“I can’t promise you it’s NOT cancer…” the doctor told me as we looked over my MRI results.
As a BRCA-positive woman in my mid-30’s waiting for my pre-emptive Prophylactic Mastectomy, these words shook my whole being.
Living in Israel with less than perfect Hebrew has resulted in many moments of confusion. This state is often accompanied by a giggle as I realize my error, smile and get on with the day. But there was nothing funny about this.
Having been in Israel almost 10 years this confusing occurrence has become less frequent, due more to my ability to read social cues than the fluency of my Hebrew.
Although I accept that making any presumptions without the full medical picture is foolish and a little dangerous it is sometimes unavoidable. The mind races off drawing conclusions that may later seem absurd.
And this is how I had cancer for a day.
It was a cold rainy February morning by Israeli standards and I had chosen to walk up to my local family doctor to pick up some paperwork. It was six weeks before my planned preventative double mastectomy surgery. (the removal and immediate reconstruction of both breasts due to being BRACA positive). I was in full admin mode as I had been taking various tests, scans and MRI are all necessary before undergoing this procedure.
I had gone to pick up some blood test results and discuss pain management with my family doctor. It occurred to me while I was sitting listening to the printer release page after page of my results that the last piece of the puzzle may also be available. This was the biggie, the MRI scan (which you will hear about another blog).
The MRI is part of the routine procedure and I hadn’t put too much thought into it. I asked my doctor to check if the MRI results were available and after a few clicks he found them and hit print.
“Looks like they found something on your MRI, You seem to have growths on both sides,” he announced with no sense of alarm.
“Well You must discuss this with Your Breast Surgeon and Plastic Surgeon as soon as possible,” he mumbled.
I fired off some questions trying to understand what all this could mean.
Would they want to bring the surgery forward?
Will this mean I need treatments, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, more surgery?
The doctor repeated that I would have to discuss it with the right doctors and that we had run out of time.
My mind went into overdrive,
“Run out of time?!” For a second I thought he meant we had run out of time for treatment, not for our brief appointment.
But I couldn’t stop thinking: Was my planned preventive surgery just upgraded to an urgent surgery to remove cancer?”
It was about 9 am and I walked in a daze back into the cold rainy, windy streets. The world seemed to be whizzing past me, everyone rushing to get on with their very ordinary day.
I stood still for a moment to try and collect my thoughts,
“Could this really be happening?”
I gripped hold of the freshly printed results barely aware that the rain was soaking them.
I need to speak to a friend, I need to say this out loud was all I could focus on as I walked towards a friend’s apartment building. Fortunately, this friend had known me since childhood so arriving at her door soaking wet and struggling to speak was ok. We had been through tough times in life before and I knew she would be ok with this intrusion.
After some much-needed tea and toast (well I am British, Tea is by default the correct cure-all), I was able to say it out loud.
“I think they may have found cancer!” We both sat and tried to decipher the medical results.
The only thing that was clear was that they had discovered two growths, the first measured 2cm’s on the left breast and the second measured 1.5 cm’s on the right breast.
They had given each one a score of Birad’s 3. (Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System or BI-RADS). We sat and read and reread the Hebrew report picking out a word here and there but struggling to make any cohesive sense of it.
After several more cups of tea and warm words, I decided to get on with my day.
“Are you going to be OK?” my friend asked as we hugged by her front door.
“Yeah, sure…” were the words I said out loud, but my thoughts began to race as I headed back into the rain.
I spent the rest of the day in a daze functioning on autopilot. I had called and emailed both surgeons and finally got a reply at 6pm.
“It should all be fine, these findings are almost always not cancerous, we will go ahead as planned with the surgery in six6 weeks”
It took me a few more days and several reassuring conversations with my surgical team to relax and trust that I had decided just in time.
I had escaped what killed my mother. Escaped by days, by months, by years – I will never know. I had a double mastectomy six weeks after and removed both of my breasts, along with the growths that never had a chance to grow.
Now, 18 months after my preventive double mastectomy I want to share, “The Day I had Cancer,” in the hope that it will inspire other women to act now and not ignore the risks.
For more information and advice about your Breast Cancer risk factors and BRCA testing, visit:
BRACHA – Living with a high risk of hereditary cancer, a site for those affected by Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) and other hereditary cancers
My website, I’m a Previvor