I was so supremely confident that the diagnosis would be favourable, I told my husband he needn’t come with me to the Dr’s appointment in Lower Hutt, so sure was I that it would be a quick trip in and out, then off back home again.
The mammogram had shown the frozen pea that I knew about, but also two areas of calcification in quite different areas of my boob, that were so removed both from each other and the site of the frozen pea that they caused concern to both the Radiologist Dr and Carl Dowle.
Call me a prude, but I am not used to undressing for strange men. I’ve been happily married for 43 years to the same man and he and he only has been privy to those parts of my body that I was now having to parade before a strange Dr. The only other times I had willing exposed by boobs to anyone was for the purpose of feeding my children, and then it was discreetly done, not with my whole top half bare.
So there I stood under the gaze of Mr Dowle. Put my arms this way, put them that way, etc, etc. Back into my clothing and to the chair beside the desk.
So that was it. He pronounced right then and there that he was in no doubt that the frozen pea was breast cancer. He also thought that those two areas of calcification were pre-cancerous but to confirm that I needed to have biopsies done, one on the frozen pea and one on the area of calcification that they could easily see and reach. He then told me that the lump and the areas of calcification were so far apart from each other that the whole breast had to be regarded as ‘unstable tissue’ and that the only treatment was to have a mastectomy. The one up side was that he thought it unlikely that the cancer had spread because the two areas of calcification were closer to the lymph nodes and they had the look of pre-cancerous areas rather than cancerous ones and were unlikely to have spread cancer cells elsewhere and so the mastectomy would be the whole treatment and not have to be followed up with chemotherapy.
Suddenly the frozen pea was no longer a skin lesion, it was cancer and there were two more pre-cancerous sites that needed getting rid of as well.!!!!! I’ve always been quite emotional and tears are never far away. I can’t watch lots of TV programmes or movies without unbidden tears coming to my eyes at both sad and happy moments. Well this certainly wasn’t a happy moment. I dissolved into tears.
To his credit (and because I came from ‘over the hill’) Mr Dowle arranged for those biopsies to be done straight away, before I left for home again. But that was the beginning or more embarrassment and pain.
First they tried a biopsy on the easy to see area of calcification. That involved that wretched mammogram machine again. They took a few preliminary mammograms so that they could site me in exactly the right place so that the Dr could reach the area with his ‘needle’. That involved the administration of two shots of local anaesthetic while I was lying on a gurney with my boob clamped into the mammogram machine. I dared not look at the ‘needle but it sure sounded like more than a needle and the Dr did say it was wider than a normal needle. Five samples later I was moved to a different room and allowed to lie down on the gurney while they located the area of the frozen pea with ultrasound. Again I had local anaesthetic administered, but oh dear, not enough. At the first attempt to snip some of the tissue with his ‘needle’ the Dr hit an area that definitely was not numbed. The pain was so sharp I moved involuntarily (quite a bit), with the needle still inside my boob, and then the tears flowed again. Both the radiologist and the Dr were in no doubt, despite the fact that I hadn’t uttered a word that, I was in pain and that the procedure wasn’t quite going to plan. Another dose of the local and they tried again. Seven samples later, I was finally able to retreat into my clothing and try to act like a normal person, who hadn’t been through all that for the past hour or so. The Dr told me that I had taken the equivalent of a bashing at his hands, in that past hour and, I suppose, combined with my emotional state, they thought it was not a good idea for me to drive all the way home on my own.
It took me ages to regain my equilibrium again. They gave me a cup of tea, and with all the good will in the world offered me a chocolate chip muffin, which I had to refuse because of my coeliac disease.
The only problem was that I had another appointment following on from that with the Dr, that I had thought would be over and done with in such a short time. The next appointment was to be measured up by a dress designer for a dress to wear to Maria’s forthcoming wedding on 4 January 2013. I was crushed. The prospect of being measured up for a new dress, that hadn’t been designed yet with the prospect of a mastectomy hanging over me was so terrible, I could hardly contemplate getting into my car.
But fortified with the tea I walked out, and drove into Wellington for the dress measurements. Only a matter of just over a couple of hours had passed since I had been given an almost positive breast cancer diagnosis with the only treatment being a mastectomy. I had been an emotional, tearful wreck at the Radiology clinic and here I was about to be measured up for a Mother of the Bride dress. I actually managed to tell Zowie (the dress designer) of the problem, without dissolving into more floods of tears.
When I left her place, I went back to the car to call Peter and asked him to drive me home. When he arrived there was no way I could convey the morning’s events without more tears. And so we drove home.
My next appointment with Carl Dowle was on 8 November.