As my husband and I sat in my doctor’s office anxiously awaiting a weekend trip to visit some friends, I told him I didn’t understand why women even needed annual checkups with the ObGyn. About 30 minutes later, I got my answer.
My immediate reaction wasn’t shock or fear but to go into “survival” mode. I listened to my doctor’s advice, got the prescription for an ultrasound and biopsy, spoke with my insurance company and made an appointment with a radiologist for first thing Monday morning all within the hour. I actually surprised myself because I’ve never been so quick to act on anything.
It was only after I made the radiologist appointment that I realized I could have cancer. Oddly, I wasn’t afraid I wouldn’t survive; I was more upset by the idea of losing certain things – my career, having children, even attending my cousin’s wedding this summer – all to battle cancer.
I also felt this overwhelming guilt. For years I had abused my body with cigarettes, stress and unhealthy foods, and I dreaded that it finally caught up with me. I was lucky enough to have a busy weekend so I wasn’t overly obsessed by my thoughts but they sat in the back of my mind, nagging me every time I felt a little relaxed.
At the radiology center Monday morning, three different technicians checked the ultrasound and all agreed they couldn’t see anything even though they could feel a lump. I was told it was probably just rigid tissue. After I left I did some research and learned that even if something can’t be identified on an ultrasound or mammogram doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be concerned about. They could have biopsied the lump without seeing it on an ultrasound.
I understand how easy it is for someone who is fearful of hearing the news that they have cancer to just accept what a doctor or radiologist says as fact and ignore the warning signs. When I first left the radiology center I had no intention of pushing for a biopsy. After researching though, I called my doctor and told her I still wanted a biopsy She told me to see a breast surgeon. I knew in my gut that the lump wasn’t cancer but I didn’t want to risk it. No one ever should.
There are many reports about misdiagnosis of breast cancer through mammogram or ultrasound. Some articles report 5% of breast cancer cases are misdiagnosed through ultrasounds and mammograms while others state that as many as 30% of cases are misdiagnosed each year. Despite which report is correct, any percentage is too high. It is vital to go to your annual checkups but also do your own research and don’t just accept what a doctor tells you, especially if it doesn’t feel right.
Early detection of breast cancer is key for high survival rates, so it is crucial to perform monthly self-exams on yourself even if you’re in your 20’s. It’s never too early to start. There are guides online to teach you how to perform a self-examination. The one on breastcancer.org is a great resource – click here – but you can also ask your doctor for some tips. Women are directed to start getting mammograms at age 40 but if you have a family history of breast cancer, you may qualify to receive these exams at an earlier age.
The breast surgeon gave me a core needle biopsy, which isn’t as scary as I imagined. The doctor numbed the area so I didn’t feel a thing and it took just a couple of minutes. The wait period for the results is more painful than the biopsy itself. I felt as though I was going to be okay but I was concerned by my own peace of mind because everyone around me was so worried.
A few days later, my biopsy came back negative but I’m glad I asked for it and also glad I had this experience. I learned that you have to be your own advocate and always take your health into your own hands.
Gina Kelly is a writer and is also studying holistic nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Gina aspires to help others through her writing and nutrition counseling. She was previously an editorial writer for Xanga.com where she wrote for their health and food blogs.