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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at

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!

Part One Discovering Breast Cancer 101

It was a dark and stormy night. Sometimes it feels as if it should have started this way, this whole nightmarish roller coaster ride I am on, but it didn't. Rather it was a two year long journey of my Dr/friend Sandi and myself monitoring a suspicious formation in my left breast, a "lump" I discovered using self examination over two years ago, so around February 2008. Yearly mammograms usually resulted in further testing using ultrasound, but because of the density of my breasts nothing has ever been found. The lump feels like a hard pea with a long tail. It worsens in size as my menses approach and hurts to the touch the nearer my period comes. This is a good sign, I am told by a surgeon who examined the lump and said, "I hope you haven't been losing sleep over this?" Meaning it neither felt irregular or suspicious or cancerous in any way to him. Not satisfied with that answer, my Dr/friend suggests we have two choices. Either have it removed or fly to Vancouver to have a breast MRI. This cannot be done in PG or anywhere else up North, yet. So, the surgeon agreed to requisition me for the procedure and sent the necessary forms to the Lions Gate Hospital. On May 2, I flew to Van by myself,getting a special HawkAir medical rate which gave me an open ticket. I was under the impression from my surgeon that the "people" at this hospital would get to the bottom of this. That they were very good at what they did and if they felt there was an issue to deal with, that they would deal with it there and then. Looking back, I think the surgeon meant if there was a big cancerous mass or other reason to say OMG, that yes, they would then admit me and do what they must to save my life.
But that's not what happened. After overnighting in North Van, I walked, dragging my suitcase, up and down hills for 50 minutes to get to the hospital. It was sunny but chilly, especially with the perspiration rolling down my back. The exercise felt wonderful, especially before sitting in a waiting room with a surgical gown on for 30 minutes, before being subjected to what could only be labelled a mild form of torture. For a breast MRI, a patient lies on their abdomen, arms stretched overhead on a table that has two holes cut out into which you place your breasts. Headphones cover your ears so you can listen to a station not quite on the country or rock station but in some hideous nether land in between. An "escape ball" is placed into one palm. It's in case you can't take it and need to come out, you squeeze and they bring you out, ruining whatever test they are in the middle of. You are now pushed backward into the MRI machine, back in, very deep into the bowels of the machine. It's like a giant cigar tube and you're rolled to the very bottom of it. PLEASE do not put the lid on while I'm in here!! The entire time of all the tests will take 45 minutes. MINUTES that make you wonder if the clock ran out of batteries somewhere along the arduous way?
Claustrophobia is a strange sensation. I never felt it for the brain MRI I had in 2002. Little mirrors were attached so that I could see out very well from inside the long cigar tube and my abdomen was free to catch full breaths so that I could regulate my breathing. Not so with the breast MRI. You cannot breathe. And trying to do so would fetch a sharp, "Don't Move!" from the techs, even in between the nerve wracking loud Boops, Bangs and Bings that the machine makes.It's like a stick and tin can band straight from hell.
I reminded myself fervently that Barry had paid lots of money for me to endure this privilege, that if I could only lie still, then we would have the answers to what we have sought for two long years. My mother had recently succumbed to a very painful wrestling match with pancreatic cancer, passing away April 4, 2009. It was at the forefront of every thought still. If this was cancer, I wanted it dealt with now.
After the test was finished, I was told to wait while they checked the results were legible. When I was told I was free to go, I questioned the tech about when I would see the results and was disheartened to hear it would take two weeks more. She felt bad I had been under the impression something might have been done that day. As I said, this would have only happened had the techs seen something alarmingly wrong.
So, I boarded to plane to fly home more than a little crushed, with another waiting sentence. But what the heck. It had already been two years. What was another few weeks?
And like myself, you will have to wait for the results. This blog is long enough.