Information overload

On Wednesday morning, Dermot and I went to the Breast Unit to see my consultant, with all the results after the MDT discussion. This was a really nervous time for me, as I knew how bad things could be, depending on the various scan and receptor results.

Firstly, the CT scan showed that it hadn’t spread, and was confined to the breast - phew.
Secondly, the receptors were the right ones - ER positive and Her2 negative - phew
Thirdly, the MRI showed that my other breast was clear. However, the cancer was much larger than the lump seen on USS.
Finally, the pathology was complicated - I had a very busy breast full of everything, but the cancer was mixed ductal and lobular. The lobular cancer wasn’t a surprise to me - lobular cancers are usually occult on mammography, and are often larger on MRI than USS.

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The aftermath

Dermot and I drove home and rang our families. For me, it was a very surreal experience when I spoke to my parents in Scotland. It felt like I was talking to relatives about a patient, and not about me. They were shocked (to say the least), especially when I said that I would have chemotherapy first, which is always a scary word. I then rang my brother in the States, who came out of a meeting so I could make his day as well. Dermot rang his daughter and the rest of his family whilst I was speaking to mine. It was very, very strange. We were both matter-of-fact on the phone, but everyone we were speaking to was very upset, and some were crying.

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The waiting game

At that moment my consultant came in, and then there were 3 of us that knew. I then needed to have a biopsy. Now I do biopsies in clinic, and I was suddenly nervous. I tell my patients that the local anaesthetic feels like a nettle sting, that lasts for a few seconds. I then say that they might feel some pushing and pulling, but it shouldn’t hurt. I’ve never had local or a biopsy. What if I’d been lying to my patients all these years? The local was actually more of a burning sensation, but lasted for seconds, and I didn’t feel a thing. The biopsy gun makes a loud noise when it is fired, and although I was expecting it, it was still a shock. But no pain.
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What learning curve?

As a breast surgeon, breaking bad news is fairly common, sadly, and although it takes a lot out of me, it is something I enjoy doing. I know that I do it well, and most of the time, I can get a little hint of a smile from my patients and their families before I leave them with the breast care nurses to pick up the pieces. For every woman I see who has to come back for a biopsy, whether I’m expecting the news to be good or bad, I tell them to bring someone with them. The main reason is because it is awful to tell someone on their own that they have cancer, and to see them leave the clinic, holding back the tears, and somehow drive home. To avoid worrying my ladies unnecessarily, I say that it helps to have someone to sit with you while they wait to see me, to remember what I say and to share the G&T with afterwards.

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It will be fine

I first found a breast lump in 2010. I was working as a surgical registrar in Luton. My husband had just proposed, and had taken 7 weeks’ holiday to sail the North West Passage in the Arctic - definitely no wifi or 3G there! Although I was working towards becoming a breast surgeon, all common sense went out of the window. I spent the night literally howling on my sofa, alone. It was obviously going to be a cancer, and I’d need a mastectomy, and my hair would fall out, and I wouldn’t be able to wear a wedding dress, and my fiancé would leave me, and I’d be dead in 2 years…. Not melodramatic at all then! Read More…
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