Cluster of micro-calcifications? Biopsy of the breast? Pathology? I was in information overload within about five minutes. I felt trapped inside myself with nowhere to go. I just wanted to sit in the middle of a lake and scream.
I reminded myself of the statistic that I was told by the radiologist -- 80 percent of the time this is nothing. I tried to be rational since I didn't have a family history of breast cancer, was under 40, and as an athlete led a very healthy lifestyle. I acted quickly and scheduled the biopsy within about 48 hours, as I just needed to get this over with. Every spare minute I had, I took more strokes on the water with my crew team. The water wouldn't talk back and I could release all of the feelings I had inside with good hard strokes on the water.
Right before the biopsy, I reached out to the two women who had been through this all before and that I had spoken to after the abnormal mammogram results. I felt like I needed to know what to expect with the biopsy and also the recovery. They both shared that I should go prepared with a tight fitting, front closing, sports bra. I was told this would be good to put on right after the procedure and to help with any swelling -- they were right.
Nothing seems to ever be straightforward with me, and the stereotactic biopsy itself wasn't either. For anybody that has been through a biopsy, you know how uncomfortable it is laying on your stomach with your breast hanging through the table. You are sitting there nervous as hell, though you are told to be completely still or they have to start it all over again.
I actually got through the whole procedure like a champ -- it wasn't until I was sitting up in a chair with a nurse pushing against my chest to stop the bleeding that I start to see spots and couldn't hear anything. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by 20 people in white coats. Apparently I had passed out and triggered a hospital emergency -- my mom and husband saw the stretcher and flurry of white coats fly by them in the waiting room. Fortunately this was only a temporary setback that day, but the week to follow waiting for the results was unbearable.
Wow. That week felt like a year.
The phone rang one afternoon when I was in the middle of a meeting and I instantly got a pit in my stomach. Within the first minute of the conversation, I entered a whole new world -- breast cancer.
In looking back over the year that followed recovering from a double mastectomy with reconstruction (and also caring for my mom who had the same surgery eight months after me which I'll talk about in the future) a lot has changed. While I can go back and look at the word "cancer" all over my notebook from that day last May, I like to focus on all the good that has come from this situation.
- I get warm inside when I see other survivors telling their story and promoting early detection.
- I feel joy in getting texts to hear that through my advocacy my friends are getting their mammograms and telling their friends to get their mammograms. Spread the word!
- I feel empowered to see other women rowing who have fought this beast just like I did.
- I feel solace in knowing that I have helped other women get through the days following an abnormal mammogram result and biopsy.
- I feel strong when I sit beside another woman who has just been diagnosed, am a shoulder to cry on, and someone who can relate to exactly how she feels and provide advice on what to do next.
- I am a survivor and have not let cancer define me, but rather have become a guardian angel for others.