Sunday, December 26, 2010


Sometimes an abnormal area will be seen on the mammogram that should be tested for cancer, but is not felt as a lump on examination. The mammography department can help your surgeon find the area more easily by using a technique called "wire localization." Harvard Health Publications.
The day after a biopsy of both my breasts I viewed The Buddha documentary, and was struck by this: "All things change. Everything born is subject to decay. Use even this for awakening." 

My wake-up call came suddenly. After a mammogram on December 24 and consulting the next day with my gynecologist, I met with my surgeon last Monday, had an MRI and blood work on Tuesday, and biopsies on Wednesday.

The pre-op procedure was quite an adventure. The radiology team placed localizing wires in each breast, with only a local anesthetic. Some women freak out, the nurses told me. They've seen everything, from a woman who threw up on them to another who bit the nurse's hand. 

I couldn't turn my head to watch, because if I moved the radiologist would have to repeat the procedure. After he finished I looked down and saw a blue push pin in each breast. The nurses then cut two Styrofoam cups to half-size and taped them over the push pins to protect them until surgery. Robo woman!

The woman next to me in the pre-op holding room was questioning her doctor about the size of the scar he'd leave. I gleaned from their conversation (through the curtain between us) that she'd had a lumpectomy before and now had another lesion with lymph node involvement, but had opted for a lumpectomy again instead of mastectomy. 

Her surgeon kept saying "We need to look at the bigger picture. You have breast cancer, and we want to remove it." She appeared to be in her forties, so I understood her fear of losing her breasts, but what level of vanity would lead her to endanger her life? I was clear about my own wishes. I wanted the cancer GONE.

Under general anesthetic for the biopsies, I was woozy afterward, and couldn't help laughing at the dressing that replaced the push pins: white, pointy tents. 

My surgeon called with the results on Friday. Mastectomy on the left. "We can negotiate the right." But why would I want only one breast, and a 72-year-old one at that? Can you picture the reconstruction? "No, no, guys, it's not nearly old enough, far too perky...."  

The Dalai Lama said a miracle is "something you cannot understand, something unexpected." My miracle? Instead of fear, I have felt mostly joy and gratitude for the tangible love from everyone I encounter, including each of the nurses and doctors who took care of me earlier this week. 

A friend wrote to me on Friday: 
"I understand your 'mostly joy' response. I experienced the same with my reality encounter last year at this time. I think it has a lot to do with how we give meaning to the whole of our lives--whatever comes can be greeted with open hands, open mind, open heart, odd calm, certain gratitude, with the occasional terrifying gut check cry."
Christmas Eve: I removed my pointy tents and took a good look at the biopsy stitches. Both breasts would be deeply scarred. Then a deep breath and gut check. Ah, no. They will be gone.