But I Don’t Have A Lump…
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Barbara Pettit lives in South Florida with her husband and son.
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ancer was always on my mind. In 1975 my mother died of breast cancer. She was 46.
Unfortunately back then they weren’t as familiar with cancer as they are today. She had a lump on her breast and went in for surgery. She ended up getting a radical mastectomy on her right breast. It had already spread into her lymps and to her bones. At 12 years old I was one of her
caregivers, bringing her to treatments and watching her slowly fade away. I didn’t really understand the whole cancer disease. Years later, my friend, an R.N. urged me to go for a mammogram, since I was high risk. She made the appointments, I cancelled them.
Finally, one snowy morning at 7:30 am, I am driving to my mammogram appointment nervous with past memories flooding my mind. But, I thought to myself, I don’t have a lump and I check myself thoroughly. I was the only one in the waiting room, nervous and scared. It’s my turn. I go in and have my test, they tell me to wait outside until they develop the pictures. I hear “oh no, get her back in here to repeat the left breast”. I am a wreck when they tell me they have to repeat the left side, I keep saying but I don’t have a lump!! They try to calm me and I do it again. The radiologist comes out and tells me he will be in touch with my primary care doctor to see how to handle the results.
On Monday, I get a call to go see my doctor. He explains to me that I have a cluster of micro calcifications on my left breast. Being that I was high risk he said it could be the start of something, I needed a biopsy. After searching for a surgeon, I have my biopsy, which came back as hyperplasia, which he explained in my case could be the start of cancer. I was in denial because I did not have a lump like my mom, so I couldn’t have breast cancer. They did two more biopsies spaced about 4-6 weeks apart and found the calcifications were
growing. This time the result came back as “Lobular carcinoma insitu”. What’s that?? My husband and I go for a consultation with my doctor and he says “you have breast cancer, but it is all contained (that is what instu means. I suggest a bilateral mastectomy, since you are high risk and the cancer more then likely will appear in the other breast.” I thought my life had ended.
All I heard was CANCER, MASTECTOMY.
I cried and held on to my husband and asked will I die. The doctor explains how fast this cancer I have grows, so I need to have this done right away. I don’t want to have that horrible scar on both sides of my chest I was only 44. I want my breasts!!!!! He explains to us that I can undergo reconstruction at the time of the surgery. After researching, I finally
found a wonderful surgeon and plastic surgeon who work together in cases like mine. Being that the pathology read that one word “insitu” they didn’t feel like it would have to be done right away. The surgeon looked at it almost as elective surgery, and I had to fill out many legal documents stating that I was requesting him to do a bilateral mastectomy. The date was set, I was a wreck. September 11, 2001. (Yes the same day the world trade towers were struck by terrorists.) I am at the hospital at 6am as ready as I can be. I hug my son, my husband telling them how much I love them, because to me breast cancer is death. I was told after the 12 hour surgery that all looked okay. They gave me a “simple mastectomy”, which means that they cut the breast open, removing the nipple and scrap out the tissue as close to the breast bone as possible. I woke up, thanking God I was alive. I had these two little “bumps”, which were going to be my new breasts. The surgeon and plastic surgeon told my husband all looked good, and they scraped out more then they thought they needed to. I was having “expanders put in my chest, which are saline bags and the whole procedure would take approximately 6-8 months till the breast were finished”.
Finally released from the hospital I go home to my safe haven. I have wonderful support from all of my family, and doctors and their staff, but especially my husband, son, my best friend the R.N. and my primary care doctor. I was lucky to be alive and I was so grateful for the support. I was still scared.
Only after a day or so at home, I get a call from the surgeons office telling me the doctor would like to see me right away, and to please bring my best friend the R.N. with me. I call my husband getting really nervous I just
needed to hear his voice. My friend and I get to the doctors office and they hurry me in the office and tell me to get comfortable. They all have this worried look, and my friend I held on to each other real tight waiting for the doctor. Finally after a few minutes, he comes in. He walks over to us and says Mrs. Pettit, and friend let me be the first to shake your hand because you have saved your own life! Without the surgery you would be even sicker and possibly die. You have invasive lobular carcinoma. From the first time I saw you, until the surgery it had spread like a weed. Your primary care doctor was absolutely right by urging you to have both breast removed.” Oh, my God, my life was flashing before my eyes. I asked him will I live to see my son graduate. Am I going to die, what next. I had to go back in the hospital to have another surgery, my lymph’s. Thank God they were negative, and we don’t
think it spread. They caught it in time and removed it. I cried and got very depressed, because I thought my life was ending. Here I was 44 years old with invasive breast cancer, and a bilateral mastectomy. So many feelings rushed through me, I wasn’t a woman with out my real breasts. I have cancer, I have cancer.
Thank God, I had the best support system in the world. I was never alone, and I have professional to express myself to, and I felt I had the greatest health care in the world. I was special; God let me live, maybe to tell my story and to help others like myself. The oncologist told me I was lucky, they felt all I needed was tomoxifen for 5 years (Which I finished and now take femara, another drug). I had an estrogen related tumor. My body produced way too much estrogen and it started with the microcalcifications, which would have turned into lumps. In December, shortly after the breast surgery I had to go in for a hysterectomy. Once again, I was thankful and so lucky they did the surgery in time.
On September 11, 2006 I celebrated my 5th year as being cancer free. I still take my medicine everyday, and I see the oncologist now every 6 months. I am so grateful for everyday that I get out of bed. Still when I look in the mirror everyday, those thoughts of cancer come back. It is always on my mind, it never goes away but you learn how to handle life and go on one day at a time. I urge women to go for there mammogram appointments. Just because you don’t feel a lump doesn’t mean you are in the clear.
"That one little test can save your life like it did mine."
You don’t have to feel a lump to have breast cancer. Go today. I talk to everyone I meet and try to give them support or anything they need. Most want to see my breasts. I am proud; I show them so they know a bilateral mastectomy is not the end of you being a woman. It’s the start of a healthy new woman.
Breast Cancer Survivor
By Barbara Pettit, Cancer Survivor
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