Everyone knows that October is breast cancer awareness month. We see the Ribbon of Hope, the color pink is EVERYWHERE, and even NFL football teams wear pink to show their support!
No one is excluded from breast cancer! Men, Women, Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian can be diagnosed at any time. Anyone can be a victim especially if you have a family history of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer is an aggressive disease, but it doesn’t have to be a killer. Women, I can’t stress enough how important it is to do a monthly self-exam. Schedule and attend your yearly mammograms! Most importantly if you detect a lump, please go get it checked out! It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Early diagnosis plays an important role in high survival rate!
Here are three chapters from my book I Fought Like a Girl and I Won!
Concerned About My Selfie! (My Self-Exam, Not My iPhone Selfie!)
In the middle of October 2013, I detected a painful lump in my right breast. I didn’t think much of it, but I wanted to get it looked at. I called the Women’s Clinic at the Temple VA hospital to make an appointment. The clerk on the phone whom I spoke with told me I could come in as soon as possible to do a walk-in mammogram. I was able to get a ride from a close friend of mine to the Women’s Clinic on Wednesday November 27, 2013. When I went to check in with my Veterans I.D. card, I was told there were no walk-in mammograms! I explained to the clerk that I was told over the phone that I could come and do a walk-in and be seen today!
There was no way I was going to go home without any answers! I had to be persistent but in a fashionable manner. My last plea to be seen was telling the clerk that my friend had taken time off from work to give me and my children a ride to Temple, TX from Killeen, TX (40 min drive). Moments later, a female nurse called me back to a room and asked me what my concern was. I told the nurse that I had complaints of a painful lump on my right breast that hurt all the time. I had a physical exam of both breasts, and there was no doubt that the right breast was significantly more swollen than the left! The nurse asked me what my pain level was, I wanted to say 100, but could only go as high as 10! The nurse told me that the lump was a “possible cyst”. I didn’t think the lump was a cyst because I didn’t feel any fluid in it, only a hard mass.
Obviously, I’m not a doctor, but I know my own body when something isn’t right. The nurse said there was no reason to do a mammogram on me because I wasn’t 40! Apparently, the fact that breast cancer is hereditary in my family didn’t raise any red flags!!!!! My walk-in appointment was concluded by the nurse advising me to pick up a heating pad from the prosthetic department upstairs. The heat from the heating pad would alleviate the pain and discomfort I was having. I was also prescribed Naproxen 500mg for pain, and amoxicillin just in case the “possible cyst” was some king of infection. The nurse put in an order for an ultrasound to be done on me. The next 21/2 weeks went by as normal. I kept busy with work, and taking care of my children. I was taking the naproxen, and amoxicillin as prescribed, and also applying the heating pad throughout the day. The “possible cyst” was getting bigger, and more painful! It was the first week of December 2013 when I received a phone call from the Temple VA Women’s Clinic. I finally had an appointment for December 18, 2013 for the ultrasound appointment!!! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make that appointment, but I called to reschedule for a January 2, 2014 appointment. Christmas and New Year’s 2014 went by faster than I could bat my eyelashes! At my appointment I was extremely scared, worried, and I had some anxiety about the ultrasound being done. I remember that I was talking along and being inquisitive! Who isn’t when there is a procedure being done on them!? My eyes kept shifting from the screen to the technologists face. She looked very concerned, and I could tell something was wrong. I had asked her if everything was okay. She responded by saying, “the doctor will talk to you in a few minutes. He’ll go over the results with you.” I thanked her and waited the few minutes for the doctor, but it seemed more like an hour! The doctor came in and introduced himself, he explained that the lump wasn’t a cyst, but difficult to diagnose at that time. I also found out that I had a lot of calcification underneath my right breast. Calcification is the accumulation of calcium salts in a body tissue. It has nothing to do with the amount of calcium in your body! The doctor told me I was going to need to have a mammogram done, and a needle core biopsy. The doctor asked me if I was able to return on January 3, 2014 for the procedure. I told him that I wasn’t able to return and asked if the biopsy could be done while I was already there at the Women’s Clinic. I had the needle core biopsy performed on January 2, 2014, right after I had the bilateral (both breasts) mammogram done. The mammogram wasn’t too bad, it was just painful because the lump on my right breast was being squished down! Ladies who have had mammograms done know what I’m talking about! =) The needle core biopsy on the
other hand was very painful! I’m the type of person who doesn’t flinch at the site of a needle; however having a long hollow needle entering a sensitive area was very unpleasant for me! This special needle had a trigger at the end of it to pull out breast tissue samples. When the doctor pulled the trigger it also made a loud noise. Normally 2-3 samples are collected, but the doctor took 6 samples to be on the safe side. He didn’t want me to have to come back to have another biopsy done if the samples weren’t good enough. I had a liquid metal marker injected in my right breast so that when I had future mammograms, the doctor would know that I had tissue removed. Once the tissue samples were in the specimen cup I was allowed to see them, after all I was so involved with the procedure, asking every question in the book as to what was going on and what was happening next! The samples looked like silk worms in a clear liquid. The nurse told me that I would have my biopsy results in about 5 days. She gave me my brief after care instructions:
*No strenuous activities for a few days
*Take Naproxen 500mg for pain as needed
*Put the reusable gel pack in the freezer for cold compresses or in the microwave for hot compresses to help with the swelling
*Most importantly….Get plenty of rest; being a single mother of 3 kids gives me no time for any extra rest! (LOL)
I returned home around 4p.m. and at 6p.m., my 2 boys, my friend and I were on our way to pick up my daughter from the Austin-Bergstrom Airport to pick up my daughter from spending the holidays with her dad. It was hard to tell my children that they couldn’t give a big hug, and that mommy was in a lot of pain. When they asked why I was in pain, I could only tell them that I had a procedure done and that I had to take it easy for a few days to heal. I continued to pray about my biopsy results, hoping for the best. I was expecting a phone call on January 7, 2014 sometime with my results.
New Year, New Diagnosis
Tuesday January 7, 2014 finally arrived. I nervously called the VA Women’s Clinic at noon to find out if my biopsy results were in. There were no results. At 3p.m. the nurse who originally saw me, and did the visual exam in November 2013, called me to tell me my results. This was the phone call that would change my life forever. She nonchalantly said, “You have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma”. I asked her to repeat what she said, I mean I heard her; I just wanted to hear the medical term again. I didn’t know what the medical terminology meant. The nurse repeated "You have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a form of breast cancer!” Right then and there I just learned two things, 1. I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and 2. There was more than one form of breast cancer! At that very moment, my heart skipped a beat, I was in shock, and I started to feel sick to my stomach after hearing those two words BREAST CANCER! The nurse said that the good news was that breast cancer has a 95% survival rate if
caught early. Being diagnosed with breast cancer was definitely not on my list of New Years’ resolutions! In the back of my mind, I was hoping that my results was a medical mix up. (Hey, these things happen all the time!) Wait! I remembered that at the beginning of the phone call, I had to verify my name and social security number. I was still at work, on a break. I had to regain my composure to finish up my day before I could let the news sink in.
How I Would Tackle Breast Cancer
The nurse said that I would be working with a team of specialists, and that I would have to make some crucial decisions. My VA medical team included my primary care doctor, oncologist, and surgeon. The nurse explained that I would definitely have to have surgery to get rid of most of the cancer. The surgery would be either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and my consultation
with the surgeon would give me a better understanding of what would be better for me in my situation. The nurse concluded the phone conversation by saying, “Don’t hesitate to call me in the next few days if you have any questions”. I had a million questions………..I was scared, and even worse I was thinking about how I was going to tell people about my new diagnosis. Any
cancer diagnosis is not an easy subject to discuss. The news can, and will affect everyone differently. I had my list of people whom I wanted and needed to tell but I wasn’t sure about how to go about doing it. I have no problem talking to people, being a social butterfly, but this was a brand new ball game! When you tell people your diagnosed with breast cancer, (or any
other serious illness) you receive a more dramatic response, and you might have to repeat what you just announced! I decided to call my mother in Pennsylvania first, I was on a break at work, and wanted to tell her and my step-father Wil before I picked up my children from school. I was hoping to get their voicemail and leave a quick message saying, “Hi Mom, and Wil call me back
when you have a moment to talk, I Love You!” Scratch that thought, my mom answered, and I let her know I had just received my biopsy results. I asked her if she was sitting down, (Parents you automatically know that when your child/ren ask you if you’re sitting down, it’s BIG NEWS!) she said that she was. There was no beating around the bush, I told my mom
straight out that I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. I informed her that I would be seeing my primary care doctor, an oncologist, surgeon and possibly other medical doctors. I told my mom that I would be updating her and Wil with news about my future appointments and updates as I received them. My phone conversation with my mom lasted
roughly about 5-7 minutes. I had to get back to work, but I also know that she didn’t want to stay on the phone too long with me. When I told my mom the news, I think she may have had flashbacks to when she was 14 in 1972 and her mother (my maternal grandmother) was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hadn’t begun to play out in my mind how I was going to break the news to my children.
I spent a lot of time on the internet researching Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), and calcification I found out that Invasive Ductal Carcinoma starts in your breast ducts (no brainer there), and that 75%-80% of women have this type of breast cancer. Men can get breast cancer too, it’s just not as common! The cancer can spread to other vital organs if not treated in time! I
was getting worried because the only information I knew was that I had IDC. I didn’t know how long I'd had this cancer in my body, what stage I was in, or how big the tumor was! I didn’t know if I was going to live another year, or not. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed, but needed to calm down. I would soon find out the answers to all of my questions.
I contacted the American Cancer Society for support, and they sent me a “Welcome to Breast Cancer!” packet. The packet had a wealth of knowledge, and explained different services that the American Cancer Society offered. It was nice that they offered rides to my oncologist appoints at the Temple VA. I only used their pick-up service twice, but the volunteers that I had
were really nice.
I had originally planned on waiting until I met my oncologist to sit down with my children and have “The Talk”. I'd read a section on the American Cancer Society on how to tell your children you have cancer. The site was extremely helpful and gave me guidance on how to tell my then 6, 8, and 14 year old children that I was sick. I didn’t want to overload them with
information that they wouldn’t fully understand. I called my children in the den for a family meeting. There are some things in life that there are no right or wrong way to go about doing. I looked in my children’s eyes, and said “There’s no easy way to say this, but mommy has breast cancer”. My daughter who was 14 years old at the time had a better understanding of what
I just said. She took the news the hardest, and had run out of the room crying and screaming “Say it isn’t true!” I told her to come back in the den because running away isn’t going to make the cancer automatically disappear. I hugged all my kids tightly and told them that I love them so much. I explained that they cannot catch cancer from me, and that breast cancer wasn’t a death
sentence for me. I told them that my appearance was going to change, and I would need them to help more around the house. I told my kids that I would lose my hair when I had to do chemotherapy treatments, I might lose some weight, be more tired than usual. There is a long laundry list of breast cancer side effects, but I wanted to give them the short list, and not scare
them. I kept calm, and remained strong while talking to them. I knew that if I broke down in tears while talking, my kids would cry too! Overall the discussion went better than I expected it to.
I found out a lot about my newly diagnosed illness:
A cancer diagnosis puts everything in a new perspective!
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t stop the bills from coming in!
A cancer diagnosis lets you know who is really there for you!
I Fought Like a Girl and I Won! can be purchased online at Barnes&Noble.com, Amazon.com, or from my publishing company Xlibris.com The book is available in e-book, paper copy and hard back copy. Thank-you for your support!
Nicole Dorman is 38 and has lived in Killeen TX since 2001. She's from Philadelphia, PA and graduated from Hershey PA in 1996. Nicole served in the US Army from June 1996- Nov 2000, again in 2004. She drives for Uber and Lyft full time. In her free time she like to write, travel, and spend time with family and friends! Her children are 18, 12, and 9. Her daughter Anastazija is the illustrator for her book!