The First “Scare”

About twenty years ago I had my first mammogram. I just knew it would result in the dreaded callback. I have a reliable gut for these kinds of things.  I don’t think I quite grasped the full impact of the callback or of being told the reason was because calcification was present. I wasn’t clear on why calcification might mean cancer presence. Noone ever said “DCIS” (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ).

I was taken into a darken room where a very nice, kind, and concerned doctor spoke with me very gently. He showed me the white speckles on the scan. They were impossibly stark, but inwardly I shrugged. So? I thought. There was a nurse present. She looked so distressed, I reached over patted her hand and told her everything would be alright.

I went home and asked my husband what should I do if I have cancer and he said take off your breast. Of course.  I liked that. It was a concrete plan. A plan of action. A plan to solve a problem. I like problem solving. It sounded good to me. If I have breast cancer, I’ll get my breast removed. Voila, no more cancer, another life’s problem solved. Bip, bop, bam, my daughter’s done my mom would have said. After all I’ve solved problems, like changing my sister’s diaper at the age  4 and a half, all my life.  If there’s a poopy diaper, you change it, problem solved. Cancerous breast, you take it off and keep on trucking, problem solved. I even had a long range plan, forsake ever getting Lipo or a tummy tuck, I’m keeping my belly fat for my future new boob. New boob and a nice flat belly, problem solved.

We need to do a biopsy I was told. They placed a wire in my right breast and then a lumptecomy was performed.  No cancer was found.  I had one followup, only saw a nurse, you pulled my bandage off with two fingers, dropped the soiled bandage in the garbage can on the way out, and that was basicaly it.

Two years later I wondered what had happened. What were they looking for? Why hadn’t I fully understood? I’m an intelligent person. I do research. I asked my new doctor and she explained more fully, but, again, the term “DCIS” was still never mentioned. I still didn’t really understand, but I know I insisted on yearly mammograms, despite the controversy as to whether they do more harm than good. Is there too much radiation exposure or because medicine now finds abnormalities that would go unnoticed in the past. And because if that (and money), women are overly aggressively treated.

In 2011 there were more than 230,000 new cases of DCIS diagnosed. DCIS is Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Ductal means the breasts’ milk ducts, carcinoma is cancer, in situ is Greek for in place or non invasive the cancer that is still contained within the walls of the ducts. DCIS is considered stage 0 cancer. It is graded 1, 2, or 3 (low, mid, high).

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