I meant to cover radiation therapy this week, but I was tripped up by a blizzard. With 18 inches of fresh snow in the driveway, I couldn’t get out for the mammogram (X-ray of the breasts) scheduled Monday, and the radiation oncologist needed that before he saw me Thursday. I wound up getting the mammogram Friday, and have a new appointment with the radiation oncologist next Thursday. I hope I can get a photo of the radiation machine to use with the blog next week.
There are two types of mammograms: screening (to see if anything looks suspicious enough to look further) and diagnostic (once something else looks suspicious or worse.) Once you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, all the mammograms are diagnostic.
Three years ago, I got a diagnostic mammogram (which confirmed my doctor had indeed felt a lump), a biopsy (which involved shooting a sampler into my breast) to confirm that the lump was cancerous, and then surgery to remove the lump and the “sentinel node”—the lymph node most likely to be cancerous itself. If the sentinel node had been positive, all of the lymph nodes would have been removed. I was lucky; my sentinel node test was negative. But since I had chosen a lumpectomy rather than a full mastectomy, I had to follow chemotherapy up with radiation therapy.
Mammograms are uncomfortable but not really painful. Nipples and scars are marked with band-aid-like beads and tape with a metallized line. You stand next to the machine, your breast is squeezed between two plates, and when you are positioned to the technician’s liking you are told to hold you breath for a couple of seconds while the x-ray is taken. Generally they take one picture with the breast squeezed horizontally and one with it squeezed vertically. I think the most uncomfortable part of the process is getting my arms, chin, shoulders and ears out of the way and holding them there. I always finish a mammogram with a stiff neck.
They don’t have to develop film any more. The mammogram comes right up on a computer screen, and can be read at once. When I had mine done Friday, a couple of whitish areas showed up on the good breast, which led to a repeat of the X-rays with a different and smaller compressed area, and a few moments of worry on my part. Turned out to be calcium deposits that had been there all along. And this time I was told to come back next year, instead of 6 months from now.
I still wish Roi (one of my Homecoming characters) was real.