Meeting the Surgical Oncologist

By Wednesday morning I still hadn’t got the results of the MRI, but as I was meeting with the surgical oncologist that afternoon, I gave up trying.

Luckily, before leaving the house, I printed out my appointment reminder that gave directions to the surgeons office.

I say luckily, because for one reason or other, still unknown to us, that department of the hospital is unlisted on all the direction posts. Even when we entered the designated elevator, the floor and department were not listed. I even had to recheck to see if I had read it wrong. I hadn’t.

Strange!

When exiting the elevator at the ‘unlisted floor’, it was the same, no signs, no waiting room, just empty corridor after corridor. It really struck me as odd. This is a modern, and very busy hospital. They have signs for every department posted every few yards, but its like this place didn’t exist, or they didn’t want you to know it did.

It actually made me feel a little uneasy. Not the best first impression.

It reminded me a little of a scene in the movie “St Elmo’s Fire” where one of the characters mother’s finds certain words ‘too terrible to utter’, so she whispers the word “Cancer’

Maybe the hospital took a leaf out of her book…and are just whispering!

We finally found the reception and got checked in.

Within minutes we were taken back to a room where my vitals were taken, and a brief medical history run through, and of course I was handed a gown to change into.

With this being a teaching hospital, we first got to meet with an intern. Under any other circumstances I might’ve found his lack of experience amusing, but under these circumstances, I found it pretty annoying. I mean, I understand that they have to learn their profession by having ‘hands on’ experience, but in this case, it should’ve been, in my opinion, a ‘watch and learn situation’. The way he handled things left me confused, angry and upset.

Let me start with his take on my diagnosis.

Omitting the whole biopsy report etc, that he went through, his diagnosis was;

Tracey you have breast cancer, called Ductal carcinoma in situ. Technically its not really cancer, well it is, well not really,  it acts just like cancer, and it could become cancer, it’s  cancer caught early, but it’s not invasive, but it could quite possibly become invasive,  and it’s a very aggressive type.

Well it was certainly a relief to get that straight. So now I’ve heard from the ‘professional’ that I do, don’t, well kinda do, might have, could have, do have, might not have breast cancer. Oh and it’s a very aggressive type of …. that stuff.

Seriously!!

When he’d finished with the, dare I even call it a diagnosis. He turned to the computer.

Pretty much every other word after that was ‘ummm’.

So I figured if I was to learn anything from this ‘consultation’, it was to look over his shoulder at the computer screen. When he finally pulled up the MRI report, I saw ‘right breast…suspicious….’

I immediately asked him, ‘what did they find in the right breast?’

He exited that page fast.

‘Oh they just wanted another image’ he said and changed the subject.

Then he pretty much left the room.

So yeah, I was a little confused, I was a little angry and I was more than a little upset. I said to hubs, ‘so now I know why they never got back to me with the MRI report, they found something in the other breast’

A few minutes later, the surgeon came in.

A complete opposite to his intern. Very calm, knowledgeable and clear in his explaining. He started with the diagnosis, DCIS, rapidly growing cancer cells that are still contained where they started, in the ducts.  In his professional opinion, because my biopsy reported high grade, comedo type DCIS, he would not advise leaving it and just monitoring closely, because there is a very high chance of it becoming invasive cancer.

He also said because it is multifocal and covers a very large area of the breast, lumpectomy is out of the question. Not that it would be classed as lumpectomy he explained. Because even if he could remove enough tissue to get clear margins, which he is 110% sure is not possible, he referred to it as being a partial mastectomy.

So his expert opinion is, the left breast has to go.

Now he moved on to the right.

Although the mammogram came back clear on that side, the MRI detected a suspicious abnormality, a little over an inch long, towards the back of the breast. He wants me to get an ultrasound guided biopsy to find out what it is, before going any further, and is also making me an appointment with the plastic surgeon.

We discussed bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, Tamoxifen, radiation therapy, the whole DCIS possible treatments caboodle. He asked if we had any questions, but to be honest, my mind still hadn’t left the mass in the right breast, so I couldn’t recall any of the things I wanted to ask. Which is exactly why I wanted the MRI report before meeting with him. I knew I would not be up for surprises. I should really start writing things down.

He then moved to the breast examination part. I have extremely glandular breast tissue,  lumps and bumps everywhere, making it very difficult, should there be a ‘lump’, to distinguish it from any of the others.

This pretty much rounded off the appointment.

I then got dressed and a nurse came in to check on me, then handed me a huge PINK folder, with the words Breast Cancer Clinic plastered over the front. In it there was a variety of booklets and leaflets from the American cancer society, which I am, apparently, supposed to read.

I actually wanted to throw it in the trash can.

I know, no one else in the hospital would give that annoying pink folder a second glance, if anyone even noticed it at all. But to me, it was as if she’d given me a huge sign that stated ‘ Yo! this woman has breast cancer’.

As we stood in line waiting to check out, I noticed all the patients had been given a folder, of a few differing colors. I can’t tell you what those colors were, only that I held the only pink one, and the elderly lady in front of us, the only black one.

I felt a little like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. I’m guessing everyone in that check out line knew what type of cancer I had. Even without my big sign. But because we are, after all, still in Pink October. Breast cancer awareness is being forced down our throats by every store we walk in.

There’s no denying it, the only two things in existence this shade of pink, besides this folder of course, are the breast cancer awareness ribbons, and Pepto Bismol. The latter, apparently not handed to you at a cancer clinic.

Although, maybe it should be, after all, when some of us get sick to our stomachs of all that ‘pinkness’, we’d at least have something to settle it, in a shade appropriate to our disease awareness campaign.

That said, for some unknown reason, the pink suddenly seemed so much more preferable than the black.  So I didn’t throw it away, I merely sandwiched it between the papers I was given while checking out.

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