The call from my primary care doctor's office informed me that there was a suspicious finding on my routine mammogram screening and that they would like for me to have an ultrasound done on the right breast.
Due to my work in healthcare I was aware that "false positives" on mammograms was not uncommon and, as a result, I wasn't overly alarmed.
As I shared the news with a few family members, I was 85% positive that it was likely a false positive but I had a niggling 15% "what if?" thought running through my mind.
Likely because he had been treated for early stage prostate cancer the year before, my husband asked if I would like for him to accompany me to the ultrasound appointment since they would be providing the results at the same time. The day arrived for my ultrasound appointment and I was nervous - the 15% negative doubts were kicking in.
The first step of my appointment was a second mammogram after which I was asked to sit in a patient waiting room in my robe. It was explained that the results might rule out the need for an ultrasound. While I was waiting another patient arrived and I asked her if she was in for a routine screening or diagnostic. She said, “routine”. She asked about mine and I said, “I don’t know yet” and began to cry. She quickly looked down and I realized then that the specter of cancer was very real.
After the second mammogram results were reviewed the screening tech came to get me and said, “yes, we need to do the ultrasound” which signaled there was still a suspicious finding. I texted my husband letting him know what was happening and, it was at this point that, I began to realize that the suspicious finding was not a false positive.
The ultrasound tech came into the room and conducted an extensive exam and asked me to remain in the room saying that she would likely be letting me know that I could get dressed to go home.
After a review of the ultrasound she returned and said that the radiologist needed for her to look more closely at the upper right section of my breast as that was “the area of concern." I heard several clicks of the machine and could tell that she was focusing in on a specific location. When she completed the exam I could tell by her demeanor that she had found “the area of concern." I was told to get dressed and return to the waiting area where I would be called back to speak with the radiologist. I remember texting my husband, prior to getting dressed, “Coming back to the lobby then they will call us back together. I am so scared!” I knew then, beyond a doubt, that the suspicious finding was something real.
As we sat waiting to be called back, I felt as though the bottom of my life had dropped out from underneath me. My husband held my hand, didn't try to falsely reassure me but just stayed present. I cried and kept trying to move into my mind where I could analyze what was happening and not react from a place of fear. But the fear kept taking over.
After waiting for 30-40 minutes I approached the desk to ask about our consultation. The nurse apologized for our wait and then took us back to the room where the radiologist gave us the news: After comparing the current mammogram with prior years he identified a mass that would require a biopsy. He reinforced that the mass is approximately .635cm/6.35mm with no evidence of suspicious findings in the lymph nodes. He used the terms “tiny”, "early", and "best possible" multiple times. I should have felt reassured but I had no context from which to understand what he was telling me.
As he was preparing to leave the room he said, “This is why we do routine mammogram screening.”
My suspicious finding was closer to having a name but I didn't understand the context.