Four and a half years after my initial diagnosis with a stage one aggressive breast cancer, I really felt that I was almost out of the woods as far as a recurrence is concerned. I had almost reached the five year mark, at which point my risk would drop substantially. I had monitored my situation closely and completely changed my lifestyle and approach to health. I was completely confident that I was not going to have to deal with the monster again.
It was a surprise and great disappointment when after a routine MRI, I received a call from my radiologist saying that she saw something and wanted to do a biopsy. By now, I was the biopsy queen and had been biopsied at least 5-7 times since my initial diagnosis. In fact, nearly every time I went for my six month check ups, something was discovered and I had to go through at least, sometimes multiple biopsies. It had become routine in my case.
This was the first time, however, that I had to do an MRI-guided biopsy. MRIs for breast cancer, in general, are uncomfortable. You have to lie on your stomach in a prone position with your head resting on the equivalent to a massage table pillow. You’re face down with your face coming through a cushioned opening. A pillow is put under your legs to help prevent a sore back. And, you cannot move for the 30 or so minutes the test takes. Anyone who has ever had a breast MRI knows just how uncomfortable the procedure is, noise included. I have gotten used to them, sad to say, and can sometimes even fall asleep while it is going on, if you can imagine that! They will typically offer music to drown out the loud clanking sounds, but I have started to refuse and opt for ear buds to mute the noise instead. The music was more trouble than it was worth. The headphones were tight and began to hurt after a few minutes and you cannot adjust them as you lie still. Plus, you hear the noise of the machine over the music anyway. What you can’t hear is the technician talking to you during the process. So the ear buds work for me.
When I went in for my biopsy, they numbed my breast, so there was no pain, and used what seemed similar to a sewing machine that inserted the needle in and out of my breast as it removed the tissue in question. I felt a bit of pulling and one of the technicians was nice enough to hold my hand during the procedure. My husband waited for me in the waiting area and when we were getting ready to leave, the radiologist told us that her gut was telling her this is nothing. We left feeling confident. It is not often that a radiologist will make such a statement without having the results.
So, we were stunned to learn a few days later that an area of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) was uncovered. DCIS is not considered cancer but since I had a history, two surgeons recommended a mastectomy to remove the area and to remove future risk.
I opted for the mastectomy but was not comfortable with the prospect of an implant. I decided to go with a DIEP flap surgery and reconstruction. In this surgery, the breast tissue is scooped out leaving the skin, and in my case the nipple as well. Fat is then removed from your tummy and used to rebuild the breast. It is fascinating that this type of reconstruction is possible. At this point, I know that it is not widely available. But, I had my surgery done in New York City and am so glad that it was available to me.
During the surgery, a very small cancer was found. It was tiny and its characteristics were different than the initial cancer. The good news is that it was less aggressive and the doctors still felt that if the more aggressive cancer had not spread by now, I was still out of the woods with a more serious cancer or metastasis developing.