This is no joke people.
I don’t mean to preach, but this is breast cancer awareness month, and right now, as I am typing, it has been just three days since my wife’s doctor called in tears to give us the bad news.
My wife has been diligent for years about doing her self-examinations, but as the years go by - and you are still young, it’s only natural to be a little less concerned about such things.
You get busy, you do a quick check, look in the mirror, don’t see anything, or dismiss it, or you think “no one in my family has had it” or “I’m too young”.
My wife is still young. Like I said, she’s been good about it, and getting a mammogram every year, but this summer she got very busy, and then her father was diagnosed with lung cancer and her schedule got even more hectic.
She purchased some plane tickets in August to go see him, and then in September she was up in Seattle at her parent’s place helping clean their house and doing other things to support her family. It just so happened, she was changing in her sister’s room, and the light came through the window and hit her breast at just the right angle… so that she noticed an odd dimple that shouldn’t have been there.
She realized, suddenly, that she’d skipped her self-examination the month before, and maybe the month before that. She felt the dimple, and underneath was a lump. That’s when panic set it.
She called me, and explained the situation, and while I told her to relax, that it would probably be nothing, I was stressed. There was no pain, the lump was quite small, but still, I was a little worried and so was she. We didn't hesitate to make an appointment with her doctor, and I told myself we needed to do this for “peace of mind”.
The doctor fit her in the week after she got back. She went in there expecting the doctor to tell her it was nothing, but during the examination my wife could tell that the look on her gynecologists face was one of concern, even fear.
“It doesn’t feel like cancer at all,” she said, “but that dimple is very worrisome. I would not be surprised if we find cancer.”
Worse, after the examination my wife felt pain in her breast for the first time. She wasn’t sure if it was psychological, or if she was starting to feel the effects of cancer.
Five days later she was in for a diagnostic mammogram, and then a sonogram. Both techs wrote on the reports “mass indicative of malignancy” - that was when the serious fear started to set in.
Next was the biopsy, and after the biopsy she was in significantly more pain.
Four days after that, we still had not heard back, so we took that as a good sign. Right? A day late in telling us probably means shes a the bottom of the list, because there is no cancer! So we tried to convince ourselves. She was headed to work when her doctor called the house.
Right away I could tell it had gone terrible wrong, because, of course, the doctor could not tell me… she was asking where my wife was, said she left a message on her cell.
I said “On her way to work. Is everything ok?” The doctor made a funny sound, and she started to cry. She said “I can’t say until I talk to your wife.”
I said “Ok, but this is bad, I can tell. I will let her know to check her messages.”
I hung up the phone, and I lost it for a solid 20 minutes. After I was through screaming and cursing the heavens, I calmed down and texted my wife to check her messages. She did, and she called the doctor.
She will never forget the moment she was sitting in the parking lot, in the dark, listening to her doctor say “I am sorry, but you have breast cancer.”
That was Tuesday night. Tonight is Thursday night. We just met with a surgeon, a woman I immediately had great confidence in, even though she scared the shit out of me. "Unfortunately the cancer is INVASIVE", those words, ugh. She was young for a doctor, but I could tell she has an exceptionally bright mind. She was positive, and did an excellent job in explaining our situation, and her plan for treatment, scary as it was.We weighed options, discussed them, and I supported my wife’s decision on what option she wanted to take. I could tell that the doctor felt she made the right decision, so that was encouraging.
The thing is.. we are in stage 1 or 2, invasive ductile breast cancer. There is more to learn once the tumor is removed next week… like, has it spread to lymph nodes or anywhere else? Also, there is a genetic test that will not come back to us for another month… and that will determine if there is a genetic marker for a certain type of cancer that is much scarier, because it tends to recur.
If my wife had not skipped the previous two month’s self-examination we might well be in stage zero. What does that mean? Well, that means a much higher chance of not having to go through radiation and chemo on top of the surgery.
Very early detection of breast cancer (depending on the type) often means that you can get out of it with a simple lumpectomy and hormone treatment
So, don’t skip your breast exams, just don’t. Do them each month, and also: DO THEM IN GOOD LIGHT!!! My wife got home and examined herself near the sink and she realized she would never have seen the dimpling in that weaker light if she wasn’t specifically looking for it.That bean of sunlight in her sister’s room will probably end up saving her life.But there is a hard road ahead…. and a lot of fear and uncertainty.