Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Diagnosis (Going Public) - from April 30, 2008

You think you are invulnerable. It’s something we often say about younger people – teenagers, people in their early twenties, late twenties. But to a certain extent we always think we are invulnerable until we are proven wrong. I hate blogs. I think blogs will ultimately be the downfall of our society. Perhaps they are the offspring of the therapy obsession of the 80s and 90s. We spent so much time getting in touch with our inner whatsits that we now think everyone else needs to be in touch with it too. But here it is. This may not be a blog strictly speaking, but here I am spilling my guts to anyone bored enough to take notice.

So here I am reconciling my vulnerability. I’ve never really paid attention to cancer. I’ve been lucky enough to be only peripherally effected by it. And right when my life is finally starting to come together in a satisfactory, even desirable way, I am informed of just how much of an adult I have become.

In early December I thought I had a plugged duct. Indiana had not so suddenly decided to boycott my right breast. She wasn’t finished breast feeding but she was finished breast feeding on that side. So it seemed only normal that there would be some plugged ducts to deal with. But I couldn’t unplug it. The usual way to unplug a milk duct is to have the baby suck it out. Since that wasn’t going to happen (Indiana would only bite me) I tried pumping it out. It didn’t start out sore, but it became sore from my attempts to get rid of the thing.

Kurt’s very natural reaction, given his family history, was to demand that I have it checked out by the doctor. So I did. As soon as my doctor felt the lump she knew what it was. She said that cancers are not smooth. They are not uniform. The lump was the size and shape of an almond. And it’s conical shape indicated what I have since referred to as “boob cheese.” Basically due to the sudden cessation of breast feeding, excess milk was remaining in the duct and solidifying (as milk often does) into what amounts to cheese. My body would metabolize it. Come back in three months.

Three months down the road. The lump is still not sore, but has grown. It is now round and maybe the size of a quarter? Maybe a loonie. Back to the doctor’s office. Yep it’s still boob cheese. It could take ? long to go away. But since you are concerned I will send you for an ultrasound.

Any lump is scary. No matter how confidently your doctor tells you it’s not cancer, there’s still that little voice in the back of your head that wonders. You will never find a friendlier, more welcoming medical testing facility than the screening mammography clinic. They even have herbal tea available in the waiting room. The walls are decorated with artwork that is all about women and, in someways, the breast. And they have the best collection of one and two year old gossip magazine’s I’ve ever seen. Medical offices so rarely have good magazines at all.

Despite that little wondering voice, I felt a bit out of place. I seemed to be the only woman in the waiting room (out of three of us) who wasn’t dire. I wasn’t really all that worried. I was confident that my lump was full of old milk. I was called into the Ultrasound room and cheerfully chitchatted with the technician. As always happens everywhere I go there was a brief discussion of my tattoos. I exposed my boob and she began to smear that jelly stuff on me.

The ultrasound showed a fibroadinoma. (Adenomas are non-cancerous abnormal growths of the glandular tissue in the breast. The most common growths, fibroadenomas, are somewhat more common in women in their 20s and in women of African descent. They usually feel round and firm and have smooth borders. They may move a little under the fingers, be tender, and change with the menstrual cycle. Adenomas are not related to breast cancer. From

I was shown on the screen how the lump was very smooth and round and had a characteristic peak on it. Cancers, I was told, are erratic and have spokes coming off them. The radiologist was brought in to confirm the diagnosis and she assured me that yes, it was a fibroadinoma and that it was neither cancer nor precancerous. She said I could have the option of doing a biopsy right then and there if I wanted to make double sure of exactly what it was, or I could come back in a few months and see if it has changed.

I have a one year old and they don’t let you bring your kids to the screening mammography clinic. It is very difficult to arrange daycare in the middle of a weekday, when everybody else works. I opted for the biopsy so I wouldn’t have to get another babysitter. It’s a good thing I did. Five days after the biopsy, my doctor called me with the news that the biopsy showed some cancer.

When I was in the waiting room of the mammography clinic, and I was considering the very remote possibility that the lump was cancer, my main thought was how we would tell my father-in-law. Kurt’s mother died of cancer when he was 6 years old. It was a long, long illness and most of his family has never fully dealt with it. I still don’t really know what kind of cancer she had. I’ve never felt like I could or should ask. I’ve pieced together a blurry water colour from tidbits and from an incomplete set of letters that she wrote to her sister and mother in New Zealand. But as I learn more about cancer, the picture is becoming a bit clearer.

I’ve had three days to absorb the diagnosis. I’ve been to two doctors appointments already, and I have three different types of X-rays coming up this week to determine if there is more cancer lurking somewhere. And shortly after that I will be going in for surgery. The whole thing can really make your head spin. I’ve gone through the initial shock, the grief, the dread over telling people, and am on to learning as much as I can. I have some decisions to make regarding treatment. And decisions to make regarding my life. We are supposed to move to Vancouver next month, but that will not be happening just yet, and now Kurt is talking about finding a job over here. The hardest thing for me right now has been facing the need to end my breast feeding relationship with Indiana. It is possible to continue, but it is complicated and may not work.

Right now, the scariest thing is not knowing everything and facing these tests which could bring more bad news.

I guess we’ll see.

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