This week as our guest blogger Handicap This welcomes women’s fiction writer Patricia Yager Delagrange. Rather than talking about her fictional tales Delagrange opens up about her very real experiences with breast cancer.
For 14 years I’d been having yearly mammograms. I marked my calendar for Cinco de Mayo, go to the hospital for my appointment, and then wait for the technician to call my name. She was a young girl with whom I really hit it off. We’d joke and laugh. I was very flat-chested so it was a bit difficult for her to do the “squishy thing” on my breasts but it never hurt. We’d smile, I’d hold my breath, and it was over in minutes.
It took a week to receive the notification of the results in the mail. Though every year my husband would tell me I had nothing to worry about, I was always nervous. Additionally, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac so…
In 2006 I was about to drive to the grammar school to pick up my kids when I decided to grab the mail on my way out. There was “the letter”. I ripped it open and read the words.
“Please get in touch with your primary care provider. The radiologist has found something suspicious on your mammogram.”
So addled I could hardly drive nor talk to my kids. Frantically I made a call from my cell phone to my doctor to ask what “suspicious” meant.
Within two weeks I was lying on a table at another hospital having a biopsy. Subsequently I had to wait another week for the results! I recall sitting on the couch one morning listening for the phone that seemed never to ring.
But then it did.
And I heard those dreaded words, “You have DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ.” Naturally I’d never heard of such a thing. The doctor explained it’s a cancer that only can be found on a mammogram, not by manual breast examination. She gave me the name of a surgeon and I made an appointment for the following week.
The female surgeon was calm and kind, explaining our options. Due to the limited amount of breast tissue if they did a lumpectomy and the margins weren’t clear, I’d have to return for a second and perhaps third surgery. After which time my breast would be mangled, or…
I could have a mastectomy.
She added that if I chose, I could have breast reconstruction afterward.
I’d never had surgery before. I had my tonsils out when I was six years old but that was the extent of my experience with anesthesia and scalpels. I decided to have the entire breast excised thus saving me from further surgeries. Plus the constant worry whether the cancer would return in that same breast.
We scheduled surgery for the following week. Then I had to wait another week for the results of the biopsy, to see if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.
I was one of the very lucky ones. The cancer was so far off the chest wall it hadn’t invaded anywhere else and was DCIS Stage 0! I did not have to have radiation or chemotherapy! When I visited the oncologist he advised against taking Tamoxifen or any other drugs because of the side effects.
I’ll never forget the day my husband, two children, and I stood in the room with the oncologist and the doctor said, “Now get out of here. You no longer have cancer. I hope never to see you here again. Go home and enjoy your family.”
Ah, the relief. We all laughed.
It has been seven years now and I’m still cancer free. At this point, I’m clumped together with the rest of the female population as far as the statistical probability of getting breast cancer again.
There’s nothing quite like hearing the words, “You have cancer”. It was the scariest time of my life. I recall thinking I was way too young to die. Once when I was crying while sitting on the couch, I looked across the room. Clusters of Labrador retriever hair rimmed the edges of the floor and I realized how much I’d miss seeing that if I knew I was dying.
The things you think of, eh?