It’s Different Now

May 25, 2007

mom2.jpgThis is my mom. I guesstimate her to be in her early to mid twenties in the picture on the left; maybe a little younger in the beach photo. I’ve thought a lot about her since yesterday, even though the day didn’t start out that way.

She lived 75 happy, and for the most part, healthy years and would have been 89 in February. Her death certificate said “acute pulmonary embolism”.

She did not have cancer; ever.

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I’ve posted about breast cancer before. People don’t like it. I don’t blame them since it’s not a pleasant topic. This post has a little different slant, but if you want to move on, now’s the time.

 

Yesterday I went for a mammogram. It was long overdue. Actually my daughter shamed me into it, albeit unintentionally. I had put it off. It’s not that I didn’t have the time, or the resources; I just did not want to go. It wasn’t until I sat in the waiting room tied neatly inside of my hospital gown, that the emotion began to well up.

There were three other women in the waiting room. One, like me, had waited. One had returned for additional testing. And one had a family history of breast cancer. She knew the routine and wasn’t taking any chances. Then there was me. We shared small talk and within minutes two of us were being screened and the other two had received good news and were on their way.

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The technician greeted me warmly and directed me to a chair in the screening room. Standing at a computer screen, she asked a few questions beginning with the status of my meunstral cycle and ending with, “Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?” The answer was easy, “No.” I usually stop there, but this time it came pouring out. That, and some tears. Both of which must have been lying in wait for just the right moment.

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When I was in elementary school, about the time this picture was taken, my mom found a lump the size of a pea in her left breast. She went in to the hospital for a biopsy and came out with space where her breast used to be. I remember it very clearly. I remember the dressings, the incision(s), and the sadness. I remember the caved in space on her chest. I remember the tenderness and swelling in her arm. I remember the bra with the pocket that held her prosthesis, or falsie, as she called it.

Mostly I remember that the tumor was benign. Being a kid, and hearing a word I hadn’t heard before, I figured benign meant that she had cancer and now it was gone. It did not make sense that the surgeon would remove the breast, perform the biopsy, and then find there was no cancer. But that’s the way it was back in the day.

According to The Breast Cancer Wars, by Barron H. Lerner:

…the radical mastectomy (was) the treatment of choice in the United States from the early 1900s until the late 1970s. Developed by William S. Halsted, an eminent European-trained surgeon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, radical mastectomy removed not only the affected breast, but the underarm lymph nodes as well as both of the chest wall muscles on the affected side. This disfiguring and debilitating surgery was performed on virtually every woman who presented with the disease, regardless of the degree of the cancer’s severity at the time of diagnosis.

As early as the 1940s, evidence was beginning to accumulate that less invasive surgery yielded comparable survival rates, but followers of Halsted aggressively defended their practices. Not until 34 years after the first popular call for modifying the extensive surgery, by George (Barney) Crile, Jr., of the Cleveland Clinic in 1955, did surgeons at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, one of the last bastions of radical breast surgery, lay down their instruments and acknowledge that the Halsted era had come to an end.

What I want to tell you is, it’s different now. All of it. It’s all different now. Different from 10 years ago, and different from 40 years ago when my mom had a radical mastectomy for what turned out to be a benign tumor. I spent hours last night reading about a subject that I had previously and purposely moved to the vast recesses of my mind and emotion where I could ignore it.

Research has shown a lumpectomy, removal of the tumor and a small amount of normal tissue around it, to be equally as effective as a radical mastectomy in cases of small tumors. Survival rates are identical. Women who require a more extensive form of surgery have options for reconstruction, even beginning at the time of surgery.

Things change. Change is good.

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My last mammogram lasted all of three hours, included an ultrasound, and I waited over a week for the results. My appointment yesterday was at 3:30. I was on my way home by 4:00 with a certificate of normal results. I will continue to do my self-examinations, and next year I’ll be back.

It’s different now. And that’s a blessing.

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9 Responses to “It’s Different Now”

  1. her indoors Says:

    great news for you, and yes we have moved on from the days when your mum had to have a full mysectomy. i had a lumpectomy in 1979 when i was 18 and two months from my wedding day, how different it was for me from your mum, my mum had breast cancer, it is something we need to be aware off, it is something that we should be aware of and it is something that should be talked about, so pleased you got the all clear

  2. mjd Says:

    I am glad that you are fine. The changes in treatment are amazing. Of course, I have known several women that had actual breast cancer, who had a radical mastectomy. I did not realize that women with benign tumors also suffered mastectomys. I am sorry to hear that your mom had this unnecessary surgery. Gratefully, things have changed. Undoubtedly, the change in these procedures came from years of research. Research that has been funded through a variety of sources. I applaud your lovely daughter, who is making the long walk in October to help raise funds for research not only to improve treatment but to find a cure for this scary disease. Take care.

  3. Cazzie Says:

    Bless you for posting this topic. WOmen need to learn how to self examine and actually do the work of performing their self exam as part of their regime…be it like part of the morning schedule, brush teeth, have shower examine breasts when it is time…
    Alot of the women I nurse who are having treatment say they either found the lump themselves through self examination, or, that their partner noted the difference in their breast.
    Yes, change is good, thank the Lord, thanks to the marvellous men and women researching. And, it goes without saying, to the women affected by the unforgiving menace that breast cancer is.
    Huggs to you, and it is nice to have met your mum, what a wonderful woman, very beautiful too.

  4. jo Says:

    you really have made me think about myself, I never have checked myself it didnt even occur to me to do so.
    I am glad your came back normal, and really thanks for that, thats a wonderful picture of your mum.

  5. gawilli Says:

    Her Indoors – 18 is so young but what a blessing you were able to have a lumpectomy.
    Mjd – I am pleased that Sarah is able to make this walk also. Willi and I were just talking about the unbelievably long time it took, from the early 1900’s to the 70’s, for there to be consensus on alternative, less invasive, surgeries. It was probably a series of things, such as women’s rights and the attention of various research groups, that afforded a change.
    Cazzie – I always thought it would be helpful for women to be able to feel what they should be looking for when they do a self-examination, other than the obvious lump. There are simulations for other things, so it just makes sense. I suppose if it is there I will know it.
    Jo – I’m glad you will start checking yourself as it is so important. Mostly I am glad you happened on this post.

  6. Mimi Lenox Says:

    Many bloggers, including WW participants, will be flying Peace Globes in the blogosphere on Wednesday, June 6, 2007. It is BlogBlast for Peace day – the second annual event. Please consider using your Wordless Wednesday platforms on this day to participate. You can find more information about the movement at Mimi Writes or BlogBlast for Peace
    http://mimiwrites.blogspot.com or http://mimilenox.blogspot.com

    Thanks and peace!
    Mimi


  7. I’m so glad that your results were so positively negative.

  8. samibear Says:

    Yes, things are different now. I remember how it was then. A woman could go in and not know until she woke whether they removed her breast or not. Now we can make that decision ourselves. A friend recently did just that. It turned out she had to have both breasts removed. She chose to have reconstruction at the same time. She had her first chemo treatment last Wednesday. She feels optimistic and is in remarkably good spirits. She is amazing!
    We are in a club together and every month at roll call we’re asked to tell if we did our breast check. It is good to be accountable to someone. Thank you for this post. I had put the way it used to be out of my mind. It is nice to be reminded how things were back in the day…


  9. […] forty years ago, when my gram found a lump, they did a radical mastectomy (my mom wrote about that here). No mammograms, no ultrasounds, no lumpectomy. Just… […]


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