Press Release : Article : Breast Cancer : Denver Colorado
Breast Cancer in Denver
The Bison Was Number One
an adventure by Bev Saidel
On October 6th, 2004 I heard two words that would change my life. No, it wasn't "you're pregnant" (at 52 that would be quite a shock as well as being something that would make me a member of the immaculate conception club). No, the two words were "Breast Cancer". The following is about my adventure - told simply in parts.
Part 1 - September 28, 2004
Today I learned that I needed to undergo a stereo-tactic needle biopsy to further examine an area in my left breast. Apparently a "do-over" mammogram indicated calcifications along one of the milk ducts that might pose a problem.
The technician who did the "do-over" took me into a small room where I met the radiologist whose job it is to decipher mammography films. The doctor who spoke with me showed me an x-ray of a breast and proclaimed, "This is your breast." I had not seen a film of my breast in a while but was sure that the breast on the screen was not mine - it was way too big.
"This is magnified several times," the doctor said. I felt relief. (For a moment I thought I was looking at my friend's new breasts on the screen - now those were big.)
But no, this was mine; she assured me and proceeded to point out the tiny white salt-grain sized spots that anyone else might mistake as schmootz (lint). Calcifications can be a sign of cancer, she explained, and that's why we do a stereo-tactic biopsy of the tissue.
Fortunately I have a health provider who moves quickly on these issues and so the date for the test was set. The staff gave me careful instructions, answered all my questions, handed me videotape and ushered me to the door -- carefully and with great care.
Of course I had a tough time with all of this. I don't feel sick, I don't feel that I have cancer - I'm overweight, but healthy. Surely they confused the films…
I was unable to reassure myself. The fear was there - right there - tangible… breast cancer… me?
When I got home I told my roommate the news. He gave me a hug and words of support. But I could see that he was thinking about his sister and her double mastectomy. The fear was there - right behind his eyes. We hugged again and shed a few tears.
Later in the evening as I saw the words BREAST CANCER rise big and awesome in front of my face, I took a deep breath and I set to work. I got out the ironing board, heated up the iron, added water for plenty of steam and went after the FEAR, literally - ironing blouse after blouse until there were no more. My roommate came to my room and gave me another hug and kind words - "I'm here for you, I am your friend - whatever you need."
And now I move forward to step 2 - a stereo-tactic needle biopsy. Oh boy! Deep breaths… Deep breaths…
Of course I informed my friends and my boss and our boss's boss. (It can get complicated…) and I told them I'd know more after the biopsy. My boss, one of the kindest men in the world, told me the same sage words that I had heard him say to me before, "Bev, do whatever you need to do." I told him, I'd keep him informed.
October 1, 2004
Wanda called me from the doorway. There were introductions and pleasantries. She asked me a few questions, had I brought the videotape? "No? Don't' worry you can drop it by any time…". She showed me where to change and patiently waited while I donned a hospital gown.
She explained the procedure slowly and carefully. She asked if I had any questions. She showed me to the table with a hole in one end of it.
Caregivers work very, very hard at making their patients feel at ease. Wanda was no exception. She asked me if I had pets and told me about her parakeet Pete the fourth, I believe. There had been three previous Pete's… I told her about Cowboy Kittie… Wanda held my hand during the local and then when the incision was made and then during the actual biopsy while the needle took repeated tissue samples from my breast.
But that was after I met Doctor Bair, the radiologist responsible for the procedure. Wanda introduced us to each other. I was unable to rise. I was unable to see his face. I was attached by the breast to a machine that held me fast in place. I couldn't even offer my hand. "You must meet a lot of faceless breasts," I commented. Fortunately, he laughed…
My right arm and hand lay under my head. I remember a story that my roommate told me about his grandfather. As a child he'd run to grandpa when he hurt himself. Grandpa would put his arm around him and then give him a pinch or a kick - diversion… "Does it hurt now?" Grandpa would ask… diversion. My hand was going to sleep from the weight of my head on it. I was lying face down, left arm at my side, left breast hanging through a hole attached to a machine, my right hand mashed beneath my head, my back was protesting. "Try not to move," counseled Wanda.
Fortunately Dr. Bair was satisfied with one "coring". I felt like a mini Swiss cheese. Wanda helped me rise from the table. All that remained was the taking of one or two more films, so they could assess what was left.
I changed out of my hospital gown and into my street clothes. I was given a list of typed instructions and an ice pack. They told me they would call within the next few days and would let me know the results.
I headed home…
Part 3 - October 3, 2004
A few weeks earlier I had explained my philosophy of "throwing things in the hole" to my book club friends in Estes Park. Astute, intelligent women all - they have been kind enough to support me and listen to me over the years. But they were a bit luke-warm on this one. I told them, "take what doesn't serve you and throw it in the hole." They indulged me. I kept planting seeds.
One of my co-workers decided that she would be the office team leader if anyone wanted to join her by participating in the Susan B Komen, Race For the Cure. I invited the book club ladies and four decided to join me on the walk. We made arrangements to meet and took light rail to the Pepsi Center where the race was being held. We all shared our news with each other. And of course, I told them about the stereo-tactic procedure and told them I felt like a survivor - after all, I survived the test.
Over 62,000 people participated in the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure on October 3, 2004 in Denver. I was one of them. Although I didn't actually walk, I was there with three of my friends, who stood waiting for one friend who disappeared after going to make a "back sign" honoring her friends and family who had cancer. She just plain disappeared. Being a camper I had always been told that you stay in the spot where you lost them. So there we stood for about one hour and some - waiting. Occasionally one of us would take off and do a perimeter search, but mostly we stood and talked and shared with each other. We found our errant friend later. She thought we had left without her… Ah well.
After the ceremonies, we shared appetizers at a nearby restaurant and talked about how we could support a friend who had lost her way. We talked about being survivors and we talked about the importance of being content with yourself and we talked about getting rid of things that you don't need. I talked about how we delude ourselves into believing that certain "programming," "programming" that we ourselves manifest, is important when it isn't. And we talked about really knowing what you need and understanding what is important in life.
I re-discovered that these were women who were willing to share their thoughts and their fears and their dreams and their love and support. And for about the millionth time, I re-discovered the joy of true friends…
Part 4 October 6, 2004
I received a phone call from Dr. Bair. It was the phone call I had been dreading in a way. I wish I could say the news was better. He told me they found malignant cells in the tissue that had been biopsied and that there was the possibility of malignant cells in a nearby location - just centimeters away. Now I don't know about you but metric measurements have never been a strong point… I struggled to understand what he was saying. The official title for my cancer is ductal carcinoma in situ. He explained that the cells found were in the area of the milk duct and that they were all in one spot, "in situ."
Oh boy! I was trying to listen, trying to be calm, trying to get my mind to settle down so I could get my arms around what he was saying.
But how can you? Cancer is a word that can instantly send a cold shiver of reckoning throughout your body announcing your mortality. Cancer, the big "C" - not me!!
The doctor went on to explain - an additional stereo-tactic needle biopsy was needed to check the nearby location. "Pending those results we'll either recommend a lumpectomy or a mastectomy," he continued. It was all I could do to catch up. Wait a minute, removal? These are tiny salt sized calcifications. It took double magnification even to see them… removal?
He continued - "We caught this very early and our cure rate is very high in encapsulated "in situ" situations."
He told me they set a surgery date of October 18, 2004, 9:14 a.m…. surgery…me? The stereo-tactic biopsy and a root canal - that was it for me surgery wise. There was no surgery when I severely stretched my anterior cruciate ligament, there was no surgery for me when I ruptured my Achilles tendon, no surgery ever…I said, "Boy, you sure do want that videotape back!" Fortunately, he laughed.
I hung up after he asked if I had any questions. I surprised myself by asking a few. I almost started to cry. And then I almost started to panic. Of course I nearly… I don't even know. My mind was kind of numb for a couple of minutes. I looked at the notes I had somehow managed to take. I tried to make some sense of all of it. I logged onto my computer and looked up "DCIS", that's what Dr. Bair called it. I read the information, and looked at a drawing of a breast and somehow managed to relate to the words on the screen.
And then I emailed my cousin Art. Something inside me whispered his name and told me he'd help me get a handle on this. Art Giser is a NLP practioner and an energetic healer. In the past he had helped me when I was having difficulty after leaving my husband. I also had the privilege of attending a series of healing courses that he taught.
I emailed for a favor. I told him that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. For the second time in less than an hour I wrote the words "ductal carcinoma in situ". I wrote that they had found the cancer in its earliest stages. I asked if he would give me a "sweep" and a "tune up".
I have been told that I am good at taking action. Action can create a path to normalcy at times. It's the occupation of "doing". So after emailing Art I prepared to meet some friends who needed help deciphering their photo editor, after all the arrangement had been made. What I did was change my clothes in preparation of the evening, after all I don't usually go out in sweats. What I did was get in the car and drive over to their place while realizing that I now had something new in my wardrobe - something I'd never be able to take off.
What I did was realize that one phone call changed my life in a way I never could have imagined. I worked on not crying - I worked on reframing the situation so that it was manageable. What I did was show my friends the joys of having a photo editor - acting as if nothing had changed in my life while realizing that this day was really almost, well sorta, just like any other…
Next step - wait for the phone call that would give me the date of the next stereo-tactic appointment.
Part 5 - to be continued…
Bev Saidel is a free-lance writer and photographer. She lives in Denver, Colorado. For more information go to:
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