Friday, July 25, 2008

Mammo- grammo

I've already alluded to the fact that last week I finally had my semi-annual mammogram. I was only 2 and 1/2 years late. In Cleveland I had such problems with my health care provider. I was sent an urgent message to "get thyself to a surgeon" after a medical appointment to evaluate a rash I had on my belly and chest. Without even removing my shirt or bra- or any touching- the doctor had identified a lump in my breast for which I required a surgical consult.** I was pissed - and concerned that somewhere there was likely a woman that did have a lump that needed assessing. Well, the surgeon checked me out anyway - after I told him the story. He told me I was OK but that I should have bi-annual exams, including mammograms, to monitor me. WTF?? This was an HMO, so I am not sure what the motivation. I have to guess it was just habit for him. I'd hate to think his brain was engaged.

In January of 2006- before I left Cleveland - I had my mammogram. Again, I was "recalled" to the surgeon. I had calcification in my left breast and they wanted a biopsy. I was a nervous wreck. The house wasn't selling. I had a funky something on my skin that the dermatologist biopsied and now this. The biopsy was just a xray guided needle biopsy. The worst part was the local anaesthetic placement...though it was very strange to see a stereoscopic platform mounted on one's own bloody breast. I had to fight to prevent the subsequent implantation of a piece of titanium to mark the biopsy site. (I'm not sure, but I suspect it had a little flag on it with the words "Kilroy was here" emblazoned on it.) "It is completely safe," they told me. "What kind of LONG RANGE data do you have to support that statement?" I asked as in my mind I reviewed the statistic that dogs with metal bone implants are more likely to develop osteosarcoma. I won. Yay. Small victory.

It took every day as long as they predicted to get the result and that result did not include calling me with report. I had to repeatedly call both the surgeon and the dermatologist trying to learn whether I'd live longer than our house was on the market.

Still, you know the outcome. The house sold at the end of the month and both biopsies came back clear.

So, I've been reluctant to enter back into the clutches of the breast police. I've had an order for the test since Oct 2006! Somehow, I screwed up my courage and made the call. I wanted to do the test during my break in June- but it takes calling more than 6 weeks ahead of time to get to pick your preferred date. Hence- mid July.

Australian mammography equipment is no warmer or more comfortable than US equipment. In fact, in the US they let me wear half a hospital gown. Here, I had to chuck the entire piece onto the waiting chair. At least I had an early morning appointment and the a/c hadn't "warmed up" yet to fully chill the room. Like most of my previous mammograms, I had the pleasure of repeated views. This time, however, I was able to just wait around and didn't have to reschedule for another day. Oh, and then they added a breast ultrasound. At the conclusion of the morning, the technician was "pleased to tell me" that I was "OK".

This week I received the report written by the radiologist who examined my films. I have fascinating breasts with dense, nodular and complex parenchyma and scattered microcalifications. No wonder the good folks in Cleveland wanted to view them so often. I'm beginning to feel a bit like Mt. Rushmore.

**Not to interrupt the flow of this narrative, but there is a funny story to accompany this breast lump saga. Not long after my "surgical scare" one of our finest receptionists left our clinic to move with her partner to Florida. We prepared a photo album of clinic images for her as a remembrance- including a photo of all the female staff with their shirts pulled up over their heads. (Really, it made sense for her at that time.) Anyway, in honor of my super-you-can-see-them-from-across-the-room-fully-clothed, lumpy breasts, I glued gum balls all over my bra. Ah. Those were good days!

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