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
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