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A Breast Cancer Beginning… Nurse Turned Patient

As a nurse, social worker, and child development specialist, I have worked with a great number of people with cancer. I have also documented my own physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and oftentimes hilarious journey through, with, over, and around breast cancer. To clarify: breast cancer isn’t funny. Not at all. However, my journey? Frequently guffaw-inducing.

Another clarification: I prefer to call breast cancer FBC. The “F” stands prominently for the F-Bomb. I’ve dropped quite a few F-Bombs since the diagnosis so, without being overtly crude, just know that when you see an “F” in my writing, you can safely assume what it stands for.

In this community forum, I will discuss a great deal of both my personal as well as clinical experiences; however, to give you some perspective, I thought that it would be best for you to read my story, from the beginning. I look very forward to sharing my journey with you!

On September 28th, 2010, I was awakened with shooting pain to my right breast. I am a person who can sleep standing up, with lights on, and a live band playing. So, to be awakened is a rare occurrence. I immediately felt a lump. WTF, I thought?

I don’t consider myself to be an alarmist and promptly went back to sleep. On September the 30th, the exact same thing happened. WTF – again? Reminding myself that I am NOT an alarmist, I assumed that this lump was a direct result of drinking coffee… a new and unfortunate habit to which I succumbed as a result of total fatigue. Additionally, I assured myself that breast cancer doesn’t typically hurt. So, I wasn’t particularly worried.

I was happy (and a little relieved), however, to already have an appointment with a gynecologist in Santa Barbara for a full checkup the week later.

Fast forward to Monday, October 11th. I had full check-up and I do mean FULL, including blood work and all of the other unmentionable components of a gynecologic exam. I directed my doctor to the lump in my right breast… still prominently palpable.

My doctor asked when my last mammogram was. I told her that I am 39 ¾ and that I had not yet had one. Well, you would have thought that I had committed a mortal sin. “What? You should have had one at 37,” she said. I explained to her that I just moved from the Midwest where women typically don’t have mammograms until age 40. I thought I was actually AHEAD of schedule, as I am apt to be.

She said that the lump was probably nothing, but that she wanted me to have a mammogram and handheld ultrasound as soon as possible. ASAP? Well, I wondered, if she thinks it’s “nothing” then why am I rushing to get these tests?

I called the two places in Santa Barbara that do mammograms and ultrasounds. The first appointment availability was mid-to-end of November at each location. However, one of the two said, “If you come as a walk-in (promptly at 8:30 on Thursday), it is very likely that you will be the first seen.” Okey-dokey. I’ll be there.

My husband was heading out of town on Wednesday for 5 days with a group of dear friends to Israel. This couples-trip had been planned nearly a year in advance. At the onset of the planning, I knew that I was not supposed to be on this trip. Why? I had no clue. Though I knew it would be an absolutely incredible, over-the-top trip, I just knew that I was not supposed to go. Because it was important to him, I supported his participation 110% (even though I had an inkling that he, too, was not supposed to go). I tell you this because I am a big advocate of intuition. When your inner voice talks, LISTEN.

Before he left, he said, “If you need a biopsy, wait until I get back.” Really? More of this alarmist talk…

On Thursday morning, I drove myself to my tests. Having someone come with me was not even in the realm of thinking. On my way there (at 8:15 am, by the way!), my gynecologist called to ask me when I was going for the mammogram and ultrasound. I told her to relax, that I was on my way there now. Geez.

Well, the mammogram went brilliantly. The tech was kind, gentle, and apologetic for smooshing my breasts into the vice-like machine. Much unlike the horror stories I’ve heard from friends.

I asked if I could take a look at the images when she was done and it looked nice and fibrous. I was confident that in no time, I would be told to stop drinking coffee.

Next up: handheld ultrasound. I was taken into a nice, quiet, dark room and given a warm blanket, which had NAP written all over it.

Unfortunately, the technician was chatty, chatty, chatty. She was so nice, though, that I couldn’t be grumpy with her. Then, she stopped talking. Silence. This, I knew, was not a good sign. However, I took it as an opportunity to catch a little shut-eye. When she finished, she asked me to stay in the room because she wanted to ask the radiologist if he wanted a few more images. No problem. She promptly returned 5 minutes later to squirt more gel on my breasts and take more images.

After she finished, she asked me to put my clothes on and wait in the waiting room. I asked her when I would get the results. She told me that the radiologist would see me before I left. Another bad sign. I wondered why the radiologist needed to tell me in person to stop drinking coffee. Seemed a little dramatic since I was only drinking one cup a day at most.

When I was finally called into the radiologist’s office, my images (a lot of them!) were on 4 large monitors before me. He said, “I understand you are a nurse.” Yes, I said. “Then, I assume that I can talk with you more directly and clinically than I would someone else.” Sure, I said (though, I wondered if there was a clinical way to tell me to stop drinking coffee).

I felt as if I was about to be in a car crash, where everything happens before you know it, but it feels like slow motion. “You have 4 lesions in your right breast and 3 in your left. We need to do a biopsy today and an MRI as soon as possible. Here are the images. You can see right here…” WTF? WTF? WTF?

Read the rest of Hollye’s story.

Hollye began writing as a way to discuss her journey with breast cancer. She believes that breast cancer happens within the ecosystem of family, friends, and community. Consequently, she decided to take the holistic approach and write about breast cancer with style, humor, and silver linings. Hollye writes from the uniquely candid perspective of both her personal and professional experiences. She is a pediatric and adult palliative care nurse and social worker with graduate degrees in bioethics and child development. Hollye has worked as an educator, clinician, trainer, and consultant at the City of Hope National Medical Center, the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital, the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She speaks nationally about bioethics, grief and bereavement, and a family-centered approach to facing life-threatening illnesses. You can follow her blog at The Silver Pen, email her at hollye@TheSilverPen, or follow her on Twitter @hollyejacobs.

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