I Survived Breast Cancer Because I Disagreed With My Doctor

female patient doctor
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Have you ever decided to attempt a sexy striptease for your partner, only to brush your hand over your breast and feel a lump? I have. On a Friday evening. Which translated to a weekend full of scary breast lump Internet searches. Come Monday, I was dialing my doctor's office as soon as they opened, securing a coveted same-day appointment. In the interim, there were more scary Internet searches.

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Hours later, my primary care physician gave me a breast exam followed by a verbal pat on the head. "Don't worry. You'e only 30 -- you're much too young for it to be breast cancer."

He offered me two options: Wait and see for a few weeks in the hopes the lump disappeared as abruptly as it had appeared, or aspirate the lump then and there. I opted for the latter, but after several painful needle pokes there was nothing to show for it. Based on my weekend Internet excursion, I knew that wasn't a good sign.

Unperturbed, my doctor said, "Well, that still doesn't mean anything, because you're too young, and you have no family history of breast cancer. But just to ease your mind, I'll refer you to get a mammogram."

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He sent me on my way with the promise that someone would call me soon to set up an appointment.

While someone did get back to me the same day, I was discouraged to find out the soonest they could get me in for a mammogram was in four weeks. After setting up the distant appointment, I asked how I could get in sooner.

"Since you asked, we do have a wait list I can put you on," the scheduler said. Great! Sign me up!

While she was at it, I asked her to put me on ALL the wait lists, thus turning myself into an on-call mammogram-ee. I'm still not sure why this wait-list option wasn't automatically offered -- why did I have to ask?

Two days later, someone else's mammogram cancellation was my first ever mammogram. The rest is Stage 2B breast cancer history.

juliet farmer

The kicker? I was having what turned out to be my second surgery (a mastectomy after my first surgery, a lumpectomy, yielded fuzzy margins) the very same day I was supposed to have my originally scheduled mammogram. By then, my tumor had doubled in size from about 3 cm at the Monday morning doctor's office visit to 6 cm when it was removed surgically a month later.

My proactive "patient-ing" continues to serve me well post–breast cancer treatment. I've met with little physician resistance, and what pushback I've received has been tempered by my enthusiasm and willingness to be an active participant in my health care. As my oncologist so aptly stated when I met him a month after my mastectomy, "Had you waited for that initial mammogram appointment, you'd probably have been Stage 3 or 4." My experience is unique, but the moral is universal -- being a proactive patient likely saved my life.

 

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