30 years ago, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with a relatively benign congenital heart arrhythmia. It has been treated very effectively with medication for all those years. Occasionally, I will have a breakthrough arrhythmia and must go back to the doctor for further testing and a change in medicine.
A few months ago, I had to do that very thing. Little did I know that this rather routine occurrence may have saved my life.
Life Saving decision
You see, while I was having to go to the hospital for an echocardiogram, I decided to schedule a long overdue mammogram. As far as I know, the heart test came back fine although I still have not met with the cardiologist to tell me definitively that it is good. My appointment with the heart doctor is just around the corner, but, oddly enough, my breakthrough arrhythmias have stopped.
What I was not expecting was a call from the hospital that they wanted to repeat the mammogram and do a breast ultrasound. “Hum, I never had that happen before,” I thought to myself. When I hung up the phone, I knew it would lead to a breast biopsy. Not because they told me it would, but I just had a feeling.
After the tests the radiologist came in to talk to me, and he said what I instinctively knew. I needed a breast biopsy. He told me that he was faxing the results to my doctor and I should expect to hear back from her within a day or two to schedule the biopsy.
Advocate for yourself
After a few days of not hearing from my doctor, I called her office and left a message. Another few days and still nothing, so I called her office again. Two weeks would pass and still not a word.
The next time I would hear from anyone it would be the hospital wondering why I have not set up a time for my biopsy. They were shocked to hear that my doctor had not responded to the radiologist request for the biopsy nor had they responded to my phone calls. They decided to schedule the biopsy around my doctor, and I decided I needed a new doctor.
A few days later I went to the hospital and had my long-awaited biopsy. Whoever said waiting is the hardest part is wrong. Hearing your now ‘new’ doctor tell you that you have cancer over the phone while you are standing in the middle of the grocery store is definitely harder.
I just wanted to give in to the news that I have cancer and have myself a heartfelt cry, but I was surrounded by a lot of people. To make matters worse, all the computers on the checkout line were broken and I had to stand there while I waited for them to be fixed. It was probably only five minutes, but it seemed like eternity. All I wanted to do was burst out of the store, call my husband and cry. Which is exactly what I did the minute I was checked out and could leave.
As life’s mysteries would have it, my new doctor just called to check on me just as I was typing the last paragraph. What a difference a good doctor can make. Anyway, I digress.
The next step involved finding an oncologist/surgeon I could trust. I had a good idea where I would go because two of my friends had gone down this road before me. One friend named Laine had the same kind of cancer I have two years ago, and another close friend, Kathy, was diagnosed one year ago this month also with the same cancer. These two brave women would be my touchstone to the world of breast cancer and with their help, I have landed at The University of Tennessee Breast Cancer Center.
I am ashamed to say this, but even though I have two close friends over the course of the last two years go through breast cancer, I did not schedule a mammogram for myself. In fact, my last breast check up was four years ago.
Not So Little Miracle
I am convinced that if my heart arrhythmia did not act up that I still would not have had a mammogram. My life was literally a heartbeat away from falling through the cracks of cancer. Even though my doctors think we caught it early, do not be like me. Get your yearly screenings, whatever they may be. Prostate; mammogram; colon.
Many tests and another biopsy later, my diagnosis for survival looks good. In mid-July I will have surgery to remove the cancer followed by a month of radiation. I will also be on a maintenance medicine for 5 years and will have to have routine cancer screenings every three to six months. None of this upsets me. What does upset me is how close I came to not finding this early.
Since I have been diagnosed, I have heard from countless people struggling with cancer and right here in our community I have talked to three other ladies who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. All of them fairly young and one of them in her early 30s with very young children.
The Big Lesson
In short, I waited to have a mammogram, I waited for the doctor to call me to schedule the biopsy, I waited on the results and now I am waiting on surgery and the treatments. I am not a patient person and waiting is difficult, but, hearing you have cancer is even harder. Which is why I think so many people like myself put off testing. But there is something a lot harder than hearing you have cancer and that is hearing you have inoperable untreatable cancer and it could have been cured had you caught it early.
The lessons I have learned through this ordeal are priceless.
1. You have control of your health.
2. Get a good doctor.
3. Have regular exams.
And finally, you never know what someone is going through. That person in the checkout line, who seems quiet or frustrated may have just heard they have cancer. Therefore, be kind to everyone.
Oh and one more lesson, Life is mysterious.