Peace Of Mind

The steamy hot shower felt incredibly good, until I found a lump the size of a marble in my right breast. After that, nothing felt good at all.

My first thought, of course, was that I was a dead woman – not that I had cancer and would die a slow lingering death over the course of a few years, but that I would die within the week, if not immediately.

Yes, I realize my thought process was not the least bit rational. Cancer doesn’t grow that fast, I know. I have a Ph.D. in biology with a background that includes cancer research. I know.

I was terrified, though. Rationality and terror avoid each other. They are not friends. And since terror was in charge, Rich and I rushed to Urgent Care that same morning for my catastrophic emergency rather than waiting a week to see my regular doctor.

I had an exam (it didn’t feel like a “bad” lump), an ultrasound (it was solid, not a cyst), and a mammogram.

[source]

We had to wait for the mammography results.

For those of you blissfully ignorant, the technicians that manhandle, flatten, and take x-rays of your boobs don’t read the films. We had to wait for the radiologist to read the films and then report back to the surgeon who did my original exam.

And wait we did.

For a long time.

The expansive waiting room held little by way of entertainment. Rich and I were both too worried for small talk. The magazines sucked, not that I could concentrate on reading anyway. The dearth of distractions left me alone with some pretty dark thoughts: A toddler not yet two, my Conor, without a mother. Rich growing old, without me. I didn’t even have a diagnosis yet, but I was already envisioning my funeral. Should I –

“Stace, it’s time,” Rich said, startling me out of my overblown fear spiral.

Hand in hand, we followed the nurse towards the office to face the future, for better or for worse.

The surgeon ushered us in, sat us down, and immediately smiled. Relief engulfed us as we listened to the results. The mammogram was negative. The lump appeared to be a fibroadenoma, a benign growth common in young women. No follow-up would be required.

I didn’t have cancer after all.

That answer transformed me from a dead woman into one very much alive, one with a bright future.

That beautiful perfect answer fueled me for more than a month.

But the lump didn’t disappear. They don’t, you know.

Ever so slowly, a nagging feeling crept in, took hold, and refused to let go. It forced me to think.

Sure, I got the answer I wanted.

However, when not gripped with terror, I am rational – extremely so.  I’m also thorough. I wasn’t the least bit concerned, after the previous results. All the same, I knew I needed a second opinion, just to be certain.

I made an appointment to see another surgeon, an actual breast surgeon not a general surgeon. He also thought the lump was benign but insisted on doing a surgical biopsy because even a benign lump didn’t have any business lodging in my breast. I agreed.

He called it “Peace of Mind Surgery.”

Only it wasn’t, for me.

For me, it was cancer.

_______

October is breast cancer awareness month. I was 34 years old when a doctor missed my cancer diagnosis. I wouldn’t be here, more than 14 years later, if I hadn’t gotten a second opinion. Doctors make mistakes. Do self exams. Get mammograms, if appropriate. If you have a lump, insist on a biopsy.  A biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose breast cancer.  Be your own advocate in every health situation. Your diligence could save your life.

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114 Responses to “Peace Of Mind”

  1. MelanieOctober 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    You are amazing and I am so choked up right now with more emotions than I can begin to put into words. Cancer is terrifying and your story reminds me of sitting with my newborn son while my older son played with his friends over at a girlfriend’s house. My mother called to tell me that her primary care physician had diagnosed what oncologists and emergency rooms had been missing for months. It wasn’t positive yet – but it was and I knew in that second that nothing in my life would ever be the same. And it hasn’t been. My world is so much less bright and happy now than it was that March afternoon when I woke up with a healthy mother and went to sleep with a mom who had cancer and would be gone in less than 9 months. I cherish you, your life, and your battle and am so very grateful right now that you took charge and made the right choice and are here to tell the rest of us what we should do for ourselves.

    • StacieOctober 6, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

      I’m so very sorry about your mother. Nothing can make that better. You are a strong amazing mother yourself. Your Mom would be so proud of you, I know!

  2. AnjaOctober 7, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    It’s so important to share this, even though I am close to tears right now. My friend is still fighting the same battle, even though her doctors are doing an excellent job. They found hers during a routine check-up, that’s why I can only recommend going to regular check-ups, even if you have to pay for them.
    Still, I feel helpless because there is just no way to really help. It just sucks.

    • StacieOctober 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      Anja, I am so sorry about your friend. I hope she does well. Please know that you are helping her just by being there for her. If you need tasks, you can bring her a meal, you can offer to drive her somewhere, go with her somewhere, watch her kids (if she has them), walk her dog (if she has one), etc. Most of my friends disappeared when I was undergoing treatment. It’s not that they didn’t care, they did. I think they were just paralyzed, not knowing what to do or what to say.

  3. Andrea@WellnessNotesOctober 8, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you for sharing your story and for reminding us all that we have to be our own health advocates!

    • StacieOctober 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      I have always talked about it for that very reason!

  4. MamaCassOctober 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Wow. I’m sorry you went through that but glad you’re alive to tell about it! Xo

    • StacieOctober 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Thank you!

  5. MelissaOctober 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    W.O.W. I’m speechless. So was not expecting the end. (kinda freaks me out, because next week I’m having a colonscopy for “peace of mind” after bleeding. Dr is sure it’s nothing, but let’s just be sure. Now, I’m a bit freaked!)

  6. Emma @Your Doctor's WifeMarch 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    EEEK!!! I have two friends going through cancer- one breast cancer. I’m so freaked out by it, I’m fondling my tas ALL THE TIME!
    I’m so happy you got that second opinion!!

  7. Chris CarterMarch 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Oh my… I gasped in horror at the end of this post. What the? I have heard this story too many times, how women trust their gut and get a second opinion and it IS cancer. Thanking God you trusted your gut and had that “Peace of mind surgery”!!!! Amazing story…

  8. AdrienneMarch 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Oh my. My throat just closed up at the end. How are you doing now? I’m so glad you got a second opinion! This was perfectly written! I felt like I was right there with you.

  9. Kristen DaukasMarch 12, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    Kudos to you for listening to your gut and getting the 2nd opinion. I’m the same way with irrational fears but you’ve just proven to me that sometimes those irrational fears lead us to rational decisions and yours was lifesaving. I hope all continues to be well with you 🙂

  10. hillaryMarch 14, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    OH my goodness! The ending was such a twist. I am so glad you got that second opinion. Holy cow. And, it sounds like you were being rational. That’s called intuition.

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