Friday, February 25, 2005

(R) breast and (R) axilla

This story starts on the flight over to Heathrow. United Airlines has a design flaw in their seats, and the armrests don't fold up all the way. So in spite of the fact that the four of us, two adults and two kids, had 10 seats, it took a bit of maneuvering to get comfortable. I probably had the hardest time - because I'm tall, I end up with one armrest digging into either my spine or my ribs. Still, it was better than sleeping sitting up for the entire flight.

When I lay on my right side, I kept noticing this pinching sensation under my right arm. I reached over and poked around.

There's bump, the size of a large pea, under my right arm.

I poke at it for a bit longer, decide it's a swollen lymph node, and go to sleep.

Three weeks later, I did a more thorough breast exam. I know this is supposed to be a once a month thing, but I'm more of the "I do one in the shower when I think of it" type. The fat lymph node has not gone down, and now a second one has popped up next to it. Bother.

Sure enough, when I am more careful, there's a mass in the upper portion of my right breast. Also about the size of a fat pea, it's mobile (good) and slightly soft (good) but clearly there. Bother again.

So after the Monday holiday, first thing Tuesday I got one the phone with my doctor. She was only working in the afternoon, so I push paper around on my desk all morning, (and I truly cannot remember one thing about the morning - my body was there, but my brain was elsewhere) finally head to the doctor's office.

Yes, there's a mass. No, the doctor agrees with me that it has more of the characteristics of a benign cyst than a malignant one, but they have to make sure, so I'm scheduled for the whole joyride - mammography, ultrasound, and if necessary a fine needle biopsy. The referal sheet says diagnostic mammogram, mass in (r) breast and (r) axilla.

Thursday morning, I head in to the Sacramento Breast Imaging Center. I'm not kidding, that's really what this place is called. Playboy, eat your heart out. Boob Central, to all of us sitting around in the waiting room in our oh-so-elegant blue and green hospital robes. At this point, I have swum through a couple of emotional nights of "what if", and have gone past fear into pure hilarity. I can't tell what is likely to happen next, and after I've examined all the possible outcomes, it's time to start poking fun at the whole situation. I sign my e-mails to Kevin The One-Boobed Systyrs of the Apocalypse.

Several of the women sitting around are of the same mind as I am - we come out from getting a mammogram, and people make comments like, "Oh my god, my boob is HUGE", and similar sillyness.

The crowd thins out. The nurses come out, and say, so-and-so, you're done. You're done. You're done. Reactions vary from a little dance of joy, to someone bursting into tears with relief. They don't call my name.

"Christine, the doctor wants another set of pictures." I'm starting to see the pattern. The sooner you are dismissed, the better. If the mammogram is fine, they dismiss you. A few people, like me, are called in for a second set of pictures. This means the radiologist wants a closer look at something. They do that with me, taking a finer-scale picture of the lumps in question.

Eventually, there are only two of us left. I've now been at Boob Central for about three hours. Mammography over, now an ultrasound.

The ultrasound tech is sweet, letting me watch over her shoulder, as she measures those little black lumps, like tar. 1.6 cm. 1.8 cm. A third lymph node, between the two under my arm, that I hadn't felt. I wish they would reverse the color on the screen, so the background was dark and the masses show up white. Far less ominous.

The radiologist comes in.

"I'm worried about the mass in your breast. We'd like to do a biopsy while we have you here". Good on ya, mate. So they call my doctor, get permission, and onward. Xylocaine, I think the same numbing agent dentists use, then a fine needle, coming in from one side, to take tissue samples of that lump. She uses the ultrasound to position the needle - it's like a tiny, fine hole punch. Again, I watch the ultrasound, that very fine white line moving across the screen, stark contrast to the blackness of the mass.

They bandage me up, give me a cute little ice pack to tuck into my bra, and take two more mammograms. They leave behind a tiny chunk of titanium, so that they can see exactly where the biopsy was done. I get the ultrasound tech into giggles, explaining that this is the 6th or 7th chunk of titanium in my poor bod, and that pretty soon I'm going to be like the Tin Woodsman, clinking and clanking when I walk, and needing to be oiled if I get caught out in the rain.

Home. The waterproof bandage that I'm supposed to leave on for 48 hours of course isn't, and leaks onto my top. Bother. I pull it off, cover the slice with a Hello Kitty bandaid. (Being that the only bandaids in my house are Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer. Can you guess I have a 6-year-old girl?) I'm far happier with the little blue plaster there - band aids really DO have magic healing powers.

Next morning, I have a black-and-blue spot about an inch over from Hello Kitty, about the size of a tangerine. Not very decorative.

And now I work, and wait for the phone call. My regular doc, who I really like, called last night after seven p.m., to see how it went. I admire her conscientiousness. Boob Central will give her the pathologist's report some time today, and then she will call and translate it into English from Doctorese.

But for now, I work, and wait for the phone call.


Toughtitties. My doctor called back - and yes, I have breast cancer. Specifically, Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. I see a surgeon on Monday, this almost certainly means a lumpectomy. I don't know yet if then I will go on to radiation or chemotherapy.

All being well, Kevin will be flying out to join us on Tuesday or Wednesday.