Needles in my boob, the meaning of positive, and so much damn cancer information

Didn’t mean to leave anyone hanging, but I’ve spent a ton of time with the kids and B during the holiday break. From Christmas (and so much playing!) to a New Years (kid-free!) getaway with B, it was a great week. In between the fun, I was researching and reading and plotting all the potential scenarios, but as much as possible, I tried to focus on the kids and B. But now I’ve reached the point at which I need to write this out, to get these thoughts and feelings out of my head. As I’ve said before, this blog helps me process, and I’m going to need to process a LOT during this process…

So the update, starting with the Christmas Eve biopsy.


I don’t think I ever want to spend Christmas Eve morning at the breast imaging center again.

The results of my mammogram and ultrasound were suspicious, so the biopsy was the next course of action. Again, not feeling like I had much to fear, I was in good spirits – looking forward to the next day with the family and the start of a week with B.

I changed into a surgical gown and was escorted back to the ultrasound room. The radiologist who would perform the procedure came in. He was really nice, to the point, and very socially awkward (which I appreciate and kind of adore in people). He explained the procedure and looked at the images from my last visit. In a few minutes, I was warned that the local anesthesia would sting a bit. It did, but it wasn’t bad.

A few minutes later, the first incision was made. I watched on the ultrasound as the first mass was found. I could see the radiologist’s needle approaching the mass.

“One. Two. Three,” he counted. Click! I watched as the needle pierced the mass and retracted back. This went on for six or seven times. Count to three. Click sound. Needle in and out. No pain, but I could feel blood dripping down my side.

Then he made a second incision for the next mass. Same procedure, except he forgot to count. “I’m so sorry,” he said with a little under-the-breath laugh. “I forgot to count. Are you okay?”

I assured him I was fine. Since I was watching the whole thing on the monitor, I could see the needle approach and anticipated the click and needle in-out thing. Besides, I couldn’t feel anything with the local anesthesia.

The nurses laughed as I explained that I figured it out and didn’t need the countdown. “Everyone is different,” Nurse Gina said. “Some people ask a ton of questions. Some want to bury their face in a pillow and not look at all.”

The whole thing lasted about an hour. During that time, the nurses, radiologist and I talked about our Christmas plans, recipes for cooking a tenderloin (two of us were making one for dinner the next day), and recipes for our themed holiday drinks. (We would have Cranberry Margarita Martinis, while Nurse Gina was preparing Frozen Grasshoppers.)

When it was over, Nurse Gina applied pressure to the two incisions for about 10 minutes. That was probably the most painful part. It was SERIOUS pressure. Then steri-strips and a gauze/adhesive dressing. The incisions were so small, Nurse Gina had a hard time finding them.

I had to change the dressing a few times that night because I kept bleeding through. It turned a beautiful purple color. (I joked that it matched the dress I was going to wear on New Years.) And there was a lump where the biopsies originated. But there was very little pain.

The worse thing was the flu that I was coming down with and would battle for the next week and a half.

Then waiting… Having B and my mom around, and the kids of course, kept my mind occupied (somewhat), but there was still the WAITING…

Positive Doesn’t Mean “Good”

Friday at 9 a.m., B and my mom were getting ready to leave, after they both spent two nights with the kids and me. My cell phone rang.

“I just got off the phone with the pathologist,” said the socially-awkward radiologist. “It’s positive for breast cancer. Both areas. Wait, sorry. I should have started with asking how you’re feeling since the biopsy…”

I laughed. I’m good, I assured him. Surprised at the results, but the biopsy area was fine.

“I really suspected it was cancer when I saw it,” he said, “but I had to wait for the results to be sure.”

He told me a nurse would call soon to schedule a meeting with a surgeon.

Tears. I walked out of my office and into the kitchen. I looked at my mom and said, “It’s positive.”

She put her arms around me and buried her head in my neck.

“Positive is good, right?” said Ethan, who I didn’t even realize was in the room. Until this point, I hadn’t said anything to the kids.

“Usually, yes,” I said. “But not usually when it comes to medical stuff.”

I explained that I had a test that showed a lump in my breast and had another test to determine what it was. It was the second test that was positive for something and that meant I’d have to see more doctors to find the best way to fix it. That satisfied him and so far, I haven’t said anything else to him.

(I’ve thought a lot about this. Until I have a plan and more information on my particular kind of cancer, talking about it to a kid who’s been through so much would do more harm than good. I really want to be able to say “here’s what’s up, here’s how we fix it, and everything will be okay.” I just don’t have enough information yet to do that.)

About that time, the surgical nurse called. I had already reviewed the surgeon profiles at the cancer center so I knew which surgeon I wanted to see. I had three options: two general surgeons and one breast-only surgeon. I’m going with the breast-only doc. Of course, she’s out of the country until January 12, so things are kind of on hold until then. She’ll be the one to refer me to the oncologist and radiation doc, and order additional testing necessary before surgery.

Information Overload

In the waiting time, I had an “education session” with Nurse Gina. I brought my mom for two reasons: 1) the cancer people kept asking if I had a support system (since I’d been alone during the mammogram and biopsy) and I wasn’t sure they believed that I did have support, and 2) I thought it would help my mom. (It did make her feel more comfortable.)

Most of what Nurse Gina covered, I knew from my hours of research, but there were two points that caused me to cry.

She explained that since I was pre-menopausal and under 50, I would most likely have to endure chemotherapy. As she went over the specifics and side effects of chemo, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. Losing my hair, eyelashes, eyebrows – “fuckity fuck fuck,” was the only thing I could think as tears streamed down my face. As she continued with the services offered in the cancer center – head shaving, wig fitting, scarf tying, eyebrow makeup classes – more tears. Tears because, quite frankly, I can hide all of this from people, but not if I lose hair. Then I’ll get sympathy looks, which I hate. I also teared because it’s so ridiculously vain – and that pissed me off that I could be so damned vain about HAIR… And it cycled back through again.

The second thing that caused me to cry was when she asked if I told the kids yet. I said no, and explained why and what they did know. She gave me information on how to tell kids, which is somewhat helpful, but given our situation, it’s so much more complicated. I just tear whenever someone talks about or I think about how my kids have been affected (and in some cases, messed up) by so many things out of their control. And at such young ages. This is just one more thing for them to worry about.

Nurse Gina was fantastic during the education session. She made my mom feel completely at ease. She sent me home with an inch-thick book and a two-inch binder, plus a ton of pamphlets and brochures on information and resources locally and nationally. I like having as much info as possible, so I’ve already devoured everything except the book (which seems to be a lot of info I’ve found in my research). And last night, I started researching wigs and scarf tying and the god-awful bras and inserts made for women who’ve gone through breast surgeries.

That’s where things stand right now. Stay tuned… there are still a half-dozen topics I want to write about, and will write about, in the coming days/weeks.


I was watching the season finale of Sons of Anarchy last week, when I found a lump in my breast. A big one (the lump, not my breast). Also, don’t judge about why I was doing a self exam while watching TV. (Very disappointed at the CGI at the end of that finale. Lame.)

I called my doctor the next day, and went in for a check up. She did an exam and said she was pretty confident it was no big deal. But advised that I get a mammogram anyway. Besides, I’m 41, and I should establish a boob-baseline.

Yesterday was the mammogram and ultrasound (ultrasound was necessary since I could feel the lump). I was joking with the techs, and watching on the screens. They took a lot of images, but since this was my first mammogram, I wasn’t sure what was normal. Honestly, I wasn’t worried. I’m healthy. There’s absolutely no cancer of any sort in my family. What could go wrong?

I knew it wasn’t good when the radiologist came in to give the results and asked if I wanted to have someone with me during the consult.

Um, I came alone. It’s just a test, right? Surely, she was going to tell me it was a cyst. Maybe it needed drained, but no biggie, right?

So, there are two rather large masses in my right breast. They’re solid, so they’re not cysts and unlikely to be menstrual-cycle related. They’re also not perfectly round. Good news: they’re not spider-webby, just a little pointy on each side. The radiologist was rating the area as a BIRAD 5. The scale only goes to 6, with 6 being a confirmed malignancy. The radiologist said I could wait until after the holiday to schedule a biopsy since there was unlikely going to be a change. Then she left the room so I could wipe the ultrasound goop from my chest.

I sat stunned as the tech ushered me back to the locker room to change into my clothes before meeting with the surgical nurse, who could answer questions.

I just stared at the tan and blue dressing room curtain. What the fuck does this mean?

Waiting for the nurse in her office, I did a quick google search for things to ask when your mammogram comes back suspicious. I never had a reason to pay attention to news articles or information about breast health. All I could think was “shit, I should have paid attention more to women’s health topics.” I felt completely uninformed.

The nurse was great. Straight forward, which I like and appreciate. I listened to information about the procedure, and then asked her my “what if” questions: what if it’s more than just a mass? What if it’s cancer? What are the options if it’s not cancer? What are the options if it is?

She answered everything, straight to the point, no-nonsense. Then sent me to scheduling.

I go in for a biopsy on Christmas eve at 8:45.

I spent last night researching. I’m a researcher, have to know my options. My head is like a flowchart: if this, then that. And I needed to fill in as many of those holes as possible. I like options, even if I never need them.

B called last night. He knew I was going in for tests. I broke down into tears when I was talking to him. It was the first time I cried since getting the news. I cried even more when I tried to go to sleep last night. It isn’t the procedure or even what it might show. It’s how this will impact the kids.

What if…

Then ((tears)).

Mother’s Day

I realized something yesterday.

Mother’s Day is a day, like any other day, for “only” moms. It was a nice enough day, in so far as it was like the Sunday before and probably the Sunday to follow.

As an only parent, there’s no sleeping in on Mother’s Day. My kids get up between 5:30 and 6:15 They each threw homemade Mother’s Day gifts at me before I was even out of bed. (Lauren made a card, and Ethan made a sun catcher and a Mom poem.)

Then they demanded breakfast right away. And conveniently forgot to take the dog out or get his food. So the dog jumped around under my feet as I screamed for someone to take care of him, at the same time that the kids screamed for berries. No, toast. No, cereal. No, eggs. OK, how about a little of everything?

And after they decided NOT to eat anything, it was up to me to clean up the mess. Then off to the shower, which should’ve been good for 10 minutes of peace and quiet, but instead became a parade of kids tattle-tailing on each other. Forget drying my hair or putting on makeup, I was lucky just to get dressed before I referred a wrestling match in my bedroom.

When I finally wrangled the kids into the car to go get flowers to plant (my Mother’s Day gift to myself AND “from” the kids since I let them pick out the flowers), it was complete chaos at the nursery. Apparently, everyone shopped for flowers. I lifted Lauren in the cart, to her dismay, because I just couldn’t chase both of them AND find flowers AND keep my sanity. Lauren continued to complain about being in the cart, and Ethan continued to aggravate her as I check out. They both argued with each other as I put them in the car and cranked the music to try to ignore the “he poked me” and “she’s looking at me” coming from the backseat.

I realized that was now lunchtime. (Where did the day go?) And I asked the kids what they want for lunch. They both shouted out fast food places (different ones, naturally) and suddenly burger and fries didn’t seem too bad. Quick drive thru order/pick up and casually tossed of the kids’ meal toys into the backseat and then the drive home.

The dog was barking from the backyard, where we left him basking in the sun. Flowers were taken out of the car to be planted later. And we sat down to lunch. The kid meal toys were apparently too much fun to get anyone to eat their food. And when they did finish, Ethan was still hungry so he asked Lauren for a few of her chicken nuggets (which we knew she won’t eat). She protested, he yelled, I picked up the nuggets from her plate and tossed them to Ethan across the table. Everyone was quiet for a few minutes before it was Lauren’s nap time.

Nap time is always a protest, but I convinced her to have some “quiet time” before we planted flowers. “No quiet time, no helping me plant,” I told her. She cooperated.

Ethan went outside to play. I sat on the couch to fold laundry. My eyes got heavy and I apparently fell asleep, only to wake up to Ethan watching a stupid movie. When did he come in the house?

Lauren started singing, “Is it time for me to go downstairs? I really want to go downstairs!” It’s her post-nap anthem.

She came downstairs and apparently changed into another outfit, but I didn’t even want to argue (or know) about what was wrong with what she was wearing when she went upstairs. We walked to the front door to go plant flowers, just as a huge crack of thunder exploded and the sky opened up.

Planting will have to wait. “Why?” Lauren asked.

I let the kids share iPad time as I folded laundry and picked up rogue Legos. I asked Ethan if he finished his homework. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I forgot.” And he scrambled to finish Spanish, math, and reading.

Then it was dinner time, and I decided to just take out leftovers from the week. I needed refrigerator room anyway, and the leftover Chinese, fettuccine alfredo, and steak and chicken fajitas should satisfy everyone. Of course, each kiddo wanted something different, but that’s okay. I just wanted the leftovers gone. Ethan said, “Maybe if we had a dad, he’d take you out to dinner for Mother’s Day.”

We polished off everything except the cashew chicken and some rice. Then I cleaned up the mess, started the dishwasher, and sat down for a few minutes before bathtime and storytime and bedtime.

It wasn’t a bad day, just a normal one. For me, apparently everyday is Mother’s Day.

(I should mention that B got me a Mother’s Day gift, a monthly subscription to BirchBox. I’ve looked into subscribing several times, but just never did. He NAILED his gift to me – I LOVE girly product samples! Now I feel pressured to find the perfect Father’s Day gift for him…)

Internet lies and my sister

My sister. Where to start? She may or may not be sick. She may or may not have an incurable, terminal disease. Yes, since I last updated her situation, there’s much doubt as to what’s really happening. Even my mom is now questioning what’s going on since Julie’s story isn’t holding together, and Julie refuses to let my mom go to medical appointments with her or talk to her doctors or share her test results.

What’s known: She quit her job without a plan. She filed for disability. She needs to find a cheaper place to live since she has no income.

My mom offered that Julie and her daughter could move into her condo. Julie was receptive, until she heard there were rules. Things like: your dogs cannot live here (per condo association rules), you will help with chores around the house, you cannot smoke in the house, you will not lie in bed all day/every day.

Julie declined the offer and said she didn’t want to follow rules. She also said she had everything under control.

Her plan, apparently, is soliciting money from friends, family and acquaintances. Money that is going to who knows where, but not where she says it’s going…

She recently opened a page on one of those “ask for money and share on FB” sites. She claimed she needed $1,000 to stay in her apartment, make car payments, and keep the utilities on. When she hit a few hundred dollars, she commented that she made her daughter’s last tuition payment for the year and paid the light bill.

What she didn’t say was that she hasn’t even started looking for a new, cheaper apartment. Or that she doesn’t have any long-term plans continue paying her bills. Or that she spends hundreds of dollars a month on cigarettes (God forbid she give those up).

Or that MY MOM paid my niece’s last tuition payment of the year – the one that Julie claims on the site that SHE paid with the donations from friends/family. (My mom’s no fool – she paid the school directly because she won’t send Julie money knowing it will NOT go where Julie claims it will).

Julie “raised” more than $750 in the last six days. Most of the donations are anonymous – which is probably best because my mom has been monitoring the page and has said she’ll call anyone who donates to tell them they’re foolish.

It’s mortifying that my sister is preying on people’s good nature.

It’s horrendous that she might be lying about her illness, especially when there are so many others in the world who truly are sick and need help (financial and otherwise).

It’s unforgivable that she has talked my niece into quitting college next year so that Julie will not be “alone.” (That’s another topic for another day…)

Friends, do NOT believe what you read on the Interwebz. Even if you think you “know” someone. You might as well send your bank routing number and social security number to that email claiming you won a European lottery.

I leave you with this thought from the Great Abe Lincoln (side note: I posted this photo to my FB profile, thinking I was sending a subtle message to friends who are connected to both Julie and me. Instead Julie commented on it first, without “getting” that it was directed at her.)


Two-for-one: Dishes make me cry and In-laws still suck

Two unrelated stories today:


It’s been a heck of a week. I’m on spring break, which has an entirely different meaning as a professor than it did when I was a college student. I’ve spent the week grading, drinking large amounts of caffeine, and cleaning my closet. And when faced with no real schedule but still stuff to accomplish, I procrastinate by going shopping. (This has NOT helped the closet-cleaning situation since I’m filling it back up as quickly as I’m eliminating the junk.)

Yesterday I went to campus for a few hours. Afterward I took the long way home. I saw a housewares store that I hadn’t been in for a long time, and I jumped across three lanes to pull into the lot. (I’m a sucker for off-the-wall kitchen gadgets, so I love this particular store.)

I walked through the aisles, just browsing. Killing time. No real purpose.

I came to an end cap near the dishes and stopped.

I stood there, staring at the display, for five minutes. Not moving. Barely breathing. Eyes starting to water. Forcing people to find a way around me because I couldn’t move.

I walked closer to the display, touching the dishes.

When the first tear fell, I knew I needed to walk away. But I kept looking back.

The dishes were the same as the ones Mike and I registered for when we got married. We used those dishes for 10 years. I sold them in a yard sale last spring.

Selling them didn’t phase me but for some reason, seeing the same pattern, the same brand, (even though the colors are different now), took me back to a happier time. And the pit in my stomach grew as my eyes continued to water.

I loved those dishes. I fought to have those dishes as our “everyday” pattern. So many meals served. So many family celebrations. So many happy times (and some sad ones).

I left the store, without buying anything, and finished the drive home. I just can’t stop thinking about those dishes. Funny what brings you back, and how emotions can be tied to almost anything.


My ex-sister-in-law (T) messaged me this week with a story.

T divorced Mike’s brother about four years ago. She’s now happily married, and she and her husband own a well-known bar in Mike’s hometown.

So, T and her husband were walking hand-in-hand through the parking lot of a local “taste of” festival. Their bar was one of the participants, and they were going to make sure things were going well.

It was in the parking lot where she was confronted by a crazy woman, who appeared out of nowhere.

She started wagging her finger in T’s face. “I hope you’re happy! You girls ruined my life!”

T wished the woman well, and kept walking. Her husband was confused (and probably a little scared) by this crazy person confronting his wife.

The crazy woman? Mike’s mom.

Thinking about that confrontation – and T’s perfectly calm reaction (I probably wouldn’t have been so nice) – has made me smile all week.

Still blaming T and I for ruining her life. Yep, it’s our faults that your sons turned out like they did. And, just like always, it’s about her. I REALLY don’t miss the in-laws…