I was drafted earlier this month. What's that? You say the draft ended in 1973 and only men were drafted? Not so my friend. This draft is ongoing and I fear it will never end. This draft calls mostly women, although a few men have been conscripted. I was drafted to fight to save the ta-tas, the boobies, the hooters, the bazookers, the knockers, melons, jugs and titties. I was called into the war against breast cancer. My tour of duty has been brief but I am forever changed.
War has a way of changing people.
Just as I was instructed I registered for the draft 20 years ago by submitting for my first mammogram. And just as my doctor ordered I updated that registration with yearly mammograms. Happily submitting the girls for radiological inspection. I knew the odds were low that I would be asked to report to duty. I had no fear. I had no worries. My draft number was pretty high. Even that day years ago when I received a 'call back' for a magnified view of the girls I had no worries. Come back in six months for more pictures. All will be good. I am just a rock star.
But Not so this time. The drill was the same, no lotion, no powder, no deodorant the morning of the exam. Report to the inspection facility at the appointed time. Strip from the waist up and put on the recruitment Johnny. The lead shield was applied. A little sign reminded me 'we compress because we care'.
I had no worries.
My doctor called two days later to tell me my draft number had been picked. Some microcalcifications had been found, visible only by mammography. There had been no lumps, bumps, oozing or rashes. No outward signs that might have warned me. My doctor continued, the only way to rule out ductal carcinoma in situ was to give the pathologist a little bit of tissue. And with that I was drafted into the war against breast cancer.
Having an MPN did not give me a free pass from other diseases and cancers. In fact people with ET and PV have an INCREASED risk of developing prior and secondary cancers.
The breast biopsy was scheduled 10 days later. I was told to stop taking aspirin 7 days prior to the procedure. This caused me to worry. The only defense I have between me and ET causing some sort of thrombotic event is that tiny 81 mg tablet I take each night. That itty bitty pill is enough to keep those platelets slippery and sliding through my arteries and veins. That lowly little tablet keeps the headaches at bay. It halts the foot cramps and hand tingling. I feel safe. I feel protected.
Now I feel worried, anxious and scared.
I called my hematologists, both of them, the big doc in NYC and my local top doc. I needed to know if I would be safe without my baby aspirin. They each assured me it would be ok and even put it in writing.
The intake nurse called to give me my marching orders and describe the procedure and what to expect. These early descriptions of battle magnified my anxiety. The nurse told me many new recruits need psychopharmacology to cope with the process. She suggested I call my gyn and request an amply supply.
At this point I realized in some weirdly odd way the experience of waiting for the ET diagnosis two years earlier had prepared me for the uncertainty of the breast biopsy outcome. I had been down this road before. Despite my fear I could handle whatever the outcome might be.
I am not a brave soldier. I knew the initial battle would be ugly. I called my doctor for those meds and tried them out a few days before the procedure only to discover the prescribed dose would be woefully inadequate.
As dawn rose on the morning of battle with my anxiety mounting, my husband drove me to the Combat Support Hospital. Since I was 'under the influence' I needed someone to witness my consent for battle. The nurses and doctor were wonderfully sensitive to my highly anxious state. Promising to explain every step of the process right down to the sounds of the crinkling paper I would hear. I would not be in a position to see what was being done. I started to sob.
War is ugly and those who have not fought must be spared the brutal details of battle. The sisterhood of soldiers drafted for this war know the horror. Those who have not been drafted need only visualize taking the family car into the repair shop. Driving the car up on hydraulic lifts and the mechanic working on the undercarriage from the pit below.
Medical procedures seem designed to de-personalize the HUMAN BEING into nothing more than pieces and parts to be pricked, cut and explored.
I had four days to wait. Four days to consider the possible outcomes.
IF the pathology report was positive surgery appeared inevitable. I began to compile a list of questions and concerns. How would ET and my elevated platelets impact surgery? Where should the surgery be done? Would the breast surgeon know about MPNs? I have 2 heme/oncs now, would I need another oncologist? Would I need to treat the ET before battling breast cancer? Should I find a leading breast cancer expert for a second opinion? Do platelets provide the fuel for tumor activation?
My tour of duty in the battle against breast cancer was brief. I have been honorably discharged from service with a BENIGN pathology report. There is no cancer thank God. My discharge papers put me on inactive reserve status. I am to report for radiological inspection again in six months.
I have become a breast cancer warrior. I have been left with physical scars. I took a bullet that left titanium shrapnel forever embedded in my breast. I am one of the lucky ones. I am a survivor. The war continues.
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