Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Twenty or so years ago, when Bill and I were about to head out for our week in Ashland, I realized that I had run low on my hormone prescription without having been able to schedule my annual physical. Since hot flashes and watching plays are counter-indicated, I called my doctor’s office on Friday afternoon and left a message, asking him for a temporary refill on my prescription. We were planning to leave for Ashland on Sunday. On Friday, about 5:30 PM, as we were getting ready to go out for dinner, the doctor returned my call.

Rather than discussing the prescription situation, he launched off onto another subject altogether. “Why didn’t you come see me after your abnormal mammogram a year ago?”

My heart seemed to stop in mid-beat. Mammograms are a big deal in our family. My husband’s first wife died after a seven year battle with breast cancer. Breast cancer awareness is serious business around here.

“What abnormal mammogram?” I asked.

“Well,” he said. “We sent you a letter . . .” That was followed by a long pause. “No,” he went on. “I guess we didn’t. It’s right here. Somebody stapled it into your chart. We need to schedule a needle biopsy right away.”

He then agreed to refill the hormone prescription and hung up. Bill emerged from the bathroom and found me standing in the bedroom, white as a sheet, and still holding the phone in my hand. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

When I told him, he reeled off a dozen questions about what the doctor had said and what had I asked him. With seven years’ worth of experience, he knew far more about the questions that should have been asked than I did. We tried calling the doctor back, but it was after hours. We didn’t get through to the doctor that night, and we didn’t go out to dinner, either.

The next morning was Saturday. When we called the clinic, the doctor wasn’t in. I was upset, and it didn’t help in the least that the woman on the phone told me in no uncertain terms that what I needed to do was “take a few deep breaths!” Grrrr. After all, it wasn’t HER problem!

Bill and I didn’t leave for Ashland on Sunday or on Monday, either. We spent the weekend agonizing about whether or not we should tell the kids about what was going on. Eventually we settled on telling them. In my opinion, telling is better than not. On Monday we tracked down the doctor who managed to make an appointment on Tuesday for a needle biopsy.

The young woman who performed the procedure has been and forever will be referred to in our family lexicon as a TFZ. The F and Z in that term stand for Free Zone. The T is for a word that starts with a T and rhymes with it. When it came to bazoongas, hers were noticeably lacking. Mine are not. When she failed to give me sufficient pain meds for the procedure and I complained about it, she called me a crybaby. She’s one of those people who, at some time or other and under another name, may well show up as either victim or killer in one of my novels.

Bill and left for Ashland that afternoon, but I have to say, that week the plays didn’t hold much charm for either of us. Three days later and at intermission for a matinee performance of Othello, I told Bill, “This story isn’t going to get any better. Let’s go.” And we did. We were back in our hotel room when my cell phone rang. It was the doctor calling with the incredible result–BENIGN!! When I got off the phone with him, Bill and I collapsed on the bed together and wept with relief.

I’ve had mammograms religiously ever since, and I’ve made sure my daughters do the same. I have to say, however, due to previous bad experiences, I tend to go into the process with something of a chip on my shoulder. Ever since that time, I’ve used the same breast imaging company. A few years ago, I was annoyed when, despite being a long-time patient, I was required to fill out new paperwork. Going through the form, I balked at the questions about my “Language” and “Religion.” I handed the clip board back to the receptionist with a snarl and told her, “YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW MY RELIGION TO SQUEEZE MY BOOBS!!” Last week I got a close look at my now “old” paperwork. There in black and white, it says “DO NOT ASK RELIGION QUESTION.” And they don’t.

Two weeks ago, I went in for a mammogram and was told the dreaded words “suspicious” and “needle biopsy.” I scheduled the procedure for the next Monday, the soonest it could be done. After I told the new doctor about my TFZ experience, she made sure that when I called for additional meds, she gave them to me immediately. I’m incredibly grateful to report that once again the results came back as BENIGN. What showed up as “suspicious for ductile cancer” turned out to be calcium deposits.

This is breast cancer awareness month. I know of any number of people in my database who’ve had their own close encounters with breast cancer over the last decade or so. The point is, they’re still there in the database and they’re still reading my books. They’re around because their cancers were found early and treated early.

So here’s what I’m saying. If you haven’t had a mammogram in the last year, schedule one. If you’re advised to have a needle biopsy, do it. Do it immediately! Just make sure your doctor understands that when you say, “MORE PAIN MEDS,” you mean it.

All this talk about needle biopsies made me think of one of my mother’s favorite sayings. “A stitch in time saves nine.”

I think having regular mammograms and doing needle biopsies when necessary are two variations on that same theme.

Early detection is the key.


9 thoughts on “Breast Cancer Awareness Month

  1. I’ve been having mammograms since age 35 when my physician became concerned about a lump. Anxiety followed by relief when I found out I had fibrocystic breasts. Since then — almost 30 years — I’ve had numerous call backs for calcifications. Two years ago I had a biopsy for a calcification. So far all is good but I also don’t miss my annual mammogram and I urge all my friends to get theirs. Fortunately I never received the insensitive treatment you did. Those people should not be in healthcare.

  2. I delivered two kids with no meds, so I don’t think I’m a wus. But if you are going to cut, drill, hammer, saw, or poke around in my body, give me some good drugs!! And plenty of them to get the job done!

    Glad your results were benign!

  3. My first abnormal mammogram and follow up needle biopsy came with a result of “radial scar tissue” . I kept asking is this at the cellular level? yes. Finally I asked why do we care if a scar is round? answer: radial scar tissue always indicated a tumor or some kind. Fortunately for me, the tumor was benign. It is scary waiting for the results of tests. Early detection is important. Follow through immediately on any abnormal mammogram.

  4. TFZ Totally F******* Zombie. She needed a transplant of a Brain or at least some sympathy. In her position she was working with a lot of people who needed compassion not attitude. My wife says The “stitch in time comment is her grandmothers as well. Glad to hear you got a clean bill of health again.

  5. I lost 2 favorite aunts to breast cancer in the 1990’s and my mother who is in her late 70’s was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago. The good thing is that medical treatment and the cure rate is 1000% better than it was 20 years ago. Due to our family history, my sisters and I are almost religious about mammograms and follow ups. It saved my youngest sister’s life about 2 years ago. She just had another 6 month check up – ALL CLEAR! Thanks for reminding us all! Go Pink!

  6. My husband worked with a woman who was about 35 with 2 kids, aged something like 7 & 10. She rec’d a RECORDED message late one Friday afternoon about a test coming back indicating a high probability of ovarian cancer. By the time she got the message, all medical personnel in that office were gone for the weekend. We saw her at a Sunday afternoon football game, and she looked like she had lost 30 lbs & been run through the wringer in only 2 days. On Monday she of course called the office as soon as they opened, & would have grabbed someone by the throat thru the phone line had it been possible. The receptionist said “oh, sorry, there’d been a mistake & that message wasn’t meant for her, so ‘never mind!'” That’s been 15 years or so ago, and I still cringe thinking about how many people may have committed suicide or become hysterical & caused an accident of some kind, or done some other rash act without getting Monday’s message. Of course she was overjoyed with the eventual outcome, but I think she’d aged 10 yrs over those three days. Oopsie!

  7. I am generously endowed in the boob department, but have never had any pain or problem with a mammogram. The medical personnel have been professional, too. I’m sorry that there seem to be so many thoughtless ones who leave phone messages which are misleading. I wonder if they have been on the other end?

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