Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer

Diagnosis of DCIS

Not a lump in sight

by S

At 58 I put off my third routine mammogram for nearly a month because the original appointment was inconvenient. I was now an old hand at them and didn't expect anything to be found, hardly a risk factor in sight apart from having my one and only child at 32 and being overweight. I was glad they were available but didn't exactly look forward to having one and just thought of them as a safety net. Mammograms in our area are done by a mobile unit.

The notification letter came long before they had said it would and said I needed to go to the hospital for a further mammogram and that perhaps other tests would be needed. This didn't make me panic - about half of my smear tests have needed to be repeated so I assumed that a recall after a mammogram was just more of the same.

How wrong can you be?

It was a a very cold and snowy morning when we went to the hospital. I had never been to this one before and it is 25 miles away. My husband drove so that we wouldn't have trouble parking, the idea was that he would drop me off and come back 2 hours later.

They had obviously put a lot of thought into making you feel as comfortable as possible. There was a small waiting room with a flask of coffee and biscuits. A number of husbands and friends were waiting here. I was then called through to another waiting room with cubicles around and asked to take off my bra and put my top back on.

There was more tea and coffee here and other women going through the same thing talking about the tests.

First I was called in to have a magnified mammogram. When I went in the room I noticed a couple of x-rays on the light box. The left one had a blindingly white patch on and I wondered whose it was. Then realised it had to be mine - so that was why I was here. One of the radiographers explained what I was seeing and pointed out another patch just at the bottom, almost out of sight. Apparantly these were calcium deposits. Some are normal but they aren't as dense and the ones pointed out to me looked more oval shaped.

Then the magnified mammogram. The biopsies are computer controlled so they need to get very accurate measurements and they also wanted a close-up of the patch near my nipple.

Next stop back to the waiting room. When I said I had microcalcifications the others looked knowledgeable and said that was the best sort.

Next the doctor. There was another woman in the room who talked me through the new mammograms before the doctor examined me and told me what would be happening next. I would certainly be having core biopsies of both areas and there could be other tests if they thought they were needed. The microcalcifications are deposits in the ducts caused by dead cancer cells. As long as they are confined to the ducts the prognosis is excellent as it is classed as being pre-cancer.

Back to the waiting room to be told that my husband had already returned so I had to go out to the other waiting room to keep him company. He said it was too cold and he just didn't fancy looking at anything in the town centre. He sat there holding my hand instead.

Next back to the same mammogram room for the biopsies. You have a local anaesthetic for a core biopsy and lie in a strange position with your breast in a clamp. They first take 5 in a pattern where the first is central then 1 each North, South, East and West of it. These are inspected under a microscope to make sure that the sample contains what they want and come back for more based on that.

The easy to see area had 5, the other one had 10.

This isn't the most pleasant experience but it could be worse. The noise makes you jump, but you mustn't move so the noise is demonstrated a few times to get you used to it. Only one punch was outside the anaesthetised area but it really wasn't that bad.

An enormous dressing was put on my breast which was then inspected by a nurse before I got dressed to leave. My breast felt rather sore for a long time and the bruises from the biopsies had only just faded before my mastectomy.

As my biopsies were done on the 20th December in 2004 I had to wait until 4th January for the lab results. The other woman with the doctor was my Breast Care Nurse and she arranged to give me them whenever I arrived.

I had already gathered that they were pretty certain what it was without even doing the tests.

I never had any lumps that could be felt.

The mastectomy