When I met my friend Sharon about fifteen years ago, she was fighting breast cancer. She was one of the strongest, smartest, most amazing women I’d ever met. And she still is.
I’ve thought about that a lot over the past few weeks, about how Sharon had breast cancer but she’s still with us today. I had to keep reminding myself of that because after my mammogram last month, I didn’t get a letter in the mail that everything was normal. I got a phone call that they wanted more images.
See, they’d spotted something in my left breast that hadn’t been there the year before, a cluster of microcalcifications about the size of my pinky fingernail (3-6 mm). They took more images. They did a needle biopsy. They told me I had an intraductal papilloma.
Intraductal papillomas are fairly common, and in more than 90% of cases they turn out to be nothing. A lot of times the doctors simply do a follow-up mammogram in six months to see how things look. In my case, the needle biopsy came back abnormal-not cancerous, which is a good thing. It means they didn’t find any cancer cells. And there was only one papilloma, which was a good sign — as long as it was non-cancerous, it wouldn’t even raise my risk of having breast cancer in the future.
But it was shaped like an arm from the elbow up with the fingers on the hand splayed. Because of that, the doctors wanted to excise the papilloma and biopsy the entire thing so they could make sure there weren’t any cancer cells hiding out between those “fingers”.
My philosophy on breast cancer is simple: I’d rather be alive without breasts than dead with them. Of course, when I told the surgeon that he said, “That’s a conversation for a different patient. That’s not a conversation for you.” Excising and testing the papilloma was simply an abundance of caution. So I had the lumpectomy on Monday. I got the pathology results yesterday. All negative. No sign of cancer at all.
Feel free to join me in my happy dance. 🙂
When I sat down to write this blog post, to let everyone know what’s been going on and that I’m fine, I thought about what I wanted to say most to the folks out there. And I came up with this:
If you’re a woman over forty and you haven’t been getting regular mammograms, call your doctor and schedule one. Right now. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off until tomorrow, or next week, or after the holidays. Just do it. Now. Guys, nag the women in your lives until they do.
If you’ve got a family history of breast cancer, don’t wait until you’re forty to talk to your doctor about mammograms. Talk to him now. Don’t wait until you feel a lump, and don’t expect you or your doctor to find everything during a breast exam. I had my annual gynecological exam the same day as my mammogram. My doctor didn’t feel any lumps or bumps when he checked my breasts. My surgeon told me that with where my papilloma was and as small as it was, there was no way anyone could feel it. They only found it because the radiologist spotted those calcifications on my mammogram.
For the record, I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. My only risk factor is that I’ve never had kids. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I eat a low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber diet. I don’t even drink caffeine. I almost never eat red meat. I’m not overweight. I exercise at least a half hour a day almost every day. I’m only 41 years old. Most of my relatives live to their eighties despite a lifetime of smoking, drinking, and eating a diet that would make a cardiologist shudder. Heck, my grandfather on my dad’s side worked around asbestos most of his adult life and died in his eighties because, as my dad put it, he was old. Not from cancer.
But I’ll be getting a mammogram every year now, just in case. Because even though this wasn’t cancer, it could have been. And if it ever is, I want to catch it as early as I can.
So if you’ve been putting off getting a mammogram, call your doctor. Now. Mammograms don’t hurt, no matter what sitcoms try to tell you. Needle biopsies do hurt, but honestly dental work is worse. The wire localization for my surgery was no worse than getting a shot, and the lumpectomy itself? I slept through it. 😉
As for my recovery from surgery, I’m doing fine. I haven’t needed any pain meds since leaving the surgical center — and the only reason I took them there was to make sure I wouldn’t have a bad reaction. I had my surgery Monday afternoon, and I’ve been up and about like normal since about 6 o’clock that night. Most of the time I forget I even had surgery until I look down and see the bandage again. (And before you ask, no, I do not have a dent in my breast. It looks just the same as it always did, except I’m sure I’ll have a small scar after the bandages come off.)
Oh, and in case you’re curious how long all this took, I had the initial mammogram on September 22. They did the lumpectomy October 17 (three days after my wedding anniversary). And yesterday they told me I’m fine. 🙂