Saturday, November 7, 2009

Procrastination and Your Health

Don't do as I as I say. That's the lesson I learned this month.

There has been a mammogram request floating around the house since last February but because it wasn't a priority I didn't get it done. Then, the first week of October I noticed a lump in my breast. Luckily, I had the order and didn't have to waste time seeing the doctor but was able to get in for xrays the next day. Films turned out fine (technically anyway) and I went home thinking it was my imagination.

When the office called me the next day though, I was pretty sure things weren't okay. They needed me to come back in for more xrays and an ultrasound. Years ago I actually worked in the xray department and did mammograms so when I saw the film I was pretty sure what I was seeing... There was a noticeable mass that was obvious when comparing one side to the other. I was fortunate again, and able to see my doctor right away, who first chewed me out for procrastinating. "Priorities," I said, full of excuses. I am pretty sure my doc was thinking, "BS" but she didn't say it. Instead she comforted me and recommended her favorite surgeon for a biopsy.

After what was a very long week and a half I saw the surgeon. She is at a center where they only deal in breast surgeries. I expected to see the doc and then return at a later date for more tests. But no, she offered to do the biopsy that very day. Since the mass showed up on the ultrasound they were able to easily snag some tissue for the biopsy. Honestly, it did not hurt and the procedure was interesting to watch on the ultrasound. I can't say Bob was all that thrilled but he's tough and I told him that if he passed out they would just push him aside until they were done.

When the biopsy was finished the surgeon made an appointment for my follow up visit with a promise from the surgeon that she would call with results. It was a time to be on pins and needles. It was a time spent on pins and needles. Was it fibrous tissue or a malignancy? Was it a complex cyst (not likely from the US) or or just a thickening? I tried to stay away from too much research but you know me... and things looked a little better when I read the statistics on stellate mass being benign were 75%.

Unfortunately, this hope was dashed when the doctor called, "Is now a good time to talk?" she asked. "I have your results and it's what we thought it might be..." At this point I know she told me many important things but my brain had stopped working... CANCER was all I heard.

I cannot tell you how many things flew through my mind that afternoon. Facing your mortality is a scary idea. Did I wait too long? Who would take care of Matthew? Would I see my daughter graduate from college? Become a doctor? Marry? What about my parents? They're getting older...they need me. What about my husband? Can he figure out my crazy accounting system or even find the passwords to get into the checking account??? Then came the realization that I had to now tell people and how do I tell my folks? My sister? My baby brother?

The next week was a blur. We decided to track my parents down where they were gold prospecting in the desert and tell them in person which was a smart move because my brother called them the next day to make sure they had gotten word. I was hesitant to write a non-personal email but ended up doing so because it was less stressful to me and I could more easily catch family and friends. Not only did offers of help and especially prayers start flowing in but also personal stories from friends who were survivors. Their assurances continue to give me strength. The rapid response of email has made this time pass much more quickly.

Last week I had more tests and everything so far looks like the tumor is confined to the one area. I am scheduled for surgery Monday.

Times have really changed from when I was working in the hospital. Surgery will be done as an out-patient and I'll be home in the afternoon. The tumor and surrounding tissue will be removed and they'll inject some radioactive dye so that the doctor can trace back to the lymph nodes that feed the area. She will remove only those nodes and if they do not show signs of spread can stop there. After I am healed from surgery I'll visit the oncologist who will do radiation therapy and most likely chemo.

Whether to write this publicly has been a challenging choice. Can I be an inspiration? More likely I'm a poster child of what not to do... Will sharing these challenges help someone else? Can I stay positive? Since you're reading this you can see my decision. I promise not to go into gory details, though I will tell you the doc said she is using super glue to hold me together...

So, what have I learned? My parents asked me this the other day. (They are so concerned they have already been here two weeks...which is good as Matthew loves having Grandpa around and I have been able to pawn off Rebecca's school related questions --like "Can you read this report and tell me the negative and positive contrasts?" to Grandma.) But back to my question... I have been reminded that especially when one is a caregiver it's important not to procrastinate...even though it's easy and I have plenty of excuses. The caregiver's health must also be a priority. And, yes, most importantly, get your mammogram when your doctor tells you to.

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