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The Doctor as Patient, Part III of VI

This is part III of a series by Dr. Erika Landau that documents her experience as a physician battling breast cancer.
Link to Part I                    Link to Part II

After I felt the lump, I made an appointment with a radiologist friend. They did a mammogram, my first ever. It was negative and I nearly went home happy and with an appointment for next year. My friends, please all of you have a mammogram at some point. Tell your doctors your family history. Follow up with an ultrasound if necessary.

Being a physician myself, we did discuss the role of ultrasound, because we both felt that the small lump, which was located in the right upper quadrant, was indeed suspicious.  He did an ultrasound. He called me in the reading room and showed me the results.

“There is a little something here,” he said. “Maybe we should follow it up. I do not have any other images with which to compare. Let us do a biopsy, it will be ready in a week and I am sure it is OK. It will be fine.”

He did not sound worried. I was sure it was fine, after all the mammogram was negative. The lesion, not seen on the mammogram, was in the right upper quadrant, which I know can be suspicious but I did not give it a second thought. Hey, better safe than sorry; I will do the biopsy.

Now that I think about it, I felt more tired than usual and had some finger numbness and back pain. When I went to a neurologist, he told me that I was, most probably, depressed.  This is why I do not go to other doctors. When you are a woman, you are either pre-or post-menstrual and/or have other hormonal problems. You are depressed or it is in your head. He did discover that my Vitamin D was low, so, there you have it, it was an answer. Please, to student and practitioner readers, do not say this to women. Yes, indeed, the hormones and certain emotions always play an important role in our lives, however there is so much more to the female pathology.

Did anyone have cancer in my family? My mom and her sisters, my father and his family, all Holocaust survivors, were relatively, at least physically healthy. I lost all grandparents, aunts and uncles in the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, Matthausen. I never even knew what they looked like. My family history has huge, never to be recovered gaps, forever lost in the gas chambers.

I stayed very late in the office after the phone call, I finished the work but I just could not get myself going home. The reality of the diagnosis was setting in, I had to face it, I could not drown it in work as I often tend to do with most of my problems.

I finally went home and despite my husband’s reassurance, I did not sleep that night. I kissed and hugged my daughter even more than usual, which raised serious protests from her part. At this age, they do not like to be snuggled like they did before. I always tell the parents to take the hugs and kisses while they can…

The next day, I talked to the pathologist.

The biopsy showed that the tumor was almost one centimeter and already out of the duct.  I understood that if not for the ultrasound, I would have never known and next year, when I would have been due for my annual mammogram, it would have been too late. The panic set in again.