[This is part two in a series to commemorate my 6-year cancerversary, coming up on August 20, in which I am posting a free sneak peek of 6 chapters from my book, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED…A CHEMO COCKTAIL, as the numbers on the calendar remind me: Whoa. That hap’d. Six years ago. Today.
August 11, 2008 was the night I found the damn spot that turned out to be cancer. I posted that part of the story yesterday in part one. Click HERE to read that post with Chapter 2: “When The Stars Go Blue”.
Six years ago today, August 13, 2008, I had my first—and last—mammogram. By last, I don’t mean to brag about not having to have my boobs squashed between mammography plates anymore—#breastcancerperk #NOT. I just thought I’d point it out, because it might not be obvious that the reason for no further mammograms, is because, well…there ‘aint no more mamms to gram. Case in point: I still get a postcard in the mail every damn year reminding me it’s time for my yearly mammogram…FROM THE HOSPITAL WHERE I HAD MY MASTECTOMY. Cracks. Me. Up. Every. Damn. Time. I get one of these postcards in the mail. You’d think if anybody knew I don’t need a freaking mammogram anymore, it would be THE HOSPITAL THAT REMOVED MY BREASTS. So that’s why I was being all “Captain Obvious” about it. Anyway, the postcards don’t bother me; I can always use a good laugh. And, they do actually remind me…to remind my tribe to #getemsquashed. This chapter is about that mammogram. It’s kinda my postcard to you, from the other side of breast cancer: “Been there. Done that. Had to buy a new t-shirt. Don’t wish you were here. So too those in the tribe who should have, but haven’t YET scheduled their mammograms, please go do that now, for you, and for me, k? And if you do schedule one after reading this, drop me an email letting me know, and I’ll send you one of my famous typo-fied “SKAKEN NOT STIRRED” bracelets for being so awesome in the self care dept.]
Help Me Out God
I’d never had a mammogram before. Please . . . do not put it off until you’re forty-two years old and find a lump in your breast, like I did.
Dr. Allen couldn’t find the spot at first. One would think that would be a good sign. At least, we tried to take it as one. I’m a small-framed person and, to put it frankly, there is not a lot of room for a spot to hide. Maybe my simple prayer had been answered? Maybe I worked the spot out while I played tennis? Or maybe I had imagined it, after all.
That would’ve been awesome. That would’ve been the end of this story. And there is part of me that would’ve been OK with that. But that’s not how it happened. She eventually found the proverbial X.
Damn spot. It had been elusive due to rather awkward placement, right beneath the “milky way.” It figures, that even my cells would be undercover—all cloak and dagger, and spies like me.
I could tell that Dr. Allen didn’t seem to like what she’d found. She said she thought we should do a mammogram and an ultrasound to “cover second base.” That was not what I expected her to say, at all. Then she picked up the phone and scheduled the tests for the very next day.
I wasn’t scared yet. I had some adrenaline pumping, but not from jumping to conclusions. The things I’d heard about mammograms, particularly the squashing involved, made me cringe. I’d always experienced a sympathetic twinge of pain whenever I was with a group of women and the conversation uncomfortably shifted to mammogram stories, which usually followed everyone’s birth stories.
If you saw Casino Royale, you might remember a certain scene in which the most recent James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, took a few torturous knocks to the groin area. I had to close my eyes because I don’t like seeing people tortured. Or naked, really. And, especially, not being tortured while naked. The collective gasp from the men in the theater during that scene, told me it was one of those need-to-know scenes that I didn’t need to know. They obviously felt his pain.
Stories about mammograms and the squashing involved had a similar effect on me. And my overactive imagination did not help things when it came to considering my own impending mammogram. If mammograms were a Facebook page I would not have been a fan. If there were such a thing as a dislike button, I would have pressed it. Yet I needed to know what that damn spot was, so I didn’t have the mammogram invite removed from my events.
On Wednesday, my hubby and I went to what is now the Mary Jo Cropper Family Center for Breast Care at Bethesda North Hospital, in Cincinnati, to have the scheduled tests.
I couldn’t believe what a big deal my mammogram wasn’t. In retrospect, it was probably harder on my hubby than it was on me. I mean it. I found myself a tad distracted when the technician took out a Sharpie and drew an X right on the spot. Then she remarked that it was at six o’clock on my breast. I have to admit that I did appreciate the poetry of the whole X marking the spot. I had a lol moment, though, when she told me the placement in terms of a clock face. The spot was actually somewhere between 5:27 and 5:28, but I also round up. For some reason, this thought got a hold of my funny bone and wouldn’t let go, despite the gravity that kept trying to suck me in. And my funny bone is connected to my coping bone. This is where my head was while I placed my breasts between the mammography plates that squished but did not squash me.
Dave had no distractions and was not finding himself lost in the poetry of the Sharpie’s X. He was impatiently watching the clock and anxiously pacing off the waiting room like he was Quick Draw McGraw. Apparently, the nurses got worried about him and asked me to check on him as soon as they finished squishing my breasts between the mammography plates and right before they gelled them up for the ultrasound.
Dave was wound so tight that he had pitted out his shirt. Earlier we’d started a crossword puzzle together, but he couldn’t concentrate on it. We decided that it would’ve been a good thing to stock the waiting room with Scotch—right next to the coffee pot. Dave didn’t really need any caffeine. It was only three in the afternoon but we’d already established that it was already almost half-past five o’clock on my breast. Dave could’ve used a Scotch, maybe a double, and on the double.
The ultrasound was lengthy, due in part to the aforementioned savvy of the spot. But the technician also happened to find two more damn spots, while searching for the X that marked the first.
Also, the technician had a bit of a sneezing fit during the process. It was awkward sitting there with freezing cold gel on my hot boobs while the poor girl sneezed her head off. I said “bless you” a few times. The I threw in a “gesundheit.” After that I didn’t know what to say. So I asked her if she thought she might possibly be allergic to me.
After the tests I remember standing in a very small room while a couple of men in scrubs briefed Dave and me. They said the original spot was about a centimeter, the second was 0.7, and the third was 0.6. They said they all appeared to be solid masses—which didn’t sound good. But they tried to reassure us that it was not necessarily bad news. They recommended that we biopsy them all, but stressed I should not go home thinking I have cancer. There were “not bad” solid masses those damn spots could be. We were not there yet. And I honestly didn’t go there yet. Things were spinning so fast I really didn’t have time to look down. To me this was the hand of God walking me through the vertigo of it all, helping me out. I don’t have any other way of explaining it. Someone much wiser once wrote about “a peace that passes understanding,” which is about as close as I can come to describing it.
The next day Dr. Allen processed through the findings with Dave and me. She also wanted to do one more diagnostic test, prior to the suggested invasive procedures. It’s considered “alternative” and a bit controversial, but my experience with breast thermography was that it was a rather spot-on (pardon the pun) diagnostic weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Basically, it’s the use of infrared digital photography to capture the heat and blood flow in the breast. Apparently, cancer cells don’t cool off like normal cells do. Climate control is key, therefore, in breast thermography*.
Dr. Allen was meticulous in establishing the proper climate in the examination room, and in acclimating me to the climate of my discontent. It actually took most of Thursday to find just the right balance between the AC and the chill in my bones. Take one didn’t quite work out. Although they’d winterized the room all morning, my low body temperature called for arctic measures. It took four more hours to put a proper chill in the air.
First, I had to take off my shirt and stand there, holding my hands above my head (to keep my arms from trying to trap some heat in my pits) while the technician took pictures. This was uncomfortable on many levels. But it got worse.
Next, I had to stick my hands in ice water and keep them submerged for what seemed like forever. I was so painfully cold that I almost started crying. I thought about the Titanic. Which didn’t help. Because then I imagined my tears turning into icicles, dangling like stalactites from my cheek and chin. I decided I’d spell them eye-cicles if they did. That, actually, did help a teeny t-eye-ny bit.
Finally, Dr. Allen told me I could draw the ice cubes that used to be my hands out of the water. Then she told me to “put your hands up”—and busted is exactly how I felt, as I stepped back in front of the camera for mug shots of my breasts.
The digital images didn’t bode well. There was no evidence of cooling. My fingers were still blue; my breasts looked red on the screen. In other words, my boobs were hot. I’m really not trying to brag. Just stating the facts.