The Mammogram, the Ultrasound, and ‘the Look’

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#3 in a series)

It was a mammogram unlike any I had before. Some women find mammograms painful or embarrassing, but they never really bothered me. However, this was not a routine mammogram. This one was scheduled because I found a large lump in my right breast. This time I knew there was something in particular that needed closer examination, and I was not quite as nonchalant about the whole process.

After changing into the gown, I was ushered into the mammogram room and asked to point out the lump. Other than that, there was no difference in the way the procedure was performed. Then I proceeded to a small waiting area, still in the gown, to await an unseen doctor’s opinion.

Soon a nurse informed me that the doctor requested an ultrasound of the right breast. Her face was difficult to read, giving no hint of urgency. She inquired about my schedule, but by now I was seeing red flags. That schedule suddenly became irrelevant, as the lump in my breast moved to the top of my ‘to do’ list.

A quick call to work to tell them of my delay, plus a phone call to a worried husband, and I found myself in the ultrasound room.

Breast Cancer Fact: Ultrasounds Can Help Distinguish Between Cysts and Solid Masses
From BreastCancer.About.com: “Ultrasounds produce sharp, high-contrast images. In dense breast tissue, the ultrasound can create an image that often allows a doctor to distinguish between a fluid-filled cyst and a solid mass. Often, breast abnormalities that are suspected to be cancerous after a mammogram can be identified as benign with a follow-up ultrasound examination. Benign breast abnormalities can include cysts and plugged milk ducts. If your doctor sends you for an ultrasound, it doesn’t always mean that you have cancer — just that a clearer picture of your breast is needed.”

The friendly, young technician who performed the ultrasound took time to explain what she was doing and periodically checked on my comfort level. An ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless procedure, and Stephanie chatted animatedly with me and with an observant trainee. She was very thorough, working with precision and confidence, while recording dozens of images.

After completing the task to her satisfaction, Stephanie wanted her trainee to have a turn. As they traded places, they exchanged “the look.” You know the one I mean. It’s never good when other people in the room exchange “the look” with each other, but not with you. I had a feeling the day was about to get more intense.

Then it was off to meet Dr. H in Diagnostic Radiology. The results of my mammogram from 13 months ago, along with the new one, were displayed on the screen. Even a layperson like me could see the obvious changes.

In his best “it’s not good news but I don’t want to scare you” voice, Dr. H informed me that in addition to the large mass I discovered at the 12 o’clock position on the breast, there was another, smaller mass at the 10 o’clock position. By the looks of the mammogram and the ultrasound, he was quite certain they were not cysts or blocked ducts. He was friendly and empathetic, speaking in a soft, calm voice, but something in his manner implied that he knew more than he could say at the moment.

The biopsy was scheduled for the very next day. The fast-track didn’t bode well, but I was determined to remain calm and hopeful.

I hadn’t asked many questions about the biopsy, probably because I didn’t expect things to get that far. I’ve always been told that I have very dense breast tissue, so I was more than willing to believe that would contribute to a false result.

Rather than phone my husband with this bombshell, I skipped work and drove straight home to deliver the news in person, all the while figuring the biopsy would be the end, not the beginning.

After careful consideration, we decided not to tell the family about the situation until we received biopsy results. No sense worrying anybody over nothing.

As I crawled into bed that night, I reminded myself that most breast lumps are noncancerous. I wanted to ease my husband’s level of concern, but knew it was a futile effort. He’d already seen me through so much, and I did not want to believe I was taking him down that road again. If we must travel that road, at least I had the comfort of knowing we would travel it together.

The biopsy would take place exactly one week after I first discovered the lump. Time was beginning to move oh, so slowly. One way or another, that biopsy promised to be a turning point.

Author’s Note: This is article is part of a series chronicling my first-hand patient perspective of life with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Without being overly self-indulgent, I hope to convey the raw emotion that comes with such a diagnosis… and the process of living with and beyond it. Entries will appear in Care2 Causes and in Care2 Healthy & Green Living. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
#1 The Lump in my Breast: Meeting the Enemy
#2 Most Breast Lumps are Non-Cancerous: Would mine be?

Access the up-to-date Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series

For More Information:
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
American Cancer Society
BreastCancer.org

 

Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com

41 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R5 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Leonard H.
Leonard H.10 months ago

Hello I’m Leonald Huck, I want to say a very special thanks to Dr.Aknimo for helping me get cured from Cancer disease , I was almost in a state of death last month that i could not even do anything on my own without the help of someone. On a very faithful evening i was trying to check the internet for the recent news in the society when i came across a man giving his testimonies of what Dr Aknimo has done for him and his household, so i quickly collected his mail and decided to give it a trial. I contacted him and told him of my dying state and my predicament and he sent me some medicines through D H L and instructed me on how to take them, which i did, and behold after two weeks i noticed some slight change in my body and i went to the hospital and discovered that i was cured completely now today am a living testimony. Then i said to myself that i am still going to share my own testimony so that for those who have lost all hope, kindly contact him today through his email he can help you, draknimosolutiontemple@gmail.com Or you call him on his mobile number 2349080606667. He’s waiting to help you.
Warmest Regards!!

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Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Matt M.
Matt M.6 years ago

Ann, thanks for sharing your story. I am a radiologist (physician) specializing in breast imaging (mammo, ultrasound, and MRI). I deal with this on a daily basis. To answer a prior question of why not just do an ultrasound: mammography and ultrasound are complementary ways to look at tissue. Mammography gives a global view of the tissue, while ultrasound is used to further define and characterize an area of interest. Mammograms can identify calcifications which are often associated with a mass and can show how large the area of disease is. However, these calcifications are not well-seen on ultrasound. Using both mammo and ultrasound (and sometimes MRI) gives the most complete picture of what is going on, and this allows us to make the most informed decision about how to treat (i.e. lumpectomy vs. mastectomy /-chemo and radiation).

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Sarah Zemke
Sarah Z6 years ago

Thank you

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Yvonne Y.
Yvonne Y.6 years ago

Hang in there, Ann; and thank you so much for making us more vigilant in the care of our own bodies! I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

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