In 1997 after a routine mammogram I was called in for follow-up images. I thought nothing of it (technical error, perhaps), but 10 days later I was told to make an appointment with a surgeon as soon as possible. He scheduled me for a biopsy, assuring me that "95% of these things are benign."
Because the area in question was small and deep, the biopsy was preceded by a very stressful ordeal to locate it. I was clamped in the mammogram machine for at least 20 minutes while an image was taken and developed, then the doctor inserted a wire into my breast, aiming for the target. Another image was taken and developed, and he adjusted the wire. Repeat a third time. I could not move until he was sure he had located the tumor. Then it was time for the surgical biopsy, for which I received general anesthesia.
Being confident that I was OK, you can imagine how stunned I was when he called me late on Friday to tell me that it was malignant. I had a whole weekend to freak out before I was able to find out more. It was called Ductile Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), about 0.5 mm, Stage 0. (I later learned that DCIS is a non-invasive lesion.) The sample had "no clear margins" which meant that there seemed to be evidence of additional areas of concern. His recommendation was a modified radical mastectomy, which he wanted to schedule the following week before he went on vacation. I insisted on consulting an oncologist. She confirmed the diagnosis and said that mastectomy was the only recourse; no radiation or chemotherapy would work. You can imagine how sick at heart I felt. For days I had the urge to just scream. I found a woman surgeon who was very kind and assured me I wasn't going to die and that surgery would give me a long life.
So I had it, a modified radical with the removal of 13 lymph nodes, and an implant. And when I got the pathology report, it said "No evidence of cancer." One of the maddening aspects of this is that I was laid off from my job just as this began to unfold, so I had only a very limited conversion insurance plan that paid less that 15% of my costs.
In a recent report in the New York Times I read, "In 2006, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an influential breast cancer survivors’ organization, released a startling study. It estimated that in 90,000 cases, women who received a diagnosis of D.C.I.S. or invasive breast cancer either did not have the disease or their pathologist made another error that resulted in incorrect treatment." It's hard not to wonder if that was true for my case. So I want other women to know that if they get a bad diagnosis, get a second reading of the biopsy before agreeing to any surgery, radiation, or chemo!
It took me a long time to get over feeling disfigured. Now I guess I have to get over feeling pissed!
Read more about this study here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/health/20cancer.html?_r=1&ref=stephanie_saul