Finding Out I Had Breast Cancer (Post 1 of 2)

Intro by Andrea; Post by Guest Blogger Kim Phelps 

There are not enough words to share with you how much this post means to me. My mother, the woman who raised me, loved me unconditionally, and then taught me to go my own way, is a breast cancer survivor. This is her story. I love you, mom… and I’m so thankful everyday that you are so brave and so strong.

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It’s invasive Breast Cancer.

I can still remember how I felt when those words were spoken to me over the phone that cold night. I can remember every detail from that day… what I was wearing, what the weather was like, how I felt when I was trying to tell my husband and then my children.

The C-word, that’s what so many survivors call it. It’s like as long as you do not say the word it will not come back. I wish it were that simple.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I know that all of you ladies out there have heard everyone say early detection is so important. I am living proof of that.

In October 2007, I discovered that I had a lump in my breast. At first, I thought that it was my imagination. For a few days, I continued to check to see if I could still feel it. I had scheduled a yearly doctor’s appointment for later in the month. I went in for my exam and I mentioned to the doctor that I could feel a place in my breast.

She checked it out and she said that she did not feel that it was anything to be concerned about, but to be on the safe side I should go ahead and schedule a mammogram. I reminded her that I had already had a mammogram in January of that year. She said that she thought I should still have it done just to be on the safe side. I went in a week later and had another mammogram.

The technician explained to me that they would perform the mammogram and then compare the results with the mammogram that had been done earlier in the year. After the test, I was seated in the waiting room while the radiologist read the results. The technician came out and said that there had been no change in the test. She said that the pictures looked exactly like they did in January of that same year. I do not know why I questioned the results; I only know that I did. I remember looking at the technician and saying, “If there is nothing there, why can I feel this lump in my breast?”

There is lesson number 1. Trust your instincts. It is OK to question your medical professionals and ask for more information.

She saw my concern and said that she would ask the radiologist if he would be willing to order an ultrasound. The radiologist agreed, so I scheduled an ultrasound for a few days later. I had told my husband that I had scheduled some more tests to make sure that this lump was not anything to worry about. I had not told my children or anyone else at this point. I didn’t want to worry anyone.

A few days later, I went in to have the ultrasound. I remember that it was a Friday afternoon. The technician was a really nice lady. She would run this machine over my breast most of the time over the same spot. She would study the monitor and she would smile and talk about family, weather, etc. She was remarkable at making you feel relaxed and forgetting that you were having a test ran. After she finished the test, she told me to lie still and she would go have the radiologist read the results of the ultrasound. It was probably a half hour later and the radiologist walked in to the room. I knew that something was wrong at that moment. I think that I had always known. Why else would I have been there insisting on these tests?

He sat down beside me and started to explain that he thought it would be a good idea if I had a biopsy on this lump. I remember saying “Do I have breast cancer?”

He said that he had no way of knowing that without the biopsy. He said that there were some abnormalities and that he felt that I should have the biopsy done. He offered to perform the biopsy that day. Seeing that I can’t see a needle without feeling the need to pass out (I have passed out several times when having blood work), I knew that I could not have the biopsy done that day not without someone there to be with me and drive me home. I told the radiologist that I would have to schedule an appointment and I wanted to discuss this with my gynecologist.

That day, as I left the clinic, I was so scared. I was afraid of not knowing and afraid to find out the truth. I called my husband and he kept on saying that he didn’t feel I had anything to worry about; that it would all be okay. One minute, I was feeling like that it was okay. The next minute, I was thinking that I might have cancer.

That night, my youngest son had a high school football game. He was playing quarterback and it was an exciting time for our family. I remember wanting to talk to my daughter about the exam and biopsy, but it never seemed like the right time. I wanted to enjoy the evening and not worry about it. We were yelling and being crazy when all of a sudden, my son dropped back for a pass and a defender took his legs out from under him. He lay on the field for a long time; we knew that he was hurt bad. We went to the emergency room. He had torn the ligaments in his knee and would need to see a specialist. It is amazing that when one of your children is hurt, you no longer worry a thing about yourself. My son would have to have knee surgery a few weeks later.

In the meantime, I talked with my gynecologist and requested a referral to have the biopsy done some place other than the clinic where I had my ultrasound and mammogram. She referred me to a doctor that specialized in breast cancer. I scheduled the appointment and my husband insisted that he was going to go with me. When I walked into her office, I was surprised to see so many women of various ages from 20s to 80s waiting to see this doctor.

Lesson 2: Breast cancer can impact anyone. If you find a lump, don’t hesitate to have it checked out immediately.

After I filled out the paperwork, they called me back. My husband and I nervously walked back. I just wanted this to be over with. I wanted this doctor to walk in and say that I had been overreacting and that there was no reason that I needed to have a biopsy. The doctor walked in the room and she had the best bedside manner of any doctor that I had ever met. I immediately felt so comfortable. She was smiling and talking so positive. She reviewed my test results and she agreed that I should have the biopsy. I asked her if she thought that I had cancer. She said that she didn’t think that, but she wanted to make sure. She was so reassuring. I agreed to schedule a biopsy for a week later to be performed in her office.

Lesson 3: Find a doctor that you are comfortable talking to. If it is cancer, you will have tough conversations and you need someone who not only can understand how you feel, but can listen and give advice that is specific to you and your needs.

The week came and went. I still had not shared much information with my family about these tests. I am sure that they were worried, but they kept reassuring me that it would be okay. I assured them, too; telling them that I didn’t think it was anything to worry about.  I went in and had the biopsy. They told me that they should have the results by Monday of the following week.

My son’s knee surgery was scheduled for that Friday. We traveled to Lexington for the surgery. We stayed at my daughter and her husband’s home for the night so that we could take my son back for an exam the first thing the next morning. His surgery was a painful surgery, but a successful one. I was so busy taking care of him that I never had time to think about my own test results.

Monday rolled around. I had been so busy all day that I actually had forgotten to call the doctor to see if they had the results of my biopsy back. I remember that I was cooking dinner. It was cold outside and I was wearing a pair of old sweats and sweatshirt. I find it strange that I can remember all of that and I have to think really hard about what I had on last night. I called the doctor and simply asked if they had the results of my test. I can remember that the Physician Assistant (her name is Robin) came to the phone and said, “Yes, Mrs. Phelps, the test came back as Invasive Breast Cancer.”

I remember asking, “I have breast cancer?”

She said, “Yes, I am sorry. That is what the test showed.”

I can’t possibly put into words the feelings that I had. I can’t begin to explain it. I am not sure that there are words to explain it. I barely remember her saying that I need to schedule an appointment with the doctor to plan the course of action. I went through the scheduling of the appointment and made all the arrangements that they wanted me to do. As soon as I hung the phone up, I immediately called my husband. He was at work and I am sure that I rocked his world.

I said, “Hey, I finally have the results of my test and I have breast cancer.”

I remember I finally started to cry. He was speechless. Of course, you would be if your spouse called you up at work and announced that they had been diagnosed with cancer. He had about an hour to drive from work to our home and I am not sure if he contacted my older son to come to me or if my daughter contacted him to come and be with me. They just knew that I needed someone there. (My youngest son was still recovering from his surgery and I couldn’t bear to tell him the news, so I waited for my husband’s help). My older son came through the door and I was going to be brave and I looked at him and fell apart.

All he did was hold me and tell me that everything would be okay. I could tell that he was scared, too. I, then, talked with my daughter. We have always been so close. I knew that she knew me too well and that I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t scared.  She was so positive and trying to reassure me. I knew that they were all just as scared as I was, but they would not let it show.

Later, I found out that my husband had called my daughter and she was as concerned about him as she was about me because he was so upset. She never told me that until much later.

That evening, when my husband came home, I was so restless. I wanted to research invasive breast cancer on the Internet. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could. My husband was calling everyone that he knew that worked in the medical profession.

We were both searching for any information that could be found out there. When I finally had my scheduled appointment with the doctor, they gave me more information and I was at least a little bit educated on breast cancer. I had so many questions to ask.

Lesson 4: Research is good, but don’t let your imagination get the better of you. The Internet is an invaluable resource, but you can easily get carried away with the searching. And, take someone with you to listen to your doctor’s instructions. Go with a list of questions. But, be prepared to have someone else help you get the answers so that you remember them when you get home. 

My appointment was scheduled for the afternoon. My husband and I were in the little room waiting on the doctor. She walks in and says. “How are you doing?”

I immediately started crying. I remember feeling so embarrassed. Because, before I had breast cancer, I was not a crier. Now, I couldn’t control my emotions. She was so kind and we sat and talked. She never rushed me. She made me feel like I was the only patient that she had. I felt that she cared.

She explained that I did have invasive breast cancer (which means that the cancer has grown through the duct or lobular walls and into surrounding tissues) but that we had caught it early. It was a stage 1 and it was about 1 centimeter in size. She explained that the cancer had to be surgically removed from my body and killed with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormonal therapy. She made it sound like this was the common cold and we just had to get rid of it. I thought that I needed surgery the next day. In my mind it was important to get this cancer out of my body.

It was late November and she said let’s look at the schedule and see when we can work you in. I was thinking she meant the following week. She told me to go home and enjoy the holidays and scheduled my surgery for December 31.

Getting through the holidays was not exactly easy. When you know you have cancer, it is hard to focus on much else. But, I made it… and we enjoyed our time. I was impatient to get the cancer out of me… to get down to business.

That’s when my focus shifted from finding out I had cancer to fighting cancer.

Check in tomorrow for the rest of Kim’s story.

Until then, if you would like to support breast cancer research, consider donating to Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure through Andrea’s Race Page (anyone who donates between now and October 15 will also be entered to win a $25 Visa Gift Card!).

And, please check out these tips for detecting breast cancer early from Susan G. Komen for the Cure:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure® recommends that you:

1. Know your risk 

  • Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
  • Talk to your provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

2. Get screened

  • Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk
  • Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40

3. Know what is normal for you
See your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

4. Make healthy lifestyle choices

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Add exercise into your routine
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone use
  • Breastfeed, if you can

Remember that it can happen to women and men… regardless of age or background.

Teresa - October 7, 2011 - 12:49 am

Great post, can’t wait to read the rest of the story. Thanks for being so open and honest on such a difficult topic and one that hits so close to home!

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