Sunday, 16 February 2020

Knowledge is Power

Breast cancer happens to about 1 in 11 women. And the risks increases in those above 40, had a family history, and many other factors.

I have never done mammogram checks before and told myself I must get one done by the time I hit 40. 

So around end Dec last year, I shopped online for a detailed mammogram & ultrasound package with consultation. Found one that was around $350 by a female doctor. 
I tried reading up for what to expect - some discomfort and pain when they compress your breasts for imaging etc. 

On the day of screening, the radiologist took a few images, consulted a doctor and returned for more detailed shots. I tried asking if that meant something of concern but she said I have to wait for the doctors advise. Ok nevermind. I thought if it were to be serious then they would take immediate action. All done in 10 mins. 

I went on to the ultrasound check which took about 45 mins. I could see the radiologist marking and taking measurements of multiple spots on the screen. She could not advise me of her findings and told me to consult the doctor. 

2 days later I returned for my results with the doctor and the first thing she said was: Lady, you’re very special. Cos you have multiple lumps in your breasts. Let me take you through my findings... she asked for my family history, the age I first got my period, if I had kids, and went on to explain that one in 11 women get breast cancer etc. 

For my case, there was 25% chance of some areas being Cancer. 

She gave me 4 options:
  1.  to accept 25% uncertainty and do a rescan 3 months later
  2. needle biopsy which might need another further open excisional surgery
  3. wire insertion procedure & open excisional surgery 
  4. MRI 

Her suggestion for the most definitive diagnosis was to do a mammographic guided wire localization procedure followed by an open excisonal biopsy with 4 cuts to one breast and 2 or 3 cuts to the other.

I couldn’t accept that in order to diagnose cancer, a surgery must first be done. 
I thought blood tests, small needle suctions or other scans would suffice. 

I sought a 2nd opinion from a recommended doctor who confirmed that two procedures - a wire localization and an excisional open breast surgery would be most definitive. 

His approach was pragmatic and he gave me much assurance that there would only be one incision per side to remove the concerned areas. He also assured me that he was going to combine all surgery into one - a pathologist will be invited into the operation theatre to conduct a frozen section biopsy to determine if there is cancer during the surgery when I’m asleep. If found cancerous, the surrounding tissues around the lesions would be removed. This means I do not have to go through two surgeries and do not have to wait in agony for my biopsy results. His assistant had also explained the aftercare and admin matters very patiently.

Dressed for Chest X-Ray
I went home and discussed it with my hubby who was also in favor of the surgical biopsy. So I called in to book for the procedure a month later.

Knowing there’s a possibility something might not be right and scheduling it later could be a self-imposed 'prolonged agony'. 
But I made the choice to delay the surgery till after CNY cos I wanted to celebrate the festivities with my family & friends. I didn’t want any possible bad news to dampen anyone’s mood during our most celebrated season. 

I researched all about breast cancer biopsies and what to expect. Deep down I knew that God will walk me through regardless of whatever outcome.
I was hoping for the best and also preparing for the worst. Only God knows what will happen. 

During this whole month of waiting, I meditated on Matt 11:30, believing that his yoke is easy and burden is light. I made a choice to stop reading too much online articles and just enjoy the month of Jan. True to my effort to just park this aside, I never had a sleepless night. I had a rather nice month of Jan, preparing for CNY, a nice haircut, enjoyed my fave HDL steamboat, did some online shopping and spent good quality time with my friends & family. I kept myself occupied doing things I liked so there was never a dull moment for me to overthink anything. 

On the eve of surgery, I had a restful 9 hours of sleep and woke up to a hearty breakfast and started fasting with no food after 10am. I had a 300ml allowance of any clear fluids till 12pm. 

The Wire localisation and Mammo Machine

After admissions, I was wheeled to the radiologist for my first procedure - wire localization; a mammogram guided wire inserted to the areas to guide the surgeon on the next procedure (picture on right). It was slightly scary as I could watch the whole process and the wire insertion but not as painful as I expected.

The anticipation for the main surgery began building up, meditating helped but it wouldn't be true to say that I was completely fearless. The doctor had told me what to expect when I wake up:

-he will be beside me to tell me if there is cancer
-if he happens not to be there or if I gain consciousness earlier, I should look out for any bandage on my armpits. That would mean there is cancer and there was a biopsy on the lymph nodes. If there were tubes on my armpits, it would mean the cancer had spread and glands were removed 
-he will call my husband again to inform him in case I am just too drowsy to process what he was saying

Based on the time the surgery was scheduled, it took about over 2 hours and I spent about 1.5 hours in a recovery room till I was back in my room.

The Operating Theatre (pic from Mount E Novena website)

I remember waking from surgery slightly drowsy to hear from the Doctor that no cancer was found. I remember telling him thank God, thank God and fell back into sleep. 

The next moment I came around, semi-conscious with my legs trembling. I dozed off again. 

When I finally woke up I was already in my room where my hubby, mum and sis were waiting for me.

I could tell everyone seemed relieved. To my family and close friends who visited me, thank you for your love!

After fasting since 10am

I’m very grateful that I’m free from any cancer and there won’t be any treatment required. 

Everything from the moment I stepped into the hospital till my discharge went better than I expected.

My hospital admission was done in the room and my standard single room was uplodged to the hospital’s signature room with butler service, a complimentary minibar, a coffee machine, shower amenities and limousine services that feels more like a hotel staycation. There was even an ipad to order my breakfast - I had nasi lemak and croissants!

The nurses and doctors were super kind and made the whole experience a lot less uncomfortable. I walked in and out of the hospital without paying a single cent.

Indeed his grace is sufficient for me. Cancer or no cancer. 

Through this season, I experienced his supernatural peace and indeed his yoke is easy and burden is light. 
There will be challenges ahead, and I will always remember how God used this episode to show me how he walked through it with me.

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