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Monday, January 23, 2017

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3....


Oy, has the last month been stressful!

At my annual physical this year, my doctor handed me a requisition for my first mammogram.

Because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 52, the recommendation is that I start them 10 years earlier, which is this year.

I have been nervously anticipating this for the last 20 years!

What a rollercoaster this has been, and I now understand why experts often disagree about screening timing, frequency, etc. It's pretty murky in terms of what the best course of action is (I just read an article in the paper summarizing a large study that found that mammograms do not cut death rate for aggressive/late stage breast cancers, but do significantly increase the rate of false positives.

Anyways, here is how things went down:

December 16 - Mammogram at  Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital. Wasn't painful at all for me, though lots of women find they are.

The next day hospital called to say they wanted me back for follow up ultrasound, scheduled for December 30th. Awesome, got to wonder about this all through our Florida trip!

December 30 - There is definitely a lump identified in left breast, but they reassured me there was 98% chance its benign. Told they are extremely common (called breast fibroadenoma). Due to family history though, said I could opt for biopsy. I opted for it.

January 12 - Biopsy. Different doctor, but she also said 98% chance benign. Told I would get results in a week.

January 16 - Receive call from Princess Margaret Hospital to go to Mount Sinai Hospital on the 19th to meet with a surgeon and get the results. Practically passed out...why do I have to go to a different hospital to meet with a surgeon? Oblivious woman on the phone doesn't seem to notice my distress, so I asked if it is standard to be sent to a surgeon. It is. Phew!

January 19th - Miserable experience. Put directly into examination room and told to strip from waist down. What? Aren't I just getting results? Nurse shrugs and tells me to take it all off. Sit waiting for over an hour and start psyching myself out...sweat dripping back of dignity-stripping hospital gown, I am sweating, dizzy, nauseous and shaking. Wondering if I am in the unlucky 2%. Finally (bless her!) nurse practitioner I met with at Princess Margaret comes in, explains doctor is still delayed but she will give me results. Benign. Oh thank goodness!

Surgeon finally comes and says they will have me back in 6 months to make sure nothing has changed. Okay. Also, suggests getting tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Great, worrying gets to continue! I decide, since I have 2  daughters, I will get tested. Now waiting for that appointment.

So tons of stress, a number of medical tests and a biopsy (which, by the way, is a little more invasive then I thought...I expected like a flu shot type deal, but, no they are grabbing tissue out of you, so much greater chance of infection!) I can see how a lot of people would say, perhaps I shouldn't have started mammograms so soon. I worry that I will have to go through something similar every time I have one. Will they want to biopsy this fibroadenoma again? Could I get more? Believe it or not, I haven't Googled any of this at all. In fact, I have done zero Googling about anything related to this whole experience, which, I think helped keep my nerves in check, until my little melt down at the end.

I will do whatever the doctors recommend going forward as I am definitely someone who wants to know information, and, frankly, would rather go through unnecessary stress and testing than have something fall through the cracks, but I know not everyone feels the same.

Most women, who don't have any particular breast cancer risk factors, can start testing at 50, but my recommendation is don't dismiss anything that feels off. If you feel pain in your breast, a lump, see unusual changes, discharge, etc. Seek medical attention, and don't let anyone dismiss your concerns just because you are young or don't have risk factors.

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