My Diagnosis

On February 16, 1998, I was given a gift. It came at a time when I thought I had everything: I had a wonderful 25-year marriage, two terrific kids with good heads on their shoulders and futures with boundless possibilities. My parents and my sisters were all in good health. I was the luckiest woman I knew. I had returned to the teaching profession after having experienced the luxury of staying home to raise my children and was enjoying success and great satisfaction in my work. But then this gift arrived. It came in an unattractive package, surely something no one would want. It came unsolicited and by surprise. On February 16, 1998, I underwent the biopsy that would change my life and give me that gift. That gift was breast cancer and while it may sound like an odd or morbid gift at best, it has given me so much. Now I would not have chosen this for myself; it is what I was dealt and I have seen wonderful things and met inspiring people because of it.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 1997. During our traditional Thanksgiving gathering at her home in Connecticut, we said special thanks for our mom and prayed for her continued good health. She sat at the head of the table just days after her lumpectomy, with the weight of further treatment and an uncertain future on her mind. Yet through it all, Mom was gracious and upbeat, comforting all of us as she had done when we were children.

For my three sisters and me, Mom's diagnosis was devastating. Not only were we faced with losing our mother, but also we were face-to-face with our own genes and our mortality. We sat together and discussed what cancer might mean in our lives and vowed to each other that we would get mammograms soon and with them, peace of mind. Within weeks following Thanksgiving, my sisters had clean mammograms. All eyes were on me, the holdout. I hadn't been to a doctor unless a job required it and I hated the thought of having to go now, regardless of my risks. I decided to wait until my February vacation from school. I would get all this medical stuff over with and be done with it. I took the first available appointment during that February break - Monday, 7:15 A.M.

Elizabeth Wende Breast Clinic: Women's Health Care, Rochester, NY is a unique place. No one leaves the office without a clean bill of health or a biopsy. I sat in the lovely waiting room in my soft white robe. The waiting room filled with other women as my name was called. Within minutes, I was back with the others, awaiting my results. I saw women come and go and as I did so, I became concerned. Why was I still waiting? Why hadn't I heard? The sound of my name startled me. I was asked to go back for another view with another machine. Something had shown up and the doctors wanted to look at it from a different angle. Nothing to worry about, she assured me. Two more films and I was back in the waiting room while women continued to go in and out. I heard my name again. This time, the technician said the doctor wanted to see me. She wanted to perform an ultrasound and an exam. It seems that some calcifications were present in my breast. Nothing to worry about; just want to make sure. Dr. Wende Logan-Young took me to the viewing room where I saw the 6 films of my breast. She had circled 4 areas that concerned her. All I saw were tiny, tiny dots, as if salt had been sprinkled on the mammogram. No lumps, just tiny dots. Dr. Logan-Young asked if she could perform a core biopsy on a sampling of those spots. I consented, and was left to read materials about the procedure as the biopsy room was readied.

What is a Stereotactic Biopsy? The procedure itself was easy. Like a mammogram, my breast was compressed in an X-ray type device, only this time, I was in a prone position. The image of my breast was displayed on a computer screen and Dr. Logan-Young was able to guide the core needle to the exact spots by watching its path through my breast tissue. Once several samples were collected and prepared for the laboratory, I was told to get dressed and go home. Dr. Logan-Young would call me the next day between 5-7. She assured me that it was probably nothing, but we needed to make sure. Inside I was sure I had cancer. I was right.
Imaginis - Methods of Breast Biopsy
Imaginis - General Information on Breast Biopsy
Imaginis - Core Needle Biopsy

My husband arrived home from work early on the 17th. He knew that I was awaiting that call, and he wanted to be with me to celebrate the good news, or hold my hand if that was not to be. We sat poised with a bottle of wine and two glasses and waited for word from the doctor. Precisely at 5, the call I had been anticipating came, and when it came at 5 and not 7, I knew that the news was not good. "I am sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Muscarella, but you have cancer. I really thought it was nothing. You need to come see me tomorrow to pick up your films and make arrangements to see a surgeon." My husband and I didn't say much to each other. While holding hands, we uncorked the wine and drank it slowly.

The next day, we began our battle against breast cancer. As if shot out of a cannon, Lennie and I undertook an action plan. No way was this going to get us, no way. We met with Dr. Logan-Young, who gave us my mammograms and a copy of Dr. Susan's Love's Breast Book which would become bedside reading for the next 6 months. My diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ with some invasive cells meant that I would undergo a mastectomy. She suggested that I consider immediate reconstruction, something I hadn't even thought of. Actually I hadn't considered any of this before, and quite frankly, couldn't believe that I even had to entertain such thoughts. I soon realized that I would not be able to recover from this disease emotionally if I did not have the reconstruction. I set out to learn more about my options and to find the doctor who would restore my health and my self image at the same time. I found a team of three. NOTE: This diagnosis changed after surgery to reveal invasive ductal carcinoma with limited DCIS, and node involvement--not so hot!

The Internet became my library. I buried myself in its web site and files, saving sites that were encouraging, deleting those which were too difficult to handle. It became my lifeline. There was so much knowledge out there, so much to learn. I wanted to know everything there was to know about cancer and its treatment. I knew I would have to make choices, informed choices.

Subject: Re: recently diagnosed

Date: 8/23/98 7:59 AM Eastern Daylight Time

From: QueenReg

No matter how hard it is, it amazes me how we can rally to fight when we have to. When I was first diagnosed, I was in a fog. Sure, OK, whatever.....I have cancer and will have to undergo a mastectomy. No problem.....Then it hit. I was scared. I buried myself in the Internet to find other options. How could I get rid of this without getting rid of my breast? I think my doctor probably thought I was nuts, because I would find an alternative on a web site and fax it to her. She is a very patient lady and would return my calls shortly after receiving my faxes, only to tell me that I was a mastectomy candidate - my ONLY option.

Next I concentrated on my reconstruction options - that I DID have some control over. Again the Internet was my resource. My husband used to tease me because I would download picture after picture of reconstruction examples. "You got any more dirty pictures?" he'd say.

Then the doctor search began to find a surgeon and a plastic surgeon who would perform my surgery. I visited 4 different doctors. before deciding on the team of 3 who would take care of me. I spent 3 weeks looking for the right doctors. It was worth the time., but it also made the time between diagnosis and surgery a very long 6 weeks. I used that time to arm myself with information about every aspect of my cancer and reconstruction.

My need for chemo was something that I hadn't planned on, but when it came along, I read and read about what would happen to me, how the drugs worked and I realized that for all the horror stories I had heard in the past, I would be saved by chemo. I was still scared when I began, but I went to my first treatment understanding what was going on.

Knowledge is power, and when you have a disease that can make you feel powerless, taking control of what you can by becoming informed returns to you some of that power. Controlling what you can makes you an active part in your treatment and recovery. Try to be strong and learn what you can to help you and your doctors fight.

The Breast Clinic
What is Breast Cancer?
Oncology Interactive™ Education Series: Understanding™ Breast Cancer

 

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