The need for a follow-up mammogram

“We want you to come back in for another mammogram. There is a dense area that we would like additional views on.”

I heard the nurse speaking, but it took a few minutes to comprehend what she was saying. She did go on to say that they didn’t see a mass or anything like that. It was just a “dense” area.

As soon as I got off the phone with her, I turned to my husband and told him that they wanted to take another look at my left breast. (We had actually been getting ready to go to the movies – a daytime date while the kids were in school.)

“Don’t worry,” he said.

He knew exactly where my mind had gone. My friend Trish was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. She passed away this past August when the cancer spread to her brain.

I immediately called and made an appointment for a follow-up mammogram. The scheduler told me it could take up to an hour and a half and had to be done at a different facility. With that news, I knew I wouldn’t get in that day. We were going out of town the next day so the earliest appointment I could get would be the following Tuesday.

Even during the movie, my mind kept wandering back to what a dense area could mean. I sent a message to my Aunt who works in a radiology facility in California. She wrote back that this was very common and often was nothing serious. My mom and other aunt both echoed the same thing.

So I went off to the beach for the weekend and put it out of my mind. Tuesday came, and I went to the Women’s Imaging Center. As I sat in the waiting room, I checked my Facebook account. Trish’s husband posted how his kids’ teachers were planning on doing something special for the kids because that weekend would be the first Mother’s Day since Trish died.

After changing into my wonderful special blue top, I was taken to another waiting room where two other woman waited. It didn’t take long for me to realize that both of them had breast cancer.

I picked up a Reader’s Digest magazine to read one of their columns where people send in funny little antidotes. A headline caught my attention, and I started to read an article about a doctor who knew his wife was dying of cancer but didn’t tell her he knew the diagnosis was terminal. It was not the best article to read while waiting.

mammogramWhen I went in for the mammogram, the technician showed me the questionable area. It was close to my body at the top of my left breast. A mammogram is always uncomfortable, but I knew this one wouldn’t be fun because of the location they would be trying to view. And I was right.

After they took two views, the technician said they would do a sonogram of the area next and then the radiologist would review the scans. I think it was the combination of things, but I actually was getting quite concerned. I thought about Trish and the other women I have known who have or had breast cancer. Most of them survived it but there are no guarantees. Trish had the most positive attitude. She was sure she would beat cancer. And for a while, it seemed she had. And then cancer cells appeared in her spinal fluid. Within 8 months, she was gone.

As it turns out, my dense area is a cyst. It is a common thing, and as long as it is not causing me any problems, nothing needs to be done. I actually got into my car and cried with relief. I knew the odds were that it was nothing, but it still was close enough of a scare that had me thinking “what if.”


Losing a friend to cancer…and raising money for her family

I’m incredibly sad. My beautiful friend lost her fight with cancer. She was beautiful on the outside with gorgeous red curly hair. Trish was always smiling, so full of joy. And she was beautiful on the inside with her positive attitude and energy that was so contagious.

Never before have I seen someone so sure that she would beat the diagnosis of breast cancer. (See my post Explaining cancer and chemo to the kids.) Not once did she seem down about it. And it wasn’t just an outward show for others. Even her husband marveled at her “I can beat this” attitude. And she did. Nine months after her breast cancer diagnosis, she was cancer free.

That lasted just three months. Then the headaches – intense, hurt-so-bad-I can’t move type headaches – came. They admitted her to the hospital while they looked for the cause. It turned out to be cancer cells in her spinal fluid. (See my post about her cancer returning.)

I looked that up on the Internet after the diagnosis and found nothing good. It always indicated a tumor somewhere else, typically in the brain. But the doctors couldn’t find the source of the cells and started her on chemo.

She made it through this again, but her spirit began to wane slightly from this second round of chemo. trishBut she still made an effort to be involved in her children’s lives. She threw her annual Easter party for the kids. She came to their school performance. She took them to theme parks and festivals. She cherished every minute with them.

For Trish, her family meant everything. She worked hard to provide her kids with so many opportunities. She also worked to allow her husband to be a stay-at-home dad which in turn allowed him to volunteer at the kids’ school and be deeply involved in his children’s lives.

And now I fear all of that is going to change. I am not only sad to lose a friend, but I am sad that this is going to change the lives of her children and husband. She was the bread-winner for the family, and now her husband will be looking for full-time work.

Her children – eight-year-old boy/girl twins – are friends with my kids. They walk to and from school with us and often her kids are over here or mine are over there. Jase had Emma in his kindergarten class, and they now have third grade together. Noah is Jase’s best friend. I am heartbroken for them. No child should ever have to lose a parent.

When I picture Trish in my mind, I don’t remember the woman who was sick. Even though she was brave in the face of something that I don’t wish on anyone, what I remember most about her was her smile and upbeat attitude. So when I think of Trish, I picture her wearing her black dental hygienist scrubs, her long red curly hair pulled back in a high pony tail, her glasses perched on her nose. She is smiling and bouncing around as we walk the kids to school. And that is how I want to remember her.

Now in all my posts about my friend and her cancer, I have referred to her as Patty. This is the name she grew up with, but I have always known her as Trish. I used the other name originally to protect her privacy. But now I am going to do something I typically wouldn’t do.

Trish loved her family. But as I said, she was the main income provider for the family. Her husband worked part time a few evenings and weekends when she was home to take care of the kids. But now the family is without Trish, and things are about to change. Her husband will have to get a job that pays more than his part-time employment. They have medical and funeral expenses hanging over them while they transition their lives.

A friend of mine and I have set up a fund to help out Trish’s family. (On the donation page, I am part of the “Henry family” – in case you are wondering.) And this is where it gets to something I typically wouldn’t do – I am asking anyone who can help to donate money to her family. Every little bit will help. I know they would appreciate it and so would I. She truly was a wonderful person. She will be missed but not forgotten.