Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ticking time bomb on a roller coaster

How do I describe the past year and half of health issues ... my partner and I just came back from meeting with my surgeon to discuss the growing lump in my breast. She used the words "ticking time bomb!" There's no question, she said, that cells in my breast have started going awry (the technical term "atypical hyperplasia"). We got lucky in finding them in two previous surgeries. There's probably more in my breast, she says. My head is spinning as she goes over so much information and my heart is about ready to explode ... something in my gut is telling me that something is going on in my body at a cellular level. She checks the growing lump in my breast and is thinking that the growth and swelling is a result of the hematoma from my recent MRI guided biopsy. She initially was recommending that we just continue to monitor it and that I could come back in 2-3 months and she could check the lump again, then another MRI in 5 months as Mayo recommended.

My heart stops. Can I go through another 2-3 months when something in my gut is telling me to remove this growing lump in my breast? Am I overreacting? Is it just the swelling from the hematoma? Or are they the atypical cells from 2009 that have now progressed to cancer? My head is saying, I need to trust my doctor, she has never led me astray. She's never made a mistake before, and I tell her that. But what if this one time when we choose not to remove a palpable mass that it turns out to be the one time that I should've listened to my gut and had it removed? Most of the time atypical cells progress to non-invasive cancer before they progress to invasive cancer ... but as my doctor at Mayo told me, that's not always the case. I fell into the less than 1% of patients that have hematoma complications during MRI-guided biopsies. What if I'm in the minority again ...

My partner Mary can see I am on the verge of tears as I fight desperately to hold it together. She puts her hand on my back and I just break down. For the first time I understand the utter fear that women carry when they are told they are at high risk of getting cancer and the choice they make of a double mastectomy. I am at extremely high risk (actually, I'm already borderline cancer) of getting cancer because my cells have already started acting the way cancer cells do .. there just isn't "sufficient quantity" yet from my 12/09 pathology report. I don't want to be another cancer statistic. My mother told me that my Papa said to her on his death bed, "I don't want to die. I don't want to leave you and the kids." I will accept death when it is my time to go, but right now, I feel like my body is giving me sign and signals with these lumps and I can't disregard them. And to be honest, there's so much more I want to do and experience in this earthly existence.

I have never cried in a doctor's office. I have always been able to "hold it together." I have known my surgeon for almost 10 years. She has performed 3 surgeries on me ... once to remove half my thyroid in 2001 and in 2009 for my two lumpectomies. This is the first time she has seen me "break down." I guess it's okay to show that human side. She too is high-risk for breast cancer and shares her story. She spends an hour and a half with us and reassures me that whatever decision I make is okay. If removing the lump and having it biopsied is what I need to do to give me some peace then that's what I need to do. She tells me to think about what feels right for me. Mary and I go out to lunch and talk about it some more. My gut keeps telling me that this growth that has doubled in size needs to come out. And if it ends up being benign, then great ... if it ends up showing atypia/pre-cancer cells, or even cancer cells, then at least I will know what I am dealing with and can make decisions. Over lunch we decide that I need to have the lump removed.

I love my surgeon and I trust her wholeheartedly. As she left the room, she asked if she could give me a hug. In the 10 years I have known her that's the first time I have ever hugged my doctor. I could feel like she really understood my fear ... and when she asked if I felt like a ticking time bomb, I nodded. She probably feels the same way. And often I feel like a ticking time bomb riding on a roller coaster.

So I am going to have the lump removed on Monday, 10/4. I decide to listen to my gut. I am grateful to have my partner Mary and all my wonderful friends walk with me on this scary journey. Thank you.


  1. My mom had breast cancer and had a 1/4 of her breast removed. 7yrs later she got another lump in her opposite breast and at that time she decided to have a double masectomy. Her doctor strongly advised to NOT be so dramatic in her choice. My mom told her doctor she just "felt" she had cancer cells in her right breast again(the one that was first diagnosed). Her doctor assured her she did NOT have any tumors or irregular mammogram in that breast, just the left one. My mom again told her doctor she just "feels" it so just do it. she said her breast were sick and they weren't any use to her anymore(even though she is still happily married and was then too) and if they are sick and are going to continue to get sick she didn't want them. She had her surgery and did the double masectomy and sure enough when it came time for her follow up appt. her doctor apologized to my mother. She said she did indeed have cancer cells undetectable to anything and my mom was RIGHT. Go with your gut, ALWAYS listen to your body. My mom now lives in Illinois and she is going to be walking in the Indianapolis 5k walk this Sat. as a SURVIVOR times 2.
    You are good at listening to your body and the universe don't stop now.

  2. Thank you Terresa for your comment.... i so needed to read your comment and your mom's story. Sometimes I just need a little validation to trust my gut. I am happy to hear that your mom is doing well. I am so glad she listened to her gut!! :)