January 13, 1997 was one of the happiest days of my life. My first granddaughter was born. We were all so happy that Stephanie came in without any problems and she was definitely the center of our attention. Five days later my husband and I decided to go shopping for a crib for our home for when little Stephie came to visit. While in the shower I felt something odd in my right breast. It felt like a lump, but I didn’t think it was possible as three months earlier I had had a mammogram and the radiologist did not see anything out of the usual. I dismissed the thought of the lump while shopping that day with my husband; but that night when I went to bed I again felt it. I had my husband check it out it to see what he thought. We decided I would call our family doctor in the morning.
The next morning I called the doctor’s office and they were able to fit me in that afternoon. My physician could also feel the lump and scheduled another mammogram and ultrasound for the next day, as well as an appointment with a surgeon. By this point I was getting a little more frightened as my mother had died of colon cancer. My radiologist was very reassuring. It didn’t appear to be a tumor, but a cyst. I was so excited I called my doctor to see if he thought I still needed to see the surgeon. He felt I should as the surgeon would try to drain the cyst.
The next day I saw the surgeon and he tried to drain the cyst but was unable to do so. He didn’t want to go any further as he didn’t wan to puncture my lung. He decided we should just wait and come back in three months. I remember asking him “What if it is a tumor.” He said not to worry that three months wouldn’t make any difference. These were the words I wanted to hear – but deep down I was still and not totally reassured. But then he was a doctor and I was a legal assistant – he knew better than me. WRONG!!!!!!!
February came and went – the lump did not shrink – I could feel it every night when I would lay on my stomach. By mid March my co-workers and relatives convinced me to get a second opinion. I made an appointment for the last Tuesday in March. My new surgeon was able to feel the tumor. She also tried to drain it – no luck. She recommended a biopsy. I totally agreed as I wanted this foreign object removed. I asked her to schedule it as soon as possible, and she had an opening for that Friday (which just happened to be Good Friday). It didn’t turn out to be a very good Friday for me. After she removed the lump, Dr. Parsons asked that pathology call her immediately. Fear began to set it in. The words I feared she spoke – it was a tumor, 2.4 centimeters in size. I was in a state of shock! But the other surgeon had reassured me it was just a cyst! I was in tears.
That weekend I had the worst headache of my life. I was supposed to be joyous. I had a new granddaughter; it was Easter. How could this be happening?
Monday morning I met with Dr. Parsons to discuss my options. I opted to have the mastectomy. She scheduled appointments for me with a radiotherapist and plastic surgeon. I met with both of them and by Friday I had my right breast removed and a temporary implant inserted.
When Dr. Parsons came to my room the next morning with the lab results I had good and bad news. She had removed over 20 lymph nodes, but only 1 was bad. Visually she thought I was a goner! (I will always wonder if I had the second opinion sooner, maybe it would not have been in the lymph nodes – I’ll never know!)
A week later I met with the oncologist. He recommended six rounds of chemotherapy – three weeks apart. My tumor was estrogen receptive positive so that would also require my taking tamoxifin for five years. I became very sick after the first round of chemotherapy but the other five went well. (The day after my second treatment I went to an 80th birthday party and after my third treatment (on my birthday) I went out to a program at our recreation center! I was surprised that during this period I was able to go camping and even take a small trip to San Francisco! My office was very understanding and I brought a computer home and worked part-time at work and part-time at home – coming and going as I pleased.
April 4, 2002 will mark five years since my surgery. I know I am one of the lucky ones as in the last year I have lost four friends – one to leukemia, one to eye cancer and two to breast cancer. But I continue to go to support group – to help others recently diagnosed. And I continue to participate in Relay for Life and the Race for the Cure. I also make it a point of reminding women (and men) that self breast examination is extremely important – as well as second opinions. Without both of these I might not be here today writing this story.