pill bottle filled with liquid. They resemble tiny polywogs, only white ones with red streaks on them. They took 4 easy samples, but it is the fifth one I will never forget. Mid sentence of saying, "I'm fine. I hardly feel a thing..." I clenched my teeth, the breath left my body and my knees tried to draw into my chest. It felt like my heart had been bitten by a shark and if I could have I am sure I would have screamed. I'm thinking THAT was the one sample that probably was the cancerous one?
It's a good thing a biopsy was done right away because two days later, as Barry and I left for Invermere to spread my Mother's ashes, we heard that the biopsy returned positive for cancer. Blow me down and knock me over with a feather. I got the news while visiting wonderful, dear friends of ours in Kamloops. It was with a large glass of premium wine in hand and a BBQ'd lamb meal before us that I called my girlfriend, who said, "I'm so sorry." Not able to take the seriousness, I was cracking jokes within seconds and my laughter had everyone in the house sure the news was good. It took awhile to sink in. I'm still not sure it has completely although I can tell you there have been a few days I take this all far too morbidly. I think the biggest realization came when a BF sent me flowers. What? Am I sick? This must be pretty bad. I better take this a little more seriously, I thought.
We all know how healthy I am. There's the shocker.I have never been in better shape. I eat so many vegis, fruit and organic meats.I pump iron and vitamins. Why is this happening to me? And why can't I reach my mother on the phone to tell her all about it?
When the "why me" voice subsided a bit, the WTF voice began. This was all because of an insistent non-cancerous growth in my left breast. A tiny 9mm growth (the size of your baby fingernail) which was never seen on any of the mammo's or ultrasounds in Smithers was only detected out of Dr. V's and my own persistence to get to the bottom of something else entirely. What if I had never gone for that MRI?
And that's not the least of the trouble this little cancerous mass would cause!

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