Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cancer? Not even close

I hestitated at first to share this here, but I thought why not? It's an example it is about how important it is that we also take charge of our lives. We must be the deciders of our own destiny. No one else -- even a doctor -- should tell how what to do with our own life.

So here goes.

I had an appointment with a breast surgeon oncologist yesterday at Cedars Sinai, and he actually entered the exam room laughing at the report about the so-called suspicious lesions in my left breast. Before he even examined me or did an ultrasound he said he felt the radiologists at the Torrance Breast Diagnostic Center put me through this stressful exercise for no reason. Then when I explained that I knew the head of the breast center in Torrance he said the junior radiologist must have wanted to be extra careful and that’s why her report was so worded. Interesting that he characterized her as a junior associate probably to indicate that she didn’t know what she was doing.

I told him that’s why I came to see him. I didn’t trust her preliminary diagnosis because she seemed so unsure in the examining room. And, I didn’t trust her written report. If as she said in the exam room one of the lesions was benign and the other had an 80 to 90% chance of being benign, why would she characterize it as suspicious and give it a category 4 rating when the next category up from 4 means cancer? My sense told me I didn’t want someone like that sticking a needle in my breast looking for something that was barely visible on the screen.

After his exam I felt even better. A visual and manual exam showed nothing, and the ultrasound, the doctor said, showed a couple of tiny spots that looked like nothing – the kind of things we all have many of roaming around in our bodies. 

The doctor and I agreed that I’d come back in three months for another look, and I left totally confident in this decision. In fact, I immediately went shopping, we had a lovely dinner out with friends later on, and I had a good night’s sleep for the first time since I got the call about the need for further investigation from my mammogram of December 17, 2009.

I also made the decision that this doctor would take care of my breasts from now on. I will not go back to the Torrance facility. Even though his office is farther away, at least it’s close to some very good Westside shopping opportunities.

So, here’s the chronology:

I had the mammogram on December 17, 2009.

I got a call on December 29, 2009 that I needed to come in for a couple of more shots. When I asked what the finding was, the appointment lady couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me. She just told me to be prepared to have the additional mammogram pictures taken, wait 15 minutes while the doctor reads the results, and then I’d be subject to an ultrasound if necessary. She suggested I come in on January 11, 2010. I asked her which doctor would be reading my records, but she couldn’t tell me. I asked for Pat Sacks whom I’ve known for a lot of years through our association at The Wellness Community, so she made the appointment for January 12, assuring me that Pat would be available that day. (Needless to reiterate, she wasn’t. I never saw Pat – another reason for my upset).

Between December 29 and January 5 I stewed about it. Bob and I were trying to plan a trip and I bluntly said I really couldn’t plan anything until I knew the outcome from my up and coming breast exam on January 12. Yes, he said, you’re right to be concerned, but he still wanted us to make the plans. Throughout that little interaction I kept reminding myself of one of my mother’s favorite sayings: “man plans and God laughs.”

On January 5 I saw my gynecologist who had received a copy of the December 17, 2009 mammogram report. She said she was cautiously optimistic that there was nothing to it. She did a manual exam and found nothing to be concerned about then either, and I know from past experience that she can be pretty picky. She won’t let anything get by her.  The only thing that concerned us both was the wording on the report – there was a new finding, but it still said there was no change from the findings from the previous year (I asked about that on January 12, and was told they just forgot to uncheck a box). Well, if they made that mistake what other mistakes could they make, I thought.

So, between January 5 and yesterday, January 15, I kind of lay down my worries and moved on with the other things in my life. However, by yesterday I was thoroughly worked up again. When the nurse checked my blood pressure was up to 152 over 80 – when I’m normally about 110 over 60. She said they don’t worry too much about blood pressures over there at the Cedars breast center. Just walking in the door brings on the stress. I also was perspiring so that I had to take a shower when I got home.

So, the outcome was a good one. And, I thoroughly like my new doctor. At first I was concerned about going to a man, but I was perfectly at ease with him. Also, in this center I didn’t feel like a number. Everyone there was so nice. Plus I also didn’t feel so out of control. 

I chose to leave the practice that made the iffy diagnosis. 

I chose the new doctor. 

I chose with the doctor the next course of action.

Yet, again, it’s back to my recurring theme: Choices. It’s what we must do to stay in control of our own lives. 

I must also give my gynecologist a footnote. She definitely was a big help throughout and the day she received the written report from the January 12 exams. If the Torrance folks had had it their way I would have had a needle stuck into my breast to aspirate the lesion and a biopsy if the needle aspiration didn’t produce the right result. I chose not to have a “junior” associate do that job. If it has to be done in the future I’d rather it be by a Harvard graduate surgical oncologist though the Harvard doctor doesn’t think it will ever get to that.

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