The letter came on an afternoon in the first week of February 2002. "An abnormality has been found on your recent test. Make an appointment to have a second test as soon as possible."
It would be very easy for me to have a panic attack in a medical atmosphere, but I control the urge with the inner assurance that I will get in, get seen, and get out, as quickly as possible. I knew that this second mammography wouldn't fit itself into my standard walls of protection. Breast cancer, even the suspicion of it, requires all of the things that I fear the most; diagnosis, prognosis, doctors, surgeons, machines that invade all parts of the human body, and the biggest of all fears; artificial sleep.
I entered the Breast Detection Center for the second time that month with a dread so enormous that the very air that I was trying to breathe seemed heavy and ungiving. The second mammogram was just for my right breast. It was done with speed and efficiency. I was then told I had to have a scan. That too was done fast and efficiently. Then I was left alone in the room to wait for the doctor to come and talk to me. A tall, thin, brittle woman walked into the room, introduced herself, and shook my hand. "Your file says that you take hormones," she grimly said. There was no smile, no giving, no looking, no compassion. I understood that she had a difficult job, delivering negative reports to women, but didn't she have breasts, too, wasn't there the possibility that some day she might be sitting in this room waiting for heart wrenching news. She never looked directly at me. She hung the film of my breast, pointed to the abnormality, said she thought it probably was cancerous, told me I needed to have a biopsy, turned around and walked out. From that time until the end of the ordeal it would be assumed that I had cancer.
A very young woman walked into my room and asked why I was in the wheelchair. I told her I was dealing with the Post Polio Syndrome. She got behind my wheelchair and pushed me toward still another room. She said that she wanted to show me something.
"See this, this is where we do the biopsy," she said. This is the latest technology. I have my reservations about you being able to handle this."
"This" looked like a medieval torture table with all the latest in medical and engineering technology attached. There was a hole in the table. There was a robotic looking machine stationed near the table. There was a screen to one side of the room. The room was so white and sterile that it could only be taken as a room of medical importance.
I was told that the patient had to lie on the table with her breast through the hole. The table was then raised by hydraulics so that the robotic looking machine could go under the raised table, cut into the breast and take a sample for a biopsy. This procedure could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour. The young woman that supervised this procedure said that she didn't think I could lie still long enough to have the biopsy done.
Her: "Do you deal with a lot of pain?"
Me: "Yes, but that can be controlled with medication."
Her: "I'm worried that you can't lie still for an hour."
Me: "I can do that!"
Summation: An appointment was made. I went home to wait.
Before the appointment date I got a phone call. The decision had been made. The appointment was cancelled. She didn't want to take a chance on someone that had had polio reclining on her 'latest technology' table. She mailed me an official letter with her card attached. The letter said, "Call a surgeon."
I didn't know a surgeon, I called my personal doctor. She gave me the names and numbers of 2 surgeons. I went with the one that could see me the soonest. He prodded my breast and said, "Oh, there's the lump, but I wont do an invasive procedure just to get a biopsy. Go back to the Breast Detection Center." I went back to the breast center. The breast center told me to go home and wait for their decision. It was now mid-March. I had been going back and forth for 4 weeks.
The Breast Center called and said the young woman in charge was refusing to let me get on her table. "You will have to find someplace else to have a biopsy done. Go back to the surgeon." I called the surgeon and his office staff informed me that I had to talk with their billing supervisor. The billing supervisor informed me that Medicare was refusing the billing for my first visit. I called Medicare. They told me that someone from the company I had worked for sent them paperwork stating that I had health insurance, that I had told Medicare that I didn't have, so Medicare was refusing payment. "Call the ex-company. They have to send us a letter that they have made a mistake. We will review the letter and inform you of our decision."
"Hey everybody, I have a lump in my breast! Isn't anybody going to help me!!!!"
I called the ex-company. They said, "Oops, we made a mistake. We'll write a letter." I called Medicare. They said it would take about 6 weeks for the normal process. They would inform me of their decision.
"I can't sit here for 6 more weeks waiting for everyone's decisions. I HAVE A LUMP IN MY BREAST!!!!!"
I called Medicare and was transferred 3 times. Finally!............I talked to a woman. She had breasts. She knew the fear. She gave me a fax number. I called my ex-company and gave them the fax number. The Medicare woman with breasts called me back the next day. It had been cleared up. She would pray I didn't have cancer. And then I broke down and cried. Someone had actually listened to me.
I called the surgeon. "Find some place to have the biopsy done," I was told. I called every place conceivable. No one could do a biopsy for me. I called my doctor. The woman that answered her phone was new to the office. She didn't know me, she knew nothing about me, but she heard something in my voice. "Let me call you back,' she said. She called me back within the hour. She had asked the doctor if she could focus all of her attention on finding me some place to get a biopsy. AND SHE DID!! It was now the month of April.
The hospital wasn't too far way, their technology was old fashioned and outdated. Just exactly what I needed. They gave me an appointment within a week. Of course, the old fashioned, outdated biopsy machine broke down in the middle of the biopsy, and I had to sit there with my head thrown back at an unGodly crook, but I was so grateful that these nice people were doing this for me that I just smiled, even when they said, "Call the surgeon."
I called the surgeon. I had an appointment. In 2 weeks.
It was the last week of April. I asked my son if he would take the day off of work and go with me to get the biopsy results. I needed emotional support. The surgeon's nurse told me to undress and put on the paper gown that was sitting on the chair. When the surgeon entered the room I tried to read his face, but surgeons are pros in not letting anything show. He picked up my chart and read, and read, and read. Then he turned to me and said, "Well, it was benign. You don't have cancer, now. You have to have a mammogram every 6 months for the next 2 years. If those show no growth then you'll be in the clear."
I hadn't realized how tense I had been for the past 3 months. My son jumped up and ran over to me and grabbed me and whirled me around the room. He yelped and yahooed and my bare butt was blowing in the wind, but neither one of us cared. We both ended in tears. The surgeon watched us, and headed for the door. "You better get dressed,' was all he said.
This month I had the last of my mammograms and the lump has not changed. I can now go back to my yearly tests.
But what if I had had cancer? What about those 3 months that I was forced to wait for a biopsy, because I had had polio? What would that delay have caused? We'll never know because this story has a happy ending.
BUT THINK OF ALL OF THE WOMEN WHOSE STORY DIDN'T END LIKE MINE. ARE THEY TREATED AS CALLOUSLY AS I WAS? GOD HELP US IF THAT'S TRUE!!