A Lump, the Second Time Around

It’s been four years since I finished my treatment for breast cancer—long enough for me to forget to be on high awareness mode and always take a friend when dealing with the world of hospitals and labs, even if things look relatively straight forward. After all, for four years, my routine mammograms had been clear.

Then, this past January while vacationing alone in Fort Lauderdale, I found a lump (explitives deleted). Thoughts assailed, almost simultaneously:

#1: I still have two weeks in glorious 70-80-degree weather while at home in Michigan temps are diving below zero….

#2: The lump is in the same breast that has survived three surgeries—two lumpectomies and one sentinel node removal—maybe it’s just scar tissue.

#3: What if it’s…cancer!?!??

#4 Yikes! What if I need surgery? My dad (a plastic surgeon) used to hate operating on radiated tissue. What if a radiated breast can’t heal? (Much later, after everything that follows here, my surgeon assured me that she could operate on a radiated breast, but the scarring would be worse.)

#5: More surgery on that side would no doubt result in huge, possibly life-long lymphedema in my right arm—the one I need to make art and books and support myself.

#6: What if I had to have chemo…I lucked out the first time, with just radiation.

What to do?

I decided, after some long walks on the beach, to wait until I got home in February and just get my annual mammogram, scheduled for March, a month early. That way I would relieve my mind if I was fine, and get the thing early if I wasn’t. I would remain calm and not ruin my remaining days with worry. And I wouldn’t tell anybody. Yet.

I thought, if I’m ok, why ruin my beautiful Florida vacation, and if I’m not ok, why ruin my beautiful Florida vacation?

Makes sense, doesn’t it? A simple solution.

Week One and Two

I stay in Florida, enjoy my vacation, and two weeks later, drive home.

Week Three

What follows is a 12-Step program I hope never to do again:

1) When I get home in February, I call the Women’s Center lab to make an appointment for my annual mammogram at the same place I have always gone. They say (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) it hadn’t been a year yet so my insurance won’t pay for it. I say that I thought I’d felt a lump and wanted to get my mammogram a month early. They say I need my surgeon’s orders for that.

2) So I call my surgeon’s office and I’m told (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) that they will fax the order to the lab.

3) Two days later, I call the Women’s Center lab to make the appointment. They tell me (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) that they never got the fax from my surgeon’s office and that they don’t give out their fax number to patients.

4) I call the surgeon’s office and (after ten minutes on hold, with staticky music and ads in my ear) I am told that they don’t have the fax number of the Women’s Center. What? I say. Lots of patients in this office use the Women’s Center! Well, we don’t have it. Ok, I say. Just send the orders to me in the mail. So I am told they will send it to me in the mail, after I give them my address, which apparently isn’t in my file?

5) I call the Women’s Center for the 3rd time and (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) I tell them I will bring in the doctor’s order and they let me make an appointment for a diagnostic (remember that word) mammogram, the first appointment available being in a week.

Week Four

I am still pretty calm, but I am getting irritated. How much hassle and anxious waiting can a high-risk breast cancer survivor take? I finally decide I need a support group and I share my discovery and concern with my guy and my best friend, who remain calm.

6) A week later, I still haven’t received the orders from the surgeon’s office and my appointment is in an hour. I frantically call the surgeon’s office and (after ten minutes on hold, with staticky music and ads in my ear), I am told not to worry, they are faxing it over to the mammogram lab right now. Somehow my breast cancer specialist surgeon’s office has discovered the Women’s Center fax number.

7) I arrive at the Women’s Center mammogram lab. I wait not much longer than I am usually on hold here, except there is no music or annoying advertising in my ear. A tv screen is running a video ad but I don’t look at it.

8) A very young tech with a bouncy manner takes me into the dressing room, where I change into the usual open-in-front (thankfully cloth, not paper) top gown and shortly I am in the mammogram room. It’s a different machine, I note: the new digital machine. I’m asked to tape a tiny bb to the place where I feel the lump. My breasts are then mashed between two transparent plastic plates, which the tech closes tighter and tighter with a foot pump. I don’t mind. I’ve been through so much worse. Just tell me I’m ok.

The perky tech lets me look at the pictures on digital screen. I see the bb is right in the middle of what looks like a small smiling scar. There are larger scars as well and I can see the row of staples that were used to hold the internal incisions together and are still there. I can’t see anything in any of the pictures that looks lumpish. I am relieved.

I asked the tech if she could have the mammograms read while I wait. But no, she says, the radiologist is not in. But, she says, (and this is important): “If there is a problem, we will call you in a day or two. Otherwise you will get the results in the mail in about a week.”

Do these people know how we whose lives are at stake here hang on every single word? Don’t they realize that what they say or don’t say is important? This is a Woman’s Center. This is a Mammogram Center. The last time I came for a diagnostic mammogram, I was diagnosed with cancer.

“Oh dear,” she says, hearing the word “diagnostic.” “This mammogram has not been tagged as diagnostic. If it’s not, your insurance won’t cover it, since it hasn’t been a year since your last one.” She leaves the room and comes back declaring that she has done something on the computer that has changed the tag from routine to diagnostic. Whew!

This tech, though seemingly awfully young, is courteous and kind and she lets me see all the pictures, which is a first, but she misspoke.

Week Five

9) I am feeling pretty stressed as I wait for my lab results, but I have been here before. As the days pass….day one, day two, day three, day four, day five….I begin to relax. After all, if something was wrong, they’d have called by now, right? That’s what the tech said and believe me, I was listening.

10) Day six, almost a week later (still no report in my mailbox), I get a call from the Women’s Center. I am to come back in for more tests right away. How about tomorrow morning at ten?

I stop breathing.

Somehow I manage to ask the caller if the mammogram had been positive, but she would not tell me. “I can’t give out that information,” she says. “You just need to come in for an ultrasound.”

This time, after I hang up, I lose it. Finally, for the first time, I weep. I weep just writing about it. I feel the blood in my body replaced by a gush of explosive anxiety. I call my brother. I call my girlfriend. I beg comfort from the man in my life. No one knows what to do with me.

11) Day Six of Week Five: I go back to the Women’s Center for an ultrasound. Two girlfriends have volunteered to go with me but, knowing that an ultrasound is painless, I turn them down. A mistake. When I am this anxious, I really need someone to be there, not just for support but to observe, be a second pair of eyes and ears, a witness. But I worry that I’ll break down and embarrass myself. I don’t want to be observed myself.

The tech for the ultrasound is a mature person who immediately tunes in on what I’m feeling. It turns out she is a two-year breast cancer survivor herself. I am by now having a hard time keeping it together. She does the test thoroughly and afterward I ask her if I will have to wait another week for the results.

“Probably,” she says. And I choke out, “I want to see them now.”

“I understand,” she says. “I’m not going to let you leave here like this. I’ll see what I can do.”

Not more than five minutes later (less time than I am usually kept on hold and subjected to staticky music and ads), the tech returns with the radiologist, who is looking annoyed. “Your tests are all fine,” he says.

“You mean, the mammogram was negative as well? No tumor?”

“Both the mammogram and the ultrasound were clear,” he says.

“If the mammogram was okay, why was I called back in?”

“It’s protocol,” he tells me. “If there’s a question of a lump, we have to do a mammogram and an ultrasound, followed by a visit to your doctor.”

“SO WHY WASN’T I TOLD THIS?”I ask. “Why was I led to believe that my cancer had recurred?” 

“It’s protocol,” he says.

And what was the lump?

“Scar tissue from the sentinel node dissection.”

Week Six

12) Normally after receiving good mammogram news—my “get-out-of-jail-for-another-year” card—I celebrate. I go out and party with my friends. This time, though, after calling whoever knew by now and letting them know I was okay, I still can’t stop shaking inside. I read online an article published online this very day about a study of the cortisol levels of women waiting for the biopsy results. Women who were made to wait over 5 days for their test results, whether the news was good or bad, had the same high cortisol (stress hormone) levels as women diagnosed with breast cancer. There was concern expressed that these high cortisol levels threatened these women’s resistance to disease and, if they actually needed treatment, made their recovery more difficult.

(Even without the two weeks I waited to begin this process, if I’d had to wait another week for the ultrasound results, it would have been a MONTH from my call to schedule a mammogram to the day I got my results! It’s not hard to imagine what my cortisol levels would have been then!)

This week, I find myself depressed and weepy. I do irrational things and take offense at things that, I find out later, have a much different explanation than I assumed. I come close to offending friends and clients. I work out at the health club four times this week, trying to let off steam.

Week Seven

Hallelujah, I am OKAY! At last, I am back to normal and feeling so lucky to be in this world and not re-diagosed with breast cancer. I decide it’s time I volunteered at the Literacy Center. Time I gave a party. Time I thank my friends and family for still being there.

Conclusion

•Bring a friend, especially if it’s a diagnostic test.
•Ask if there is anything you should know, such as the PROTOCOL for that procedure.
•Bring a friend.
•Insist on being treated humanely.
•Find a mammogram center that offers reasonably quick results. You’d be surprised how many centers there are within a four-hour drive—easily worth it to get that-day results—and they are competitive. Not all centers keep you waiting a week and insurance is good at all of them.

Now, I find that I really don’t mind that cold late winter weather. I’m reassured that my post-radiation treatment choice of careful diet (mostly vegan), exercise, and high quality of life really has been, for me, so far, the best medicine.

A NOTE: Yesterday I got my cell phone bill: $60 for overtime minutes, in addition to my regular bill, the first time I have ever paid for overtime minutes in two years.

A Lump, the Second Time Around…..

It’s been four years since I finished my treatment for breast cancer—long enough for me to forget to be on high awareness mode and always take a friend when dealing with the world of hospitals and labs, even if things look relatively straight forward. After all, for four years, my routine mammograms had been clear.

Then, this past January while vacationing alone in Fort Lauderdale, I found a lump (explitives deleted). Thoughts assailed, almost simultaneously:

#1: I still have two weeks in glorious 70-80-degree weather while at home in Michigan temps are diving below zero….

#2: The lump is in the same breast that has survived three surgeries—two lumpectomies and one sentinel node removal—maybe it’s just scar tissue.

#3: What if it’s…cancer!?!??

#4 Yikes! What if I need surgery? My dad (a plastic surgeon) used to hate operating on radiated tissue. What if a radiated breast can’t heal? (Much later, after everything that follows here, my surgeon assured me that she could operate on a radiated breast, but the scarring would be worse.)

#5: More surgery on that side would no doubt result in huge, possibly life-long lymphedema in my right arm—the one I need to make art and books and support myself.

#6: What if I had to have chemo…I lucked out the first time, with just radiation.

What to do?

I decided, after some long walks on the beach, to wait until I got home in February and just get my annual mammogram, scheduled for March, a month early. That way I would relieve my mind if I was fine, and get the thing early if I wasn’t. I would remain calm and not ruin my remaining days with worry. And I wouldn’t tell anybody. Yet.

I thought, if I’m ok, why ruin my beautiful Florida vacation, and if I’m not ok, why ruin my beautiful Florida vacation?

Makes sense, doesn’t it? A simple solution.

Week One and Two

I stay in Florida, enjoy my vacation, and two weeks later, drive home.

Week Three

What follows is a 12-Step program I hope never to do again:

1) When I get home in February, I call the Women’s Center lab to make an appointment for my annual mammogram at the same place I have always gone. They say (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) it hadn’t been a year yet so my insurance won’t pay for it. I say that I thought I’d felt a lump and wanted to get my mammogram a month early. They say I need my surgeon’s orders for that.

2) So I call my surgeon’s office and I’m told (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) that they will fax the order to the lab.

3) Two days later, I call the Women’s Center lab to make the appointment. They tell me (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) that they never got the fax from my surgeon’s office and that they don’t give out their fax number to patients.

4) I call the surgeon’s office and (after ten minutes on hold, with staticky music and ads in my ear) I am told that they don’t have the fax number of the Women’s Center. What? I say. Lots of patients in this office use the Women’s Center! Well, we don’t have it. Ok, I say. Just send the orders to me in the mail. So I am told they will send it to me in the mail, after I give them my address, which apparently isn’t in my file?

5) I call the Women’s Center for the 3rd time and (after ten minutes on hold subjected to painfully staticky music and ads over my cell phone) I tell them I will bring in the doctor’s order and they let me make an appointment for a diagnostic (remember that word) mammogram, the first appointment available being in a week.

Week Four

I am still pretty calm, but I am getting irritated. How much hassle and anxious waiting can a high-risk breast cancer survivor take? I finally decide I need a support group and I share my discovery and concern with my guy and my best friend, who remain calm.

6) A week later, I still haven’t received the orders from the surgeon’s office and my appointment is in an hour. I frantically call the surgeon’s office and (after ten minutes on hold, with staticky music and ads in my ear), I am told not to worry, they are faxing it over to the mammogram lab right now. Somehow my breast cancer specialist surgeon’s office has discovered the Women’s Center fax number.

7) I arrive at the Women’s Center mammogram lab. I wait not much longer than I am usually on hold here, except there is no music or annoying advertising in my ear. A tv screen is running a video ad but I don’t look at it.

8) A very young tech with a bouncy manner takes me into the dressing room, where I change into the usual open-in-front (thankfully cloth, not paper) top gown and shortly I am in the mammogram room. It’s a different machine, I note: the new digital machine. I’m asked to tape a tiny bb to the place where I feel the lump. My breasts are then mashed between two transparent plastic plates, which the tech closes tighter and tighter with a foot pump. I don’t mind. I’ve been through so much worse. Just tell me I’m ok.

The perky tech lets me look at the pictures on digital screen. I see the bb is right in the middle of what looks like a small smiling scar. There are larger scars as well and I can see the row of staples that were used to hold the internal incisions together and are still there. I can’t see anything in any of the pictures that looks lumpish. I am relieved.

I asked the tech if she could have the mammograms read while I wait. But no, she says, the radiologist is not in. But, she says, (and this is important): “If there is a problem, we will call you in a day or two. Otherwise you will get the results in the mail in about a week.”

Do these people know how we whose lives are at stake here hang on every single word? Don’t they realize that what they say or don’t say is important? This is a Woman’s Center. This is a Mammogram Center. The last time I came for a diagnostic mammogram, I was diagnosed with cancer.

“Oh dear,” she says, hearing the word “diagnostic.” “This mammogram has not been tagged as diagnostic. If it’s not, your insurance won’t cover it, since it hasn’t been a year since your last one.” She leaves the room and comes back declaring that she has done something on the computer that has changed the tag from routine to diagnostic. Whew!

This tech, though seemingly awfully young, is courteous and kind and she lets me see all the pictures, which is a first, but she misspoke.

Week Five

9) I am feeling pretty stressed as I wait for my lab results, but I have been here before. As the days pass….day one, day two, day three, day four, day five….I begin to relax. After all, if something was wrong, they’d have called by now, right? That’s what the tech said and believe me, I was listening.

10) Day six, almost a week later (still no report in my mailbox), I get a call from the Women’s Center. I am to come back in for more tests right away. How about tomorrow morning at ten?

I stop breathing.

Somehow I manage to ask the caller if the mammogram had been positive, but she would not tell me. “I can’t give out that information,” she says. “You just need to come in for an ultrasound.”

This time, after I hang up, I lose it. Finally, for the first time, I weep. I weep just writing about it. I feel the blood in my body replaced by a gush of explosive anxiety. I call my brother. I call my girlfriend. I beg comfort from the man in my life. No one knows what to do with me.

11) Day Six of Week Five: I go back to the Women’s Center for an ultrasound. Two girlfriends have volunteered to go with me but, knowing that an ultrasound is painless, I turn them down. A mistake. When I am this anxious, I really need someone to be there, not just for support but to observe, be a second pair of eyes and ears, a witness. But I worry that I’ll break down and embarrass myself. I don’t want to be observed myself.

The tech for the ultrasound is a mature person who immediately tunes in on what I’m feeling. It turns out she is a two-year breast cancer survivor herself. I am by now having a hard time keeping it together. She does the test thoroughly and afterward I ask her if I will have to wait another week for the results.

“Probably,” she says. And I choke out, “I want to see them now.”

“I understand,” she says. “I’m not going to let you leave here like this. I’ll see what I can do.”

Not more than five minutes later (less time than I am usually kept on hold and subjected to staticky music and ads), the tech returns with the radiologist, who is looking annoyed. “Your tests are all fine,” he says.

“You mean, the mammogram was negative as well? No tumor?”

“Both the mammogram and the ultrasound were clear,” he says.

“If the mammogram was okay, why was I called back in?”

“It’s protocol,” he tells me. “If there’s a question of a lump, we have to do a mammogram and an ultrasound, followed by a visit to your doctor.”

“SO WHY WASN’T I TOLD THIS?”I ask. “Why was I led to believe that my cancer had recurred?” 

“It’s protocol,” he says.

And what was the lump?

“Scar tissue from the sentinel node dissection.”

Week Six

12) Normally after receiving good mammogram news—my “get-out-of-jail-for-another-year” card—I celebrate. I go out and party with my friends. This time, though, after calling whoever knew by now and letting them know I was okay, I still can’t stop shaking inside. I read online an article published online this very day about a study of the cortisol levels of women waiting for the biopsy results. Women who were made to wait over 5 days for their test results, whether the news was good or bad, had the same high cortisol (stress hormone) levels as women diagnosed with breast cancer. There was concern expressed that these high cortisol levels threatened these women’s resistance to disease and, if they actually needed treatment, made their recovery more difficult.

(Even without the two weeks I waited to begin this process, if I’d had to wait another week for the ultrasound results, it would have been a MONTH from my call to schedule a mammogram to the day I got my results! It’s not hard to imagine what my cortisol levels would have been then!)

This week, I find myself depressed and weepy. I do irrational things and take offense at things that, I find out later, have a much different explanation than I assumed. I come close to offending friends and clients. I work out at the health club four times this week, trying to let off steam.

Week Seven

Hallelujah, I am OKAY! At last, I am back to normal and feeling so lucky to be in this world and not re-diagosed with breast cancer. I decide it’s time I volunteered at the Literacy Center. Time I gave a party. Time I thank my friends and family for still being there.

Conclusion

•Bring a friend, especially if it’s a diagnostic test.
•Ask if there is anything you should know, such as the PROTOCOL for that procedure.
•Bring a friend.
•Insist on being treated humanely.
•Find a mammogram center that offers reasonably quick results. You’d be surprised how many centers there are within a four-hour drive—easily worth it to get that-day results—and they are competitive. Not all centers keep you waiting a week and insurance is good at all of them.

Now, I find that I really don’t mind that cold late winter weather. I’m reassured that my post-radiation treatment choice of careful diet (mostly vegan), exercise, and high quality of life really has been, for me, so far, the best medicine.

A NOTE: Yesterday I got my cell phone bill: $60 for overtime minutes, in addition to my regular bill, the first time I have ever paid for overtime minutes in two years.

I Learn to Stay Alert in the Medical World

My experience this morning at a diagnostic laboratory, where I went after a twelve-hour fast (no food no fluids) for routine blood tests, reminded me to take nothing for granted when I’m in the medical world.

This morning’s experience was of small consequence: My health was not threatened. But I was puzzled when the technician took only one vial of blood. I had read the sheet from my doctor, which I didn’t understand at all, but which showed three checked areas: two for blood and one for urine. So I asked the technician if one vial was enough. Sure, she said, pulling out the needle. I pointed to the second group of checkmarks on the form. “Oh I didn’t see those!” she exclaimed, and had to poke me again.

That’s no big deal. At worst, I would have had to go back another day, after another 12-hour fast. The reason I caught that mistake, however, was more serious. I learned to stay alert more than two months ago, on the day of my surgical lumpectomy. Let me recount it here:

The Day of My Surgical Lumpectomy
 

11:00 a.m. at the Women’s Center Diagnostic Lab. I am scheduled, I’m told by my surgeon, for a mammogram before surgery. She felt the first mammogram wasn’t clear enough. The lab is on the other side of town from the hospital where my surgery is scheduled and where I have to be by 12:00 noon. I have had nothing to eat or drink since midnight. I ‘ve taken no one with me for this appointment because, heck, it’s just a mammogram, and I was assured I could easily drive the twenty minutes to the hospital to arrive on time. So in no way am I prepared for what is going to happen.

I arrive on time. First, a nurse takes me to a room where the stereoscoptic biopsies are done. This room contains an elevated table with a hole for the breast to hang through. It’s very odd. I’d investigated this procedure because very early on, right after my first mammogram, it had been prescribed by the radiologist, but my surgeon decided on a surgical biopsy instead. So this is not the right room

Soon recognizing this, the nurse takes me not to a mammogram room but ultrasound. Fine with me. Ultrasound is more comfortable than a mammogram. The technician runs a sort of computer mouse over my breast, takes a bunch of pictures, calls in the radiologist, who checks things over. I ask whether they can have the films ready for me to get to the hospital in half an hour. No problem, the tech tells me. She just has to print them.

Suddenly the radiologist tells me he is going to have to “insert a wire” , a 45-minute procedure. The nurse begins leading me into yet another room.

It’s too much. I burst into tears. Not only was I not told anything about a wire, but it is already 11:30, I’ll be late for surgery, and worse, it’s my impression that the radiologist is going to insert it in the wrong lump. I don’t know if this misunderstanding is due to my surgeon’s illegible handwriting or if he is just confused by the fact that I have two lumps–one that I found myself, which took me in to be checked in the first place, and the one found by the subsequent mammogram. My surgeon told me that she wasn’t concerned about the lump I found, but she’d put an X with a felt pen on the new one so the radiologist would know where to concentrate.

Things feel out of control. I don’t think I can handle a “45-minute procedure” and I also am late for surgery. The nurse is very sweet and very concerned. The radiologist can’t deal with me. He calls my surgeon, who says to just give me the films and I can take them to the hospital with me. The lump is palpable (she can feel it) and close to the surface, she says, so she won’t need a wire.

12:00 noon at the hospital amulatory surgery department. Before noon I am home and am quickly picked up by my friend Judy who has volunteered to be with me through this experience. Thank God I didn’t try to do this alone. Judy and I go up to Amulatory Surgery and I am checked in, asked if I’ve brought the films, and shortly shown into a room with two beds and a tv. I put the film envelope on the bedside table and change into my gown and get into bed.

It’s not even 12:30 and my surgery isn’t scheduled until 1:45. I pull up the flannel sheets and the nurse comes in to put in the IV. I ask her to put it in the vein inside my elbow, as all my others are small and very painful if IV-ed. But she insisted on the back of my hand. It bruises the entire back of my hand. For the next hour and a half, I feel as if I am getting a typhoid shot (I’ve had several of those) that won’t quit.

The anethesiologist comes in, a middle-aged man, who explains to me what will be used, asks if I’ve had anything to drink and I admit to a few small sips. He is not pleased and makes me drink some horrible-tasting fluid. My surgeon comes in to say that I am next. I’ve checked on her credentials and I also like her–she’s upfront, no nonsense, all energy. She only does breast surgery and has been doing it for years. I’m not worried about her.

I wait. I am feeling crazy. I need to go to the bathroom but there isn’t one. Judy goes exploring, then helps me get my gown decent as I wheel my IV pole across and down the hall, which apparently I shouldn’t need, as no one had mentioned one. I am cold, so Judy goes back into the hall, hails a nurse, who brings me a pile of warmed flannel sheets.

1:45: At last, a team comes in to get me. But wait! Judy and I hear voices out in the hall. “We’re taking them out of order!” a voice says. The team vanishes. I have more waiting to do. I try to watch tv but I’m beginning to feel crazy. I pace the smallroom with my IV pole. I think I can’t stand it, trussed up like this. Judy says she’s never seen anyone so hyperactive, and she’s sat with plenty of others in similar circumstances.

At last they come for me. “Where are your films?” asks a nurse. I don’t know. I’d brought the folder from the morning’s film-shoot, the one they gave me, and I’d put it on the bedside table. “It was there,” Judy said, “and then someone put it in the rack on the door.” But it isn’t in the rack. No one can find it. They look for, maybe ten minutes. My surgeon appears, says she doesn’t need the films, and she’ll operate without them. Yikes. If she doesn’t need them, why did I go through that awful morning?

But I am not in control here. I am wheeled out the door, Judy squeezes my hand, and off I go down a series of surprisingly cold hallways to a small operating room, where I shift myself on to a very narrow, padded table. Both my arms are stretched straight out and strapped down. I feel like a crucifix. People I’ve never seen before surround me. One, I’m told, is my anethesiologist–somebody younger than I remembered. He introduces himself, explaining that he is taking the place of the one I met earlier.

And then I’m out. Bam. No time to count backward, just gone.

Next thing I know, I’m struggling to wake up. I’m sitting up in a wheelchair, and my surgeon is trying to talk to me. Judy is standing next to me. “It doesn’t look good,” I hear my surgeon say. “But don’t worry. We can always do a mastectomy.”

Holy shit! A mastectomy? I thought that was for the worst cases! I thought they did lumpectomies unless you were in really bad shape! I burst into tears. My surgeon is not cruel. She’s trying to be reassuring. But she also tells it like it is, and later I find I am grateful for this. Now, however, I am not reassured.

The surgeon leaves and a nurse asks me how I feel. I ask if anyone has found my films. Yes, she says. And where were they? I ask. That’s not important, she says. Judy says to me, I’ll bet they were in the operating room on someone’s cart! (Judy was right. When I later ask my surgeon where they were found, she tells me they were on the cart of the person who was taken out of order before me.)

As soon as I can walk, Judy takes me home. Home feels like heaven.

Two weeks later…I get a call from the Diagnostic Department wondering where my film envelope is. They’ve just found the films taken the day of my surgery. It appears that not only was the film envelope misplaced in pre-op, but the ultrasound films taken that morning weren’t even in it. I still had the film envelope, checked and sure enough, the ultrasound films were missing. I returned the envelope to the diagnostic people.

Fortunately, my health was not affected by any of this, but so many errors in my care were hardly reassuring and made my experience in the hospital unnecessarily frighening. A dependable level of trust helps one maintain courage when one’s well-being and even life may be at stake. Stay tuned for my relumpectomy a month later in the same hospital…and how learning how to take care of myself in pre-op pays off.

Mary logs her recent experience with breast cancer.

I decided to log my experience. I began my log soon after my first lumpectomy–waiting in pre-op had driven me nuts. I couldn’t watch tv or talk to my good friend Judy who was there to hold my hand, and, as it turned out, be my witness to events no one believed until we both swore they happened. So when it turned out I needed a second lumpectomy plus the removal of who knew how many underarm nodes, I bought something to write in. It turned out that writing kept me calm. I just went on and on describing what was happening, what I was hearing, feeling, fearing, and otherwise dealing with. It was a lifesaver for me.

So find here my story. It may take me some time to write it all down, but I was so hungry to find answers to my many questions, and the experience was for me so full of surprises and unexpected challenges, that I thought I might share it here. If you know someone who might find it interesting or beneficial, please clue them in.