My name is Nancy and I am a MSgt in the US Air Force with 21 years time in service. In 1994, while I was stationed at Tinker AFB, OK, I discovered 2 breast lumps in my left breast. I immediately went to a health care provider at the base hospital and was referred to a surgeon. I saw a civilian contract surgeon that worked 1 day/week in our clinic. He did a breast exam and then told me to come back in 6 weeks and he would then do fine needle aspirates (FNA), which he did and they were negative. He then said they were most likely fibroids and that I was too young to have breast cancer. I was 34 and he would not do any further testing. He told me to come back every six months.
In 1995, after I turned 35, I was finally able to convince him to order a mammogram. My mammogram was performed at a civilian imaging center in Oklahoma City and was reported as “Negative”; however, they had a comment on the report that said any time you have a palpable lump and a negative mammogram you should follow up with ultrasound and possibly biopsy. I asked my doctor to do those tests and he refused. Said it was unnecessary and not cost effective. He kept saying I was too young for cancer and the lumps were nothing to worry about. So I continued to see him every 6 months until I PCS’d in Mar 1997.
I went to Lajes Feild, Azores. In 1997 I had an ultra sound done at Lajes and it was reported as negative but suggested biopsy. In 1998 I was sent to Landstuhl, Germany for a diagnostic mammogram. They performed FNA’s and they were negative and mammogram and ultrasound. Between 3 doctors, 2 said it was nothing and 1 said to biopsy. There was a lot of confusion and different diagnosis, with conflicting reports, so I saw the head surgeon and he suggested that I wait until I PCS to go back to the states and follow up then. So I did.
In Apr 99 I PCS’d to Randolph AFB, San Antonio, Texas. In Aug 99 I went to Wilford Hall Medical Center (WHMC) for a diagnostic mammogram. After the mammogram the Radiologist came out and asked me if I had any other films with and I said, yes, I have them all. He took me in the back and put all my films up on the veiwbox in chronological order. The very first film was the mammogram from 1995 and he took a black sharpee and drew a big circle round the cancer and he said, “do you see that?” and I said yes, and he said “that was cancer then…in 1995 and that has to come out now!”. I was in total shock and almost passed out right there.
As it turned out, I had 2 different primary tumors in my left breast and they were both Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I was staged as a IIA because when you add the tumors together the size is greater that 2 cm. I had bi-lateral mastectomies and thank goodness my lymph nodes were all negative. I feel very fortunate considering the amount of time that I went undiagnosed. I had 4 cycles of chemo therapy and am taking Tamoxifen, which I suffer a lot of side affects from. I also have mild lymphadema in my left arm from the lymph node dissection, but I go to a massage therapist who specializes in lymphatic massage…but I have to pay for it out of pocket.
I am a Medical Laboratory Technician and I thought I was well informed and I trusted my doctor. It seems to me, after the first doctor, the providers just followed his lead. I feel as though the medical care I received over those years from the government was extremely substandard and goes totally against the DOD Standard of Care for Breast Health. I feel like I could have been diagnosed a lot sooner and possibly only had a lumpectomy and not had to go through the chemo or the trauma. I mean…who can say for sure, but I do know that the care I received was sub standard.
As a result of all this I have to deal with lymphadema for the rest of my life and my husband couldn’t handle any of this, so he left me. I filed bankruptcy due to the lost income and his refusal to pay any of the bills. I suffer from depression at times…GEE! Wonder why! My parents have been my rock and have been by my side the whole way. I am very fortunate to have them near me.
I had a lawyer in Oklahoma City and an expert witness that said there was a definite miss on the mammogram reading. My lawyer was focused on going after the surgeon and he told me he did not feel good about going after the radiologist because he has such a good reputation in Oklahoma City. I found a second lawyer that was very excited to take my case until she found out the Radiologist is her neighbor. She said it was a conflict of interest. I went 2 years trying to secure legal representation, but finally decided to drop the issue and be grateful for life.
I concentrate on living and being a survivor! It has been 2 years and 8 months now, and I am married again and very happy. I am retiring from the Air Force 1 Dec 2002 and am very excited to begin the next chapter of my life. Thanks for reading my story and I hope it helps someone, anyone in a small way to know that you are not alone. Feel free to e-mail me if you want.