Archive for October 28th, 2009

My mother found the lump in her breast the year before she turned forty.  She screwed up her courage and went to her OB/GYN the next day.  He, of course, sent her for a mammogram.  He told her he would call in a couple

Wilmington vacation 2008 161

Nineteen Years Later

of days and let her know the results.  When a week went by with no call, she couldn’t handle the strain of the wait any longer.  As a single mom of three kids, she had spent the week wondering how she would support us if she had cancer.  What would happen to her kids if she were to die?  She had imagined the long illness and her death.  She had imagined the last moments spent with her family.  She couldn’t wait a minute longer, so she called the office.  She asked for the results and was told that they only call if the results were positive so if she hadn’t received a call she was clear.  This was the answer she had hoped for and though she would look back on it and say she should have asked to speak to the doctor or a nurse to get a more definite answer, she accepted it.


In January of the following year, she first noticed the dimple in her left breast.  She said nothing to me until April.  During that time, it must have weighed on her.  After the scare of the year before, she had placed a card in the shower showing how to do the self exam.  The card had a list of things to look for.  Not just the dreaded lump, but changes in the breast as well, specifically changes such as dimples.  She knew it was a bad sign but couldn’t face it again.  When she did finally call me at college, she told me she was worried, but knew she couldn’t afford another mammogram.  We talked about putting aside twenty dollars a week until she could afford it.  But we both knew she wouldn’t.  She knew she in her heart it would come back positive.  And ignoring it was the best she could do.

In October, I heard that the clinic at the local hospital was offering free mammograms as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I called my mother and asked her to please go.  She waited until her birthday, October 30th, before finally getting up the nerve.  The doctor at the clinic called the next day.  Within the week they had confirmed cancer with a biopsy.  We had also been asked to pick up her last mammogram so they could compare the two and see how much it had grown in the past year.  To our horror there was a sealed envelope in the x-ray file addressed to her OB/GYN.  We opened it to find a report from the radiologist to the doctor stating that there was indeed a tumor in her breast and it had attached to the tissue around it making it a clear carcinoma.  The new doctor scheduled a mastectomy for the day before Thanksgiving.

During the mastectomy, they removed 17 lymph nodes.  Eight of the 17 were infected with cancer.  She was told to get her affairs in order.  She would not survive the year.

This weekend, nineteen years after that fateful mammogram, we are celebrating my mother’s 49th birthday.  She is a true miracle story.  She fought the cancer with everything that she had and she won.

My mother’s story has taught me a few things.  First, get a mammogram, but even more important, don’t just call the doctor for the report, pick up the radiologist’s report and read it.  Second, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.  And third, doctors don’t always have the answers.  When I am in doubt about a doctor’s instructions or prognosis, I ask questions, I express my doubts and I push for myself or my children.  I am my best advocate.  If I don’t ask the question or stand up for myself and my children who will?

For more information on self examination please visit – The American Cancer Society

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