Jul 29, 2014
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'We've Seen a Suspicious Area On Your Mammogram'

When a routine mammogram reveals a questionable mass, Patch columnist Christine Wolf starts typing.

'We've Seen a Suspicious Area On Your Mammogram'
This column was written by Patch opinion columnist Christine Wolf and is part one of a three-part column about finding a lump in her breast. To read the second part, follow this link. To read the third part, follow this link.

The end-of-school year always knocks the wind out of me, but last week took the cake. 

Two weeks ago, I went for a routine mammogram at  The Center for Breast Health at Northshore University Health System’s Evanston Hospital. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had one. Life had just gotten so busy. 

I’d often passed – but never stepped inside -- The Center For Breast Health. The entrance is at the top of the escalators, just above the main lobby. I zipped in without an appointment, had my mammogram, and zipped out. Awesome, I thought. Cross that off my list. Then I moved on to the next item on my never-ending to-do list. 

Two hours after the mammogram, I was shopping for a teacher’s gift when my cell phone rang. 

“We’d like you to come back for additional screening,” a woman said. “We’ve seen a suspicious area on your mammogram.” 

I stood still in the middle of the store, listening. 

“The first opening is next week, Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. Can we pre-register you?” 

“Of course,” I said, considering the timing. That’s 6 days from now – after Memorial Day Weekend. Can I really wait that long?

“I’m actually able to come back today....” 

“Unfortunately, Wednesday’s our first opening,” the woman said. “Can you make it?” 

“Absolutely,” I said, moving aside for a frantic shopper, no doubt in a rush like I’d been just three minutes earlier. I immediately called my husband at work, and his reassuring response was exactly what I needed. I relaxed for five minutes, then started to worry again. I called my mother and got the same reaction: “These things happen all the time. It’s good that you’re getting it checked but I’m sure it’s just a fibroid.” 

“You’re right,” I said. “You’re right.”  

I vowed not to dwell or search the Internet and almost kept that promise, but Memorial Day Weekend was cool and dreary, and I couldn’t help myself. 

What if it’s cancer

Instead of fighting it, I turned to writing it.  I wrote a post on ChicagoNow called “My Week Of Boobs,” hoping to exorcise my fear and gain a sense of control. The post got 400 hits, according to Google Analytics, and among those readers were two high school friends -- one of whom is a breast cancer survivor. They and others emailed messages of encouragement, offering to talk or just listen, but every time I thought about picking up the phone, I’d cry. Why was I feeling so emotionally unstable? I just shared this news and people are offering to help.

It’s going to be fine, 
I told myself. Get a grip and focus on other things until Wednesday. I tried to forget about it, but then an email came in from North Shore University Health System with the mammogram results, bringing them back into sharp focus: 

INDICATION: Annual screening.
COMPARISON: 10/21/2009
FINDINGS: 2 standard views of both breasts were obtained digitally and
reviewed with the R2 CAD version 9.3. The breast tissue is
heterogeneously dense, unchanged in pattern and distribution since the
prior study. There is a questionable new focal asymmetry in the
retroglandular fat along the posterior nipple line in the right breast.
The finding is seen on the CC view. There is no definite correlate on
the MLO view. There are no suspicious masses, microcalcifications, or
areas of architectural distortion present in the left breast.
1. The sensitivity of mammography is reduced in dense breast tissue and
the importance of physical examination is therefore increased.
2. Questionable new asymmetry in the right breast as discussed above.
The patient should return for additional views, including spot
compression views and possible ultrasound.

The first thing I thought was, My last mammogram was 2009? That just can’t be. That’s over four years ago. 

I reminded myself that suspicious, benign areas are discovered every day. Calm down, I told myself, remembering what my husband and mother had both advised: Don’t spend time worrying about something until there’s something to worry about. 

During a haircut on Tuesday, my hairdresser asked, “So what’s new?” When I told her I’d be getting a follow-up mammogram the next day, she didn’t miss a beat. “It’s nothing,” she said. And I believed her. 

The next day, Wednesday, I went back to the Center For Breast Health for another series of mammograms. The technician would take a few, leave the room to show them to the radiologist, and come back again for more. This happened three times. The third time she left the room, she was gone for quite some time. And that’s when I knew it wasn’t “nothing”. 

“Okay,” she said, coming back to get me. “The doctor would like to do an ultrasound on the questionable area,” she said, holding the door for me. 

Once I was prepped and ready, the radiologist came into the ultrasound room. 

“How are you?” he asked, then, before I could answer, made a point to say he could only imagine I wasn’t feeling on top of the world at this particular moment. Here I am, lying topless on an exam table, about to have a breast mass examined. 

He pulled his glasses out of his pocket and smiled. “All right. I’m putting on my lucky glasses.” Let’s just get this over with, I thought. Just tell me that it’s nothing. 

Check Evanston Patch tomorrow for part two of Christine's column.

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