• 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 79 (Diagnosis Story: Part 1 – The First Mammogram)

    The best protection

    Sunday, September 28, 2014

    Day 79 of 100 Days of Good Karma.

    Someone asked how I found the lump, and what brought me to the doctor.  I wish I could say it was as simple as finding a lump in the shower and I was at the doctor the next day.

    Unfortunately, the story isn’t that cut and dry.

    My very first mammogram happened a few years ago.

    I was about 30 years old, and I thought I felt a lump in my left breast.

    Even though it scared the shit out of me I scheduled a mammogram just like I thought I was supposed to.

    I went through the pushing and pulling and man-handling and squeezing and compressing and the ‘take a breath – hold it’ rigmarole of breast imaging.

    I’d heard older women joke about the misery of mammograms before, but this was my first time experiencing it first hand.

    Let’s just say it was an educational experience.

    After the scans were over I sat in an exam room waiting for the doctor to come in.  I was wearing the obligatory hospital gown top (open to the front!), feeling cold and bruised and ridiculous.  I just wanted this whole thing to be over.

    The doctor came in and had me remove the top.  He very brusquely asked, “Where is the lump?”

    I pointed.  The doctor and nurse stared at my chest.

    I had the distinct feeling the doctor thought I was wasting his time.   I think he even made a comment about my young age.

    I will never forget the stomach roiling humiliation of that moment.

    I chastised myself for being there at all.  Thirty year old women, I told myself, do not find lumps in their breasts.

    Now I know differently.

    It is very hard to maintain that there might be something medically wrong when you find yourself sitting half naked in front of a strange man.

    All I wanted was to put my shirt on and creep away.  Instead I tried to get ahold of myself.

    This was important, damn it.

    The doctor peered closer and then felt around some.  I felt my face flame.  This guy had had the bedside manner of a Neanderthal.

    I don’t remember if they showed me the images or not.  It was too long ago.

    I do remember him examining me and saying, “There is a lot of dense breast tissue.  But a lot of women have dense breast tissue.”

    Thinking I was in the clear, I gratefully put my shirt back on and went along my merry way.

    Over the next four years, any time I felt the lump in the shower I reassured myself, “It’s just dense breast tissue.  A doctor said so.”

    Fast forward to 2014:  I have Stage 3 breast cancer, and the ‘dense breast tissue’ he talked about is the largest of the two tumors.

    In retrospect, yes the lump changed.  But it changed so gradually over four years that I barely noticed.  The only reason I feel a change is because the lump is now changing back, growing smaller and softer.

    I don’t know why the lump wasn’t biopsied back then then.  I figured hey, they’re the experts, and so moved on.

    Any time the lump came up during an annual physical, I told my doctor I’d had the lump checked and it was just dense breast tissue.

    I thought the lump was a known quantity.  Just a weird but common irregularity in my body.

    I don’t know if the lump was cancer then.  If it wasn’t, it became cancer later, growing and spreading in a quiet and insidious way.

    After being diagnosed this year, I found out that at least three other women I know went to the same imaging place and were also told there wasn’t a problem.

    All three had breast cancer.

    Two of these women are no longer living.

    One was my friend Patti.

    Today’s silver lining: Even though I kick myself for those years when I might have been able to do something about the lump, I’m glad I caught the cancer now before it could spread even further into my body. 

    I won’t put the name of the first imaging center here (I prefer not to get sued).  But if you live in this area, I’d be happy to steer you in the direction of a good imaging center for your breast diagnostic needs.

    So that’s how the lump was found the first time.

    Please, if you feel that there is something wrong, do not let a doctor make you feel stupid or too young or like the problem is in your head.

    Be braver than I was.  Push back.  Ask questions.  Get a second opinion.

    I know it’s hard, but your life is worth it.

    Stay tuned for Part 2 of the story:  what brought me back to the doctor.

    What’s your silver lining today?  I love comments!

    xoxo,
    Meghan

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14 Responsesso far.

  1. Lori Carreon says:

    I think this will help more people be aware and fight for answers when it comes to their health. Like you, I would have thought, no, I’m only 30 and not pressed the issue. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Michale Bauer says:

    Meghan, writing about your experience will save others who discover a lump. Doctors should take every precaution when it comes to potential breast cancer. It really ticks me off that your original doctor wasn’t proactive!!!

    I firmly believe women should have a female gynecologist and when it’s time to have mammograms, these should be read by a female radiologist. If your mammogram had been performed at the Victory Breast Diagnostics & Women’s Imaging center and Dr. Susan Gaskill reviewed the images, Meghan I’m positive she would have ordered an ultrasound. And if it was “something that needed to be monitored” Dr. Gaskill would have wanted follow-up mammograms to watch the lump. I used the other imaging center in the Clear Lake area, but my gynecologist is the one who switched to Victory. I’ve had two surgeries … one I knew of the lump (was a fibroadenoma) and the other Dr. Gaskill found. After a biopsy and an MRI, she left it up to me and the surgeon … monitor it or lump removal. Hey, it’s scary when you’re told the cells are questionable and the tumor is receiving a good blood supply. So I opted for lump removal. I was so relieved that it wasn’t cancer. If I had opted for monitoring, it was probably just a matter of time to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I now have routine mammograms and ultrasounds done at Victory.

    Meghan, thanks for sharing your life and experiences. Your strength and humor are priceless!

    • Meghan says:

      Thank you, Michale. It’s frustrating when medical professionals don’t take patients seriously. It’s a tough reminder that they are human and make mistakes, too. Luckily I found a team that does take me seriously.

  3. Pam says:

    THANK YOU for posting this. My mother is also being treated for breast cancer, two years after being told the lump she found is just dense tissue. Like you, that lump turned out to be the largest tumor. If it wasn’t for the fact that she weighs 98 pounds and could SEE the lump getting bigger, it would have taken even longer to get a doctor’s attention.

    As women, it’s hard to push back when a doctor brushes off your concern but we need to do it, for ourselves and the other women in our lives. I’ve gone with her to every oncologist’s appointment and treatment and we don’t leave until we both fully understand anything we discuss with the medical staff and have answers to all our questions. I get eyerolls occasionally when I make them repeat things, but I am beyond caring about whether I try someone’s patience.

    • Meghan says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your mother, but I am glad that you are communicating with her medical team. It’s a tough situation for everyone involved, whether patient or caregiver. I don’t know how I’d handle this without my husband and my friends there to support me. Your mother is lucky to have you as an advocate. 🙂

  4. Cindy Smith says:

    I am so sorry that your doctor didn’t do more to check it out and make certain way back then! He should have known better. After all, he is a doctor. And it is always better to be safe, than sorry. After a few bad experiences of my own, I’ve learned that no one will speak up for me except for me. But even knowing this it is still difficult sometimes, after all we don’t want to be known as or to become hypochondriacs. And I wonder sometimes if it is just because we are women or what. Why don’t they believe us? I wish I could say that these types of doctors are far and few between, but sadly they are not.

    My mother had similar issues with her doctor many, many years ago and then one day I read an article and knew instantly what she had and fortunately she had an appt not long after reading it. I took the article with me and after he researched it, he agreed with me. I wish I could say he treated me better after I started seeing him, but no. I truly don’t believe he was reading the x-ray results. How could a rheumatologist miss rheumatoid arthritis that was eating away at my hip when it was so clearly shown on the x-rays? And sadly, I had another bad experience with an ill-informed doctor when pregnant with Heather and was too young and inexperienced to know that I should have questioned his opinion.

    • Meghan says:

      I’m so sorry you had such a hard time with doctor’s. It’s definitely frustrating when our medical concerns are brushed off. I try and remember that doctors are human, and therefore make mistakes, too. This is why it’s so important to be your own health advocate.

      • Cindy says:

        Yes, it can be frustrating. And I do have to remind myself that they are human too. Our primary took 4 weeks off in August and I needed to follow up with her after an ER visit and, of course, was initially annoyed. But quickly reminded myself that she has a family and needs some time for them as well.

        But when they don’t listen, that is a problem. That is why I try really hard to ensure that they hear us and understand exactly what is going on. It sucks to get old sometimes, but it is definitely better than the alternative.

  5. Monica says:

    Well, as I told you before, I too have a lump, and they said it’s just fibrous tissue, but I’m gonna go back and have them do a biopsy on it. I get my mammograms done at The Rose Diagnostic Center off of Fuqua.

    • Meghan says:

      It’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’ve never been to the Rose Diagnostic Center, so I can’t speak to that facility, but don’t let them push you around (knowing you, I doubt that’s a problem). If you’re concerned, have it checked.

  6. Miranda Hawkinson says:

    Oh my gosh! Your story is so scary. I am so sorry. I think your advice to ask questions and get second opinions is the best advice I have ever heard.

    My silver lining for today was, just like every week day, how ridiculously excited my kids get when they first make eye contact with me when I pick them up from school 🙂

    You take care…

    • Meghan says:

      Hi, Miranda! Welcome to the blog. Yay for your silver lining! I love after school hugs from my kids, too.

      Yeah, the story is scary. Made even scarier that no one is exempt from this happening. No one.

      Know your body, and be brave with your doctors. If you ever feel like you’re not getting answers to your questions, seek out another doctor. Most of them want to help. That’s why they got into the business in the first place.

  7. […]  I've written Part 1 and Part 2 of my Diagnosis Story.  This post is the last part of that story–the day I found out I […]

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