Tuesday is Election Day!!! It is November 6th. On Tuesday, November 6, 1984 it was also an election day. But I had to ask Lynn last night, who were we voting for back then, because I could not remember. Twenty Eight years ago today, November 4th (Happy Birthday baby brother Kevin!!) I was in a state of panic and worry. Making plans for surgery day. Thank goodness a wonderful friend Karen volunteered and kept her three beautiful girls home from school and drove from Everett to Federal Way with Darcy, Melinda and Valerie and spent the day with Kyle, Jeff and Todd. Her girls were the same ages as my boys....I'll be forever grateful for that act of kindness.
But lets back up a bit. To the beginning of the story.
In December 1983, Lynn and the kids and I were on our way home from the annual Christmas party at my Aunt Adele's. I had been attending this party since I was a child, so it meant a lot to me to be able to go and bring my kids every year. Always the Saturday before Christmas, which is why I remember the date. We would take the Edmonds Kingston ferry over and back. And we were about 10 miles from home on the way back. The kids were all asleep, Lynn was driving and I was searching the radio for a particular Christmas song I always loved, but was obscure enough that I seemed to only hear it if I was lucky! It is called Stop the Cavalry, by the Corry Band. Canadian I think....anyway!!
I realized that I had some discomfort under the underwire of my right breast. It was a fairly new bra. I reached up to adjust it and my fingers grazed across what felt like a lump in the lower inner quadrant of my right breast. Maybe about the size of an almond. No, I was not a good breast self exam person, but I knew I hadn't felt it there before. We got home about 20 minutes later. Saturday night. On Sunday morning, I called the Group Health consulting nurse line. Told them what I had found and felt. Her first question to me was "how old are you?" I told her I was 31. She said I was "too young for it to be breast cancer" but if I was concerned I could call my regular doctor and get an appointment. No rush. Okay, that made me feel a bit better. I knew that my Great Aunt Nanny had died of breast cancer. Because of that I had kind of kept an eye out on newspaper articles about this disease. Nanny had never had children, ,which I knew was a contributing factor. Well, I had had THREE!!! And nursed them all!! Which meant I was extra protected, right??? Then I remembered that when I was nursing Jeff I had a HORRIBLE mastitis infection, in that right breast. The only time I was so sick I wanted to die. It did clear up with meds and vigorous nursing. And when Todd was a baby, I noticed the very early warning signs of the mastitis coming again, in the same spot, in the right breast, that this lump now appeared. Hmmmm....
So I made an appointment with my regular family practice physician. Dr. Larry Pogue. I'll never forget him either. This appointment was 10 days after I had called, and so 12 days after I had found the lump. I was sitting on the hard cold paper covered exam bed, with the silly paper smock on over my bare chest. Dr Pogue strode into the room with my chart in hand. I told him my discovery story, he did was I would consider a "cheap feel up", and said "oh, it is just fibrocystic breast disease, Nothing to worry about".....and actually then just turned and walked out the door, still with my chart in his hand. I quickly got dressed, and stepped out of the room, and saw him sitting in his office at a desk. I timidly walked to the door, knocked and said "what?" He sighed, and said "fibrocystic breast disease. It will come and go according to your menstrual cycle". I told him about my Great Aunt, and about my mastitis and he said "stop worrying about it, you are too young to have breast cancer." And so I left the clinic.
The following spring, I was on the good health and exercise bandwagon!!! I had lost about 30 pounds, and where do we women lose it first? Yep, my boobs shrunk!! However, the "lump" didn't! It actually seemed bigger! So I called Group Health again, and asked to see a different doctor this time. This was in June. Wow, I can't remember his last name. I do remember his first name was Eric. I went in to see him, he did a bit more of an exam of my breasts (maybe because I was trimmer and more appealing - LOL??) and then said he concurred with Dr. Pogue's diagnosis of fibrocystic breast disease. And that I should try to track the lump size according to my menstrual cycle and then come back and see him in 6 months. Okay, I said and I left the clinic.
Along comes September. Kids getting ready for school. Todd getting ready for preschool. One morning Lynn rolled over in bed, and his arm rested across my chest that damned lump now hurt when it was touched!!! So I called Dr Eric Idiot office and said I wanted to come in again. Once again I am sitting on the exam bed with my courtesy paper napkin over me. and he walks in carrying my chart, and without even looking up at me says "has it been 6 months already?" I said No, but now this lump it painful and I want it taken care of. Another big medical sigh (don't they teach them that this is a very condescending and rude thing to do?) He reaches up under my crackly paper and feels the lump. Then says, "okay, lay down here. I am going to aspirate the fluid out of it and it will go away". Again remember, I was not a nurse at the time, so I did not know exactly what that meant., but I did lie down as told. Put my right arm up under my head, okay. He turned around with a HUGE syringe and needle and said, stay still and plunged it into the lump. And began to pull back on the plunger. Hmmmmmm.....nothing seemed to be coming out. Well, maybe he didn't get the right spot. So he PLUNGED it in again. Withdrew and again nothing came out. I watched the color drain from his face as he was preparing for one more go at it, I actually grabbed his arm and said "STOP! Now what do you want to do, because you are NOT doing that again. !!" He stopped, looked at me and said "well, I think we should go ahead and send you to see the SURGEON." YA THINK?
Down to Tacoma I went a week later to meet with Dr.Peter Van Waggenen. And his cute PA, Manny. He examined the purple breast and said "I really don't think it is anything to be concerned about, you are only 32 years old. But I do think we should go ahead and get a mammogram." And he wanted to see me back then at the opposite point in my menstrual cycle.
However, now that he Dr Eric Dickhead savagely attacked the thing, there was already so much bruising that it would be hard to get a clear picture of what was in there, so I had to wait 3 weeks to get the mammogram. Frustrated, angry, scared 3 weeks. Plus I had to drive to the Kirkland Group Health facility to have it done.
Go there, on time, and the mammogram girl was very kind. It was my first every mammogram. And it was seated! Which I still think was interesting. And it did hurt. After she took her needed pictures, she came back into the room and actually showed me one of them. She said "see how it looks like an egg? kind of smoothe edges? That is a good sign, as cancer is usually mishappen" I said okay....and then she said "however the radiologist would like you to go next door and have an ultrasound of the breast, so they can see if there is fluid inside". Alright, I'm here, whatever. I wait a bit more time, and they call me into the ultrasound room. Another nice tech. She lays me down, puts some nice warm ultra sound gel all over my breast. When I had my babies, it was before ultrasounds were routine, I had never had one before so this was a new adventure. She placed the wand on the still sadly bruised breast and pointed to the tv screen so I could watch. After a few minutes, she went out and got the radiologist. At least that is what I think he was. He never introduced himself. After they looked at the results on the screen, ran the wand over the breast another time, the only words this mystery man said to me was "good luck"....and left the room. I turned to the tech and said "what was that supposed to mean? Good luck getting dressed? driving home?" She at least looked a bit embarrassed and said that the results would be sent to the surgeon.
I looked her right in the eyes and asked "do you think this has ANYTHING to do with my menstrual cycle?"
She shook her head no. My appointment with the surgeon was two weeks away. I asked to use their phone, and I called Dr Van Waggenen's office. I said I did NOT want to wait two weeks to see him. She was able to get me in two days later.
As I sat, at least I was fully dressed this time, waiting in his office he came in, sat at his desk and said that he still believed that it was just a cyst, but that he agreed it was time for it to "come out". His nurse called Tacoma General, which is where Group Health did their surgeries at the time, and said that it would be two more weeks, before they could get it done. I said that was TOO LONG to wait!!! She actually said to me "well, if it is cancer, two weeks isn't going to make any difference".....
When I got home and relayed this information to Lynn, he was so angry he called and she told him the same thing. So we had to wait two weeks....wait and worry.
Still with me???? My post from 2009 that I shared previously on FB tells the next chapter. I really will try to share the next stage in days or weeks to come.
But for now, I keep counting, and living. Tears are readily at the surface for me at this point every year. I don't think that will ever get easier.