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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Scared but not alone



My story is insignificant compared to what so many others are going through and have gone through, but my fear was real and for the first time in my life I was examining my mortality.

Without going into all the details suffice it to say that since December 18th,  I was faced with that daunting fear that I could have breast cancer.  (It’s difficult to even type that.)  I knew the statistics were, however, all in my favor, I led a normal, healthy life, no family history of breast cancer (although my mother did have colon cancer).  And all that was required at this point was a second mammogram to clarify what was present in my left breast.

The second mammogram was done on the 22nd of December two days before we were leaving for a Cape Cod Christmas.  And, again, even knowing the odds were in my favour - those four days between the two mammograms were torture.  People tell you not to worry – it is all routine.  You scan the Internet.  You read that “according to the American Cancer Society, about 10% of women who have a mammogram will be called back for more tests. But only 8% to 10% of those women will need a biopsy and 80% of those biopsies turn out be benign." You read that even if you are of that small percentage that has cancer – it is early – you will pull through it.  But even the most rational person will tell you that fear allows every possible scenario to go enter your psyche. 

So, I sat waiting for the second mammogram.  I told myself to stay calm, to breathe, to think positive, stuff that you already knew but don’t do.  And, of course,  you do worry, you do freak out.  And it’s okay – you are human.

And then the long wait for the results.  Christmas came and went. We were leaving for a semester in Costa Rica and I had not heard anything about the results.  My doctor was on a two week vacation over the holidays and I had heard nothing from his office.  So, I took the initiative to call the radiology department.  Yes, the results were recorded but the report had not been sent out yet.  The girl told me that she did not see a “call back” notation.  My hopes were high.  So, the day before we left I decided to recheck and I called the doctor’s office.  No they had not received the report but when they do and, IF it is urgent, another doctor would call me. 

So, I left for Costa Rica trying to stay positive but still feeling uneasy.  It was at this point that I truly felt connected with every woman who has had or is facing the possibility of cancer.  There was this numbing existence.  You can’t remember going through the motions of your day, of dealing with your children, your husband, your emotions.  The only way I can truly describe this is “in a fog”.  You are not focused.  You simply just go through the actions.  You are not sad but you are not happy.  You can’t sleep because all you think about is your mortality.  There is no self-pity just empathy.   You call, email, text everyone you can to help you understand and to hear “their” story.  And your main concerns are only those of your loved ones.  Plain and simple. What will they do?

So, a few weeks pass and now you are tired.  It is draining.  You think no news is good news so you try to put it out of your head.  That is exhausting.   I am told to call my doctor by everyone.  Get an answer.  I can’t.  I am numb.  For someone who always got to the bottom of things and was calculated in every way, I couldn’t make the call.

Then it was time for Serge to go back to Canada.  I knew when he did there would be something waiting at the house.   He called me that night to say there was a letter from the Director of Public Health, the agency handing the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening program and it read as follows:

“On December 12, 2015 you had a mammogram … the radiology department where you had your exam indicates that additional tests are necessary. …. If your physician has not already called you, we recommend that you call him/her as soon as possible to discuss the results of your tests and the follow-up required.” 


I felt kicked in the stomach.  So what does that mean?  Ultra sound, MRI, biopsy?  What?


I asked Serge to call the doctor the following morning, which he did and left a message.   On a return call on the answering machine Dr. Lamoureaux basically told Serge the following: (translated)


1. Nothing to worry about
2. Breast is showing asymmetrical in that one is denser than the other
3. Does not mean anything
4. In order to complete the file, we have to do another incident to see better
5. Nothing to worry about
6. Suggest to do the follow up as suggested by the hospital staff
7. Certainly nothing to worry about since they are routine examinations
8. We continue our trip without worry

That night I read and reread the above.  Something was not sitting right with me.  What did this all mean?  When someone says not to worry – I worry.

The next morning I called Serge and asked him to call back the doctor.  I needed more answers.  Was he referring to maybe the FIRST mammogram and not the SECOND?  I waited while Serge called the doctor.  A few minutes later Serge called me back to say that yes, Dr. Lamoureaux was referring to the FIRST mammogram because that was the only one he had in his file.  He immediately checked with his staff and VIOLA, the SECOND mammogram results were found.  Upon a quick review he said everything is fine, the second results show calcifications (calcium deposits).  Nothing to worry about – see you in 2017.  And that was it.  It was over.


Tears, uncontrollable … not just because I felt relief but because my heart went out to all those women (and men) who have lived with this “C” fear, some surviving while others have not.  I had shared my fears with family, friends, loved ones, even women I do not know but have conversed with for some reason or another on messaging.  And for all of them I am eternally thankful.

As I said my story is marginal.  But my findings through this had a huge impact on me.

First, I saw that it is possible to get through anything with the network of people you surround yourself with.  A support system works.  I am so grateful for my family and friends who heard me out, who calmed my worries. There is no stronger gift than women helping women.  There is a certain strength we give one another.

And secondly, as my sister always reminds me; you have to be your own advocate with your body and your health.  You know it best.  You own it.  If you feel you are not getting answers – go get them.  I took a pause for a short moment to try and understand all that was happening.  I guess I just needed to.  I was not ready to hear anything.  But the need for answers brings back the strength to face whatever it is.  I am still not sure how I would handle a life threatening illness if faced with one.  Hopefully, I will never know.  But for now, I feel blessed that I am healthy and happily entering my 60’s!!!




For all you women who have experienced that “gut wrenching” feeling for whatever reason … talk about it to whoever you can, whenever you can … surround yourself with those that love and support you.

We are all basically here on the same merry-go-round.

And one last word to my husband - thank you with all my heart for staying positive and putting up with me.


Comments:


Hi Sue
Quite a story and at the end, it's the best of feelings when you get the weight of an elephant off your back. The magic of living without fear is back. Now may I suggest, if you haven't done it already, that you sit on the beach watching the sunset with a glass of wine while the kids are playing and enjoy. Pure Vida
Pierre

Sue -I love you- I cried as I read your account of what transpired-so glad to to hear the outcome -you will always be my friend -and I will until the day of my passing be grateful for you coming to my Birthday party-Sid

phheeeeewwwwwwwwwwww.  I love a happy ending:)
Annie

Wonderful, powerful piece, Susan.  Thanks for sharing.  So glad that everything is ok
X0X0
Gwen

Thank you for sharing your story on your blog today. I wish I would have known and could have been there for you. I went through the same thing a year and half ago and I understand how scary it was for you. I am so glad that everything is fine and I hope you can now relax and enjoy your time in Costa Rica. Take care and Love you lots.

Sarah

Hi Sue, I had no idea your were going through this! How scary and in the midst of Christmas and your trip. I'm so glad you pursued it so you could put your mind at ease. We need to believe in our bodies and have faith in our breasts. You're healthy, strong and have so much love and support. Miss you and hope you're enjoying Costa Rica. Write soon!
Love, Robin


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