20 June 2008

Hello, I’m back. I hope you’ll all forgive my light posting these last many weeks. I’ve been … overwhelmed.

Back on the first of May or thereabouts I went through a scare when a lump was discovered in my left breast during a yearly physical. That discovery led to a mammogram, which I was scheduled to have anyway, and an ultrasound, which I was not scheduled to have. When that was done, I was told by the radiologist that all was fine, there was nothing to worry about and he’d see me next year when I did my next mammogram.

Cool. I was relieved. I felt a little silly too, since I’d blogged about it and worried my readers for nothing.

Well, although I thought it was over, it wasn’t yet. The radiologist sent to my local hospital for my old mammograms – he wanted to compare them to the new ones. And when he got them, he decided he’d better redo the ultrasound. I was called and asked to come back.

It was done. The nodule they’d found originally was still there, along with two milk ducts that looked, to him, not quite right. He suggested an MRI. I was sent to a breast surgeon for a second opinion. She agreed that an MRI should be done before any other action should be taken.

I had the MRI done. What a very strange experience.

Now, all of this happened over the course of many weeks, during which I wasn’t sure if I should be scared or not be scared. I’ve told myself I shouldn’t be. After all, not all “lumps” are cancerous. The facts say that far more aren’t malignant than are. Nevertheless, this has weighed on my psyche, pushing me down, leaving little space in my mind for more frivolous things. If there was nothing to be concerned about, these doctors wouldn’t be doing all these tests, right? They deal with this disease all the time. If they’re concerned, then I should be.

So yeah, I was concerned. Scared. And frustrated because it was all taking so much time.

In the meantime, I was trying to deal with the side effects of this new arthritis drug I’m taking, which completely knackers me (I love that British expression) for a couple of days each week. I wrote about that in an earlier post.

Finally, I had another appointment with the breast surgeon. This time, she’d have both the ultrasound and MRI results in front of her, and she could make a determination. I went to the appointment on Wednesday this week, glad that finally, whatever the outcome was, I’d know what was going on.

It was not to be. The surgeon had not received the MRI results; somehow, they’d been lost between the civilian radiological company that did the MRI and the VA medical center. She couldn’t tell me anything without them. She was apologetic, promised she’d call me as soon as they were tracked down and she could take a look and read the radiologist’s report.

I was, of course, very let down. Furious, really, but what can you do? The records weren’t lost on purpose, and the VA is a huge – even ginormous – bureaucracy. These things happen. I knew it wouldn’t help to get angry. So I left the appointment frustrated and still in the dark. Breast cancer? Who knows?

This story isn’t funny, but it has it’s funny moments. Today, also as part of the yearly physical, I had a colonoscopy. I spent yesterday dealing with the effects of laxatives and the drinking of an entire gallon of the most vile liquid I’ve ever tasted, “cleansing” in preparation. Long story short: They did the colonoscopy this morning. I was sedated and don’t remember much. They found two polyps and nipped them out. They’re at the lab for biopsy. The doctor told me he wasn’t worried, but they routinely nip and check any polyps they find.

These people are incredibly thorough, aren’t they?

So when he got me home, Mr. Wren just sort of poured me into bed, and that’s where I’ve stayed most of the day, sleeping off the sedation. I woke wanting a cup of coffee. Got that, and sat down at my laptop to read the news, check out my blog buddies and wait for this strange, woozy feeling to pass.

And lo and behold, the breast surgeon called. She finally had my pictures in front of her. She said that while the MRI leads her to believe that the nodule is probably benign, and the suspect ducts look normal, she wants to go ahead and do a biopsy. This was the recommendation of the civilian radiologist who read the MRI, as well. She told me that 19 times out of 20, the lump is benign. But since breast cancer is such a devastating disease, she’d rather be absolutely sure.

Well, I’m all for being sure.

Oddly, her phone call calmed me, even though I still don’t know one way or another. I’m still a little scared – who wouldn’t be? – but I’m feeling more confident that I don’t have this disease. And I’m thankful for a medical system that will go to such lengths to be sure.

The Veteran’s Administration gets dinged a lot for not being able to care for all of our country’s veterans as well as they deserve to be cared for. Like any large bureaucracy, there are problems. Communications break down. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of patients they need to care for. And over the last seven years, funding for vital programs, employees and infrastructure has been slashed to the bone. Cronyism has taken a huge toll.

And yet the dedicated health care professionals who work for the VA deserve kudos, too. I’m new to the VA medical system, and I’ve experienced some frustrations with it. But I’m here to tell you, I’ve never been treated with such kindness, concern, courtesy and downright friendliness by any other medical care provider I’ve ever had in the past. The VA is over the top in that regard. They’re simply excellent.

Now, it may be that I’m receiving my care from an extraordinary facility and some extraordinary doctors – the new VA Medical Center in Sacramento is state-of-art, and staffed by many docs who also work at the UC Davis Medical Center, which is rather famous in these parts. It may be that as a female veteran, I’m getting some special treatment that my male comrades don’t – they outnumber female veterans by something like 90 percent. So perhaps I’m just sort of unique, a butterfly among army ants. Whatever it is, I’m not complaining.

I don’t know yet when the biopsy will be done. Coordination between the breast surgeon and the radiologist has to take place next week. But I don’t think I’ll be waiting very much longer.


blue girl said...

That was a very nice post about very stressful things. It's also nice you see the bright side of the system, Wren and are grateful for everyone you've been dealing with. Great attitude and inspiring!

Good luck to you.

dorki said...

Glad you are back - was getting concerned. You certainly have been through the medical system wringer. Your attitude and spirit show a toughness only a few are blessed to have.

Your writing is a joy to read. Keeping fingers crossed for you.

robin andrea said...

You really have been through some distracting health issues lately. I hope this all gets resolved quickly and with the very best outcome. Thinking of you and sending good wishes.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Good lord, you're officially the most poked & prodded person I know! Glad it's all turning out okay, though. Just a few more tests & you'll be worry-free!

Bubs said...

You seem to be handling all this with a phenomenal amount of grace and patience. God bless you.

Cloudscome said...

My annual exam found a lump too and I am to be ultrasounded this Wed. I hate the waiting and wondering. Even though I've had this happen before and it's always been nothing, one can't help a little anxiety. I am sorry you have been through so much! But glad so far it looks pretty good for you. Also thankful you are being so well taken care of. We are so privilaged!

lucy said...

Wren, Your post was so sweet, despite the subject matter. I'm so glad to hear that you're getting such good care. What a cluster of medical concerns to be dealing with at once. You're a brave person; your character will get you through this.

BTW, I've done the "bowel evacuation kit" and it was far more disgusting and undignified than any of the tests. Aren't you glad it's over?

Wren said...

Blue Girl: Thanks for the luck wish. It’s an old habit of mine to look for the bright side of just about any situation, which drives some people I know crazy. It even drives ME crazy sometimes.
Dorki: I’m so pleased you enjoy the writing. I’m working hard on getting myself back to writing more interesting posts and dropping myself as the subject.
Robin: “Distracting” is an excellent word for it. I know you’ve been through some “distracting” issues yourself, lately, so let me direct the same kind wishes back in your direction.
BSUWG: I never in my wildest dreams expected all of this when I applied for my VA medical benefits. It’s been a truly wild ride so far. And yes, hopefully soon over.
Bubs: Thank you, Tiki God. I’m keeping a close eye out for alligators and clowns.
Cloudscome: Thanks for the kind wishes, and here’s wishing you the best possible outcome, as well. Please let me know what happens with you. We ARE very lucky to have access to healthcare.
Lucy: The procedure the morning after the “cleansing” was nothing. A piece of cake. I am SO glad to have that over with, and the good news? Those polyps were benign, as they expected, and I don’t have to go through this again for TEN years! With luck, by then they’ll have come up with a less gross and disgusting way to prepare for the procedure. Gahhhhh…