After exploring the consequences of my two radiation options, external versus internal beam, I began to lobby for the internal beam radiation. I mean, who wouldn’t want only 5 days of tumor-targeted radiation versus the general whole-breast radiation lasting weeks?
During my last appointment with my radiation oncologist before my lumpectomy, she mentioned that if my surgeon removed too much of my breast tissue against the chest wall muscle that it would eliminate the internal beam radiation option for me. It wasn’t until that exact moment that I realized how deep my tumor was. Yes, the physician who performed the biopsy had commented on its depth but I just hadn’t really thought about it.
But at that moment it hit me: I was LUCKY!
I was lucky that the mammogram technician had positioned me in a way that this tiny mass buried deeply inside my breast, snuggled against my chest wall was even found!
I was lucky that the only radiologist who read my mammogram found this tiny suspicious mass in a region that typically lies at the margins of the images.
How lucky was I? As it turned out I was highly dependent on two individuals doing their jobs perfectly the day of my exam. If they hadn’t, the cancer would have likely been missed until it was in a later stage with dire consequences and a completely different level of treatment.
As my surgeon and I talked before my lumpectomy, I told her of my desire to have internal beam radiation and that I was concerned that option would be eliminated with the thorough removal of the breast tissue cradling my tumor. With a promise of, “We’ll see what we can do” her staff wheeled me back into the operating room.
Unbeknownst to me during surgery, she called my radiation oncologist and talked with her about how much margin she could take in order for me to receive internal beam radiation. Having devised a plan, she removed the tumor and left the option intact for internal beam radiation which I ultimately received.
Looking back on my experience and in talking with other women who have been treated for breast cancer, the “L” word oftentimes comes up. How lucky we were to find our cancer early through early detection which required correct positioning and accurate reading of the mammogram. But as I reflect about cancer treatment in the future, my hope is that luck will have nothing to do with the early detection of cancer. My hope is that artificial intelligence will be used to support radiologists in confirming that we are positioned correctly and that any “suspicious findings” are found 100% of the time for all women in any clinical setting.
Because, when it comes to cancer, luck should have NOTHING to do with it!