By: Amy McInnis
I first felt the presence of “it” this past June, but I wouldn’t even allow my fingers to explore how it actually felt beneath them. You see, I had fibrocystic, “busy,” dense breasts, so a self-exam would have ALWAYS meant I’d feel something. Plus, I had just had a “clear” 3D mammogram in December.
My breasts were seemingly made up of cysts. This one was different, though; it had a pain unlike the others. It would not be ignored.
In early July, my fingers went straight to the source of the pain. My heart surely stopped with the terror. “This has to be breast cancer,” I thought.
I was fortunate my doctor would work me in that very afternoon. In preparation, I took a blue Sharpie and drew several marks on my right breast with my shaking fingers to outline the perimeter of the hard place.
Upon examination, my doctor sent me for an ultrasound, the results of which indicated to him that I had cysts. In disbelief, I cried with relief. “Everything doesn’t have to be cancer, Amy,” my trusted physician assured me.
He told me to schedule six weeks out for another checkup. When I scheduled, somehow the receptionist made the appointment for eight weeks later.
To give some cancer-related background about me, in February 2018, I had a routine colonoscopy. During the colonoscopy, the doctor could feel a “nodule.” That nodule
turned out to be squamous cell carcinoma of my anal canal-a true Scarlet Letter “A” cancer in too many ways to describe. Since this blog is related to breast cancer, I will keep this brief by saying it was a painful eradication of this cancer through surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy.
I was still getting on my feet from that terror when this hard lump showed up in my breast. I wanted nothing more than to believe I didn’t have cancer, so I tried (desperately and in vain) to shake off the sense of “knowing.” I mean, surely not…right? I worked out daily, drank vegan shakes, meditated, did yoga and even had a daily shot of apple cider vinegar. I didn’t have a family history to speak of, drink alcohol, smoke, or eat red meat. Plus, I had just been declared “cancer-free” from that all-too-recent, painful, horrific cancer battle.
Didn’t the Universe get that memo? Did I not dot my i’s and cross my t’s?! Hadn’t I signed on the dotted line in indelible ink?
In mid-August, I moved my daughter (and only child) into her college dorm over 500 miles from home. The whole way there and back, the hard place in my breast may as well have been screaming in pain.
I returned home and contacted my doctor’s office and reported, “The area around the mass is pink, painful and warm. It itches. My nipple is slightly turned, and the areola is dimpled. My appointment isn’t scheduled until September. Can I please come in?”
Once again, I was assured it was cysts and that I should take Vitamin E and an over-the-counter pain reliever. I was also told to wait almost three more weeks for my appointment despite my plea to be seen.
September 10, upon examination, my doctor scheduled me for an aspiration of said cyst the next morning. Needless to say, everything changed September 11 when the technician looked at the “cyst” to be aspirated. “We can’t aspirate this,” she said. “I am going to get the radiologist.”
Swiftly, a 3D mammogram was ordered for comparison to the one I had in December: the area of concern was nowhere to be found on the former one. A biopsy was performed within hours.
The radiologist looked at me over her mask and said, “I don’t like what I see. I don’t like what I feel.” Hours later, after gathering information from the procedures, she compassionately advised me, “You need to prepare for a breast cancer diagnosis Monday.”
Ultimately, my diagnosis was Grade 3 (angry, aggressive, fast-growing) Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, but the size of my DCIS was alarmingly large. It actually felt like a piece of rough cement running from beneath my nipple to the back of my breast.
The doctors were concerned. One physician (a potential surgeon I did not ultimately hire) flippantly speculated aloud that it was “either another more aggressive, angry cancer” in conjunction with the DCIS or that the DCIS had spread.
I felt trapped in a house of horror. Seeing that it was my body I was being held hostage in, I couldn’t escape the terror of what was happening in, around, or to me. Yet, I had to “keep walking” through the devastating darkness to get the help my body needed. Needless to say, it was an emotionally harrowing road of tests (MRI, cat scan, subsequent biopsy of lymph nodes, whirlwind of appointments and ultimately the pathology report from a double mastectomy and sentinel node removal October 6) to finally determine the DCIS had been completely surgically removed from my body.
Today, almost two months post-mastectomy, I am actively in the midst of the reconstruction process. Literally, I am being rebuilt physically. Sometimes I feel like Humpty Dumpty; I am so eternally grateful for the team of warrior physicians who gathered to eradicate cancer from my body and to help “put me back together again.”
My strength has been to show up for the care I need and to surrender to the process recommended by my medical team. I recognize that the emotional rebuilding from this type of trauma is even more imperative. I want these transformative life experiences to help me connect with others.
While sharing my story with such transparency leads me to feel a bit vulnerable, my ultimate
desire to help others prevails. Please
listen to your intuition. Let that gut-feeling guide you to the care you need and deserve. I was squelched by my doctor. While he was correct in that everything doesn’t have to be cancer, the bottom line is, in my case, it was. No one wants cancer, but not wanting it doesn’t eradicate it. Acting on any suspicion sooner rather than later is vital.
Best wishes and hopes for health and well-being,