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The Lump that Changes Everything

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: My doctor's voice was calm and direct: "You have a five-millimeter mass on your left breast. I'd like you to see a surgeon tomorrow."

woman getting mammogram

After shakily scribbling down the surgeon's number, I placed the phone down in numb shock. I had always known this day was coming. My mother died of breast cancer when I was thirty. Since that day, I've always wondered if I have a ticking time bomb inside me as well. And here it was. That call. That practical, conservative, life-saving voice. My doctor swiftly handing me over to a guy with a knife.

The back story is this. I am 47 years old. I have annual mammograms that often show suspicious shadows. I think this is a backhanded gift of breastfeeding for six years. Old clogged milk ducts. Scar tissue from breast infections. Whatever. Mammograms always lead to follow-up ultrasounds for me. But a next-step MRI? Now this was something different.

The tube was hell. All you brave women who have endured it know that lying facedown in a small, loud, hot tube while your boobs hang into two holes and some crazy chemical called "contrast" is injected into your body isn't exactly fun. In fact, I'd rather endure a sweaty line in an amusement park or a three-year-old's tantrum, thank you very much. But with my dear old friend Maria literally holding my hand and tiny tears escaping out the corners of my eyes, I got through it. I am such a wimp. This I know.

Then the phone call. A mass so hidden near the chest wall that no one could feel it. It's called "early detection" in the lingo of breast cancer screening advocates. The best cure available. If I was even sick, that is.

Next came the rounds of first and second opinions, and let me tell you, ladies, one tiny little non-palatable mass can cause havoc with our mommy commitments. I am a single mom with two car pool schedules at two different schools with a dizzying flowchart that I even have trouble understanding. And now, there was to be a series of medical appointments that would turn my world upside down. Big thanks to all my friends (who I mostly notified via Facebook) and baby-daddy, who picked up kids and did pinch-hitting child care.

Two top-notch surgeons gave the exact same recommendation. Since it can't be felt, they said, we need to do an MRI-guided biopsy. That means they go in with some kind of needle-vacuum thingy while you are inside that awful tube. Great. Let's just add one more nasty piece to an MRI. They also both recommended that I do a BRCA test. That's the breast cancer gene blood test. If I carry the gene, I have an 85% chance of getting breast cancer. If not, then 12% like everybody else.

The doctor I settled on is Dr. Kristi Funk, who runs the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills. Nice, chick-friendly place that specializes in breasts. All breasts, all the time. A smart gal named Courtney helped me plead a case to my insurance company to cover the expensive blood test. This is an important thing. There's currently a movement in America to try to force all insurance companies to provide the BRCA test to everybody. At this point, only people with a strong family history get the BRCA. I mean, wouldn't you like to know if you're carrying a time bomb?

I moved my medical care to Cedars-Sinai hospital because, well, heck, if Cedars is good enough for Britney Spears' meltdowns and Michael Jackson's body, then it was good enough for me. The next MRI was scheduled for September 8th, the first day of school for my new middle-schooler. This was a tough decision for me. You mothers can relate. If I did the test on that day, my middle-schooler would start a new school with new kids, all alone. I wasn't even sure who could drive her there. If I didn't do the test on September 8th, I would have to wait an entire month, because it has to be done on a certain day of one's cycle. Yippee for me. I still cycle. So, I did some woo-woo meditation (I live in California, after all) and my stomach told me it was okay to delay this thing. While I was waiting, the BRCA test came back negative, confirming what my stomach had already told me. Things were going to be okay.

Last week, I rolled into Cedars with my friend Stevie as my hand-holder. Stevie is a chick, but I must thank all those male friends who so selflessly posted on Facebook that they would gladly sit beside me while my boobs hung down in front of them. So kind of you, boys.

I was told that the Cedars protocol is to do a plain MRI before the MRI-guided biopsy. A caring and funny technician named Jane helped get me into that stupid tube. Whoever invented claustrophobia should be shot. This time, the tube was narrower, hotter, louder, and clearly more precise. Because the next day, Courtney from Dr. Funk's office called me with a chipper tone and excellent news. The mass has disappeared! As in, gone. Not there. Doesn't exist anymore. Vanished.

The scientific explanation is that it was probably hormonally related, and as my hormones changed, so did my insides. I prefer to think it was all my real-world friends on Facebook and in real life who prayed, meditated, and whispered my name to the universe. This group included three preachers, so whole congregations put their heads together for this. Get ready for next year, people. My mother may have left me early, but I am not leaving my kids.

These days, I'm walking on air. A six-week weight has been lifted, and the world is looking soooo beautiful. But as my screen-writing teacher Peter Russell posted on my Facebook wall, "It won't last, Wendy. I had a similar reprieve and it wasn't a week before I was screaming, WHO LEFT THE LID OFF THE MAYONNAISE!"

For now, nothing bugs me.

Click here to give a free mammogram, and click here to sign a petition to help all women get the BRCA gene test.

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Mamimi October 14, 2009, 12:34 PM

Palpable. “One tiny little non-palpable mass.” Not “palatable.” You’re not trying to eat it.

SensitiveSort October 14, 2009, 2:09 PM

So good of you to focus on the most important part of this piece, Mamimi. Aren’t you clever?

Rosanne  October 15, 2009, 6:18 AM

I lost my sister to breast cancer in 2002. She was 46. I’ve had breast cancer 3 times myself-1998, 2005 and 2006. When I finally had a double mastectomy I was so relieved I would NEVER have a breast MRI again!!! 20 surgeries in my life. The breast MRI was the worst part of it all. When they pulled me out of that horrible tube I told them if they had left me in one more minute I would have confessed to murder. I also said they need to take that MRI machines over to Afghanistan and Pakistan and put people in it. We’d have Osama Bin Laden in no time. (This is humor people)My youngest son was in 1st grade when I originally got cancer. He’s graduating high school this year. My goal has been met. I’m still here. I have to give God all the glory-I prayed sang hymns and offered up my suffering while in the MRI machine 3 separate times.

Sharon October 15, 2009, 11:21 AM

I’m trying again. First post vanished. I’d like to offer anyone who asks my “If I had Cancer” file. You can email me for it: detoxexpert at gmail . com

Replace the at with the proper symbol.

The file is about prevention and reversal of cancer with natural methods. There is no need to lose your precious body parts due to fear inspired by a huge industry. Removing the breast will not remove the reason it appeared to start with. Cancer will likely reoccur later elsewhere in the body when the cause isn’t removed.

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