Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why You Should Mammogram Your Peaches

Unfortunately, I didn't have any paintings of peaches.
"Between the Lines" seemed the best alternate.
5"x7" Acrylic on Masonite
Thursday night I made peach cobbler. 

It may not sound like an achievement worthy of a blog post, but that's kinda the point. I love peaches and thankfully they happen to be one of two fruits (excluding tomatoes) that don't try to kill me when I eat them. In addition, I have Celiac disease, am lactose intolerant and soy allergic and haven't had peach cobbler in years because of it. I was determined to make a version that I not only 'could' eat, but would 'want' to eat. Convinced this was impossible, I hadn't made a single attempt before now. I guess having the hope of someday eating a good cobbler was better than facing possible failure and crushing the hope altogether. Watching co-workers consume copious quantities of peach cobbler that seemed to be breeding on its own at the office (it's peach harvest time in Texas), I became determine not to miss out. 

In the meantime, my brain wandered back to a new medical issue. I was waiting on the results of a biopsy and trying not to worry. Something that I'm very good at…worrying. I'd been having testing done on my heart to make sure that the tachycardia was still the same benign issue. I'd worn a Holter monitor and had a stress test done. I'd also scheduled a mammogram telling them they would want to do an ultrasound as well, but noooooo. When I got there we only did the screening mammogram and the radiologist couldn't get to it until later and they would let me know if I needed to come back. Of course a few days later I got a call back, but was unable to schedule it right away since I was still setting up heart-related appointments at the time.

Eventually, my brain went back to the task at hand. Pretty quickly I found a recipe for the filling that had none of the offending ingredients and I'd recently taken to substituting gluten-free shortbread cookie dough for any recipe that called for a crust. I cocked my head and scrunched up my nose; this seemed far too easy. I mixed up the filling. The aroma was so wonderful I grabbed the bowl, ran into the living room and shoved it under my husband's nose wanting confirmation that this was pure heaven and he agreed…and he's not even a peach fan. I poured it into a pie pan and covered the top with the shortbread dough and plopped it in the oven.

Both the Holter monitor and the stress test showed nothing new on the heart front. This was good news. I had also finally gotten to the second mammogram and ultrasound. This time the radiologist looked at the digital files while I was still there. Unfortunately, something was not right. New calcifications in really dense tissue were present. It likely wasn't anything to worry about, I was told, but to be safe, she strongly recommended it be biopsied. She laid out the case for biopsy carefully, not realizing she had me from the first sentence and the word 'suspicious' specifically. I was scheduled for a few days later. I was not too panicked at this point. A little alarmed, though, understandably.

The timer went off and my parrot, Toby, pointed it out in his personal nonsense language though I'm sure it makes sense to him. He always talks when it goes off. I checked the cobbler. It was bubbling over the sides and parts of the crust were not yet done. I was worried about burning the filling so I removed the pan and placed it on the stove to cool. It still smelled incredible. I let it cool for as long as I could stand. I grabbed a bowl and spoon and a generous helping of cobbler. I sat down in my chair anticipating greatness, but also little afraid that the smell was deceiving me. Would this be pure joy or soul-crushing disappointment? I know. It's just cobbler, but at that very moment it seemed to matter a lot more to me than maybe it should have.

Nervousness about the biopsy procedure was setting in. I hadn't had this particular test before. I have had a bone marrow biopsy and this sounded similar and was most likely the source of my anxiety. This is not a test that affords any kind of dignity. Not that I have any left. When you've been poked, prodded and handled enough on just about every part of your body you get to a point where you think you could just strip in front of anyone and not think twice about it. At least I have. 

The appointment started with an obviously rehearsed speech from a younger nurse on what to expect during the procedure and afterward. I finally had to stop her before I burst out laughing. Her inflection on specific phrases and exaggerated facial expressions made me think of bad overacting in a middle school play and laughing would likely be seen and an odd reaction at best and offensive at worst. She was compelled to finish her speech, though and I just bit my tongue. Next, the procedure room…if I imagine myself standing back and watching, the scene would be reminiscent of some medieval torture chamber. Let me paint a picture for you and let's use 'peach' as a euphemism for the offending right breast which is the source of the suspiciousness. You walk in to a small room and immediately before you is an exam table with a hole in the middle of it. You are asked to lay on your stomach and place the peach through the hole. You didn't see that coming did you? The procedure is done from beneath you. You see nothing. Padding has been placed around part of the hole to make things more comfortable…uh huh… Additional padding is placed under your head and feet to help as well…not so much. Suddenly you feel the peach being pulled and seemingly randomly moved around for an eternity. Finally, it is relayed to you that the peach isn't fitting far enough down the hole for compression. They compress the peach for X-rays and to hold it firmly in position for the actual procedure. Really? The peach may be on the lower end of average, but my God, what do they do with smaller ones. 

All padding is removed. You are asked to bend the right arm out at a weird angle and roll slightly onto your right side rather than stomach and bend your left leg up. I didn't know I needed to practice yoga for this. On second thought, Twister may have been better preparation. The hope was to get the peach lower. More tugging, maneuvering and compressing. Finally, we are in position. I am told to NOT MOVE again, at all, through the rest of the procedure. Do I need to remind you of the current contorted nature of my body and that I have a bad disc in my neck? They X-ray the peach before beginning to find the exact spot to place the hollow biopsy needle. Lidocaine time. The lidocaine injections were the worst part of the entire procedure. It hurt like hell, rather ironic for a substance whose purpose is to mitigate pain, and I had to not move, at all. I was being constantly reminded of this or they would have to retarget the area for biopsy. I was facing a wall that was about 18 inches in front of me with a colorful abstract painting on it. I didn't like it, but tried to concentrate on figuring out the artistic technique to distract myself. A nurse would periodically pop up in front of it and attempt to be comforting. She was genuine, but I wasn't very receptive. I had tears running down my face and was shaking. I was afraid my shaking was going to be an issue, it was a form of 'moving' after all and asked for a moment to calm down. Denied! "The faster the better," said the doctor. Three stabs with the needle which felt odd, but didn't really hurt and it was over. They told Ed, who was waiting in the original exam room, that I did well. I told him I was giant wuss which was much more accurate and I was handed a coffee cup filled with jelly beans like child's lollipop for a shot as a parting gift…and I can't even eat them.

What I could eat was this cobbler. I stared at it a moment and dug in. It tasted EXACTLY like peach cobbler. I exclaimed, "this tastes exactly like peach cobbler!" with a big smile on my face. Ed cracked up. Then got serious for a moment. "When most people say it's the little things that matter, they don't really mean it, but you do. It makes me happy and at the same time I really feel it here" and he thumps his fist over his heart. I felt a big awwww in my heart at that sentiment. Maybe it was okay that the outcome of the peach cobbler experiment mattered so much to me. I really felt joy in its success. There can be so much pain, physical and emotional with any illness whether chronic or not. Finding the little joys in everyday life is what is going to make that life worth living.

I still had biopsy results hanging over my head. Would this be pure joy or soul-crushing disappointment? All the text above was written before I had results. The anxiety of not knowing very much real. I have them now and the answer, like most of life, is in shades of grey. Yes, I have breast cancer. A more unusual form known as tubular carcinoma. Guess I can't break away from being a zebra. In this case though, rare works in my favor. It's slow growing, considered less aggressive and by comparing to previous films that show no sign of it, we likely caught it very early. Is it still scary? Yes, of course, but I'm mostly okay with it. Just another hurdle to overcome. Keep moving forward I repeat to myself. Forward…

…and please remember, I am not a frou-frou, girly-girl and if you send me anything PINK, I shall hunt you down...