I know you all are ready for a story, right? Well, my friends, grab yourself a drink and settle yourself in, ’cause I have a humdinger of a story for you!
First, though, let me fill in a few things that led up to the rest of the story. Through some family connections, a doctor at the Breast Health division of the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis was told about what was happening with me. They were told about my unwillingness to have a mammogram. They were given my ultrasound images. Like all of the other medical personnel involved in this thing, the doctor was highly concerned and wanted to get me in as soon as possible. We encountered a few twists and turns, and the doctor I was originally supposed to see ended up being out of the country, so I ended up seeing someone else. Not really a big deal, simply a part of the bigger picture. After many scheduling conflicts, on Tuesday of last week I was finally given an appointment for today (Monday).
While everyone around me was incredibly relieved, I had a lot of mixed feelings about the whole thing. Of course, I was eager to have an actual diagnosis. I didn’t want a diagnosis because I had any intention of changing how I treated it. I wanted a diagnosis, mostly, because without one there would always be room for questions. Do I have cancer? Is it the type of cancer that we were originally afraid it was? I wanted more images to see if anything had changed. It all looked better on the outside. In fact, over the last three days it has completely cleared up. No tenderness, no heaviness. No bruises or itching. No discomfort. Nothing.
But…this was a cancer research center that is part of Mallinckrodt. That means that their main interest is in studying new drugs and treatments. None of those include anything natural. Also, Mallinckrodt has a vested interest in mammography. They are the makers of mammogram equipment, including the newest fad…3-D mammograms. I was fairly certain they were going to push hard on me to have a mammogram. So, on Friday when they called to verify my appointment, I made it a point to ask them about it. I asked if they were aware that I was not coming in for a mammogram. I asked them to please save me the time and the trip if that was going to be a factor in whether or not things could move forward. The girl of the phone seemed rather uncomfortable and said I would just have to wait and talk to the doctor.
Jim and I debated canceling the appointment. We both knew how this was going to go. We both knew that it was most likely going to be a wasted trip. However, I know how many strings had been pulled and how many people were holding their breath waiting for me to make it to this appointment. Mostly, it was sense of obligation that had us up and on our way to St. Louis this morning.
Okay, here’s where it starts getting good. So, they call me back and Jim starts to follow me, but the girl stops him and says he has to wait until after they are done with the imaging part of the appointment. I assure him that I’ll be okay and they will come and get him as soon as I am done. The girl leads me to an exam room and tells me to undress and put on the robe, then she will be right back to get me. I stopped her as she was leaving to ask her where, exactly, she was taking me. Her answer? Come on…play along! Guess! That’s right, friends. We were on our way to the mammogram machine! Go ahead and laugh. I did!
I think she was taken a bit aback when I said, “No.” She had the oddest look on her face, as if she was uncertain what the word meant, so I felt it necessary to help her out. “I made you all aware a week ago that I was not coming in for a mammogram. I am willing to do either an ultrasound or an MRI, both of which I know you offer, but we are not doing a mammogram.”
The poor child turned white. Then red. Her mouth kinda flopped about soundlessly. “I have to talk to the doctor,” she finally got out. “Just…don’t do anything. I’ll be right back!” and she was gone. I did nothing. I waited.
A few minutes passed and the doctor knocked on the door. She stepped in the room, introduced herself, then said, “You haven’t put on the gown yet. You aren’t undressed! Get changed into the gown and I’ll be right back.” Poof! She was gone. I think this doctor’s office must give courses in how to disappear quick.
She comes back in to the office and the visit begins. She wants to know the whole story. I start back at the beginning. She checked her notes and asked me a few questions, then wanted to know what I had been doing (antibiotics? any meds?) I explained briefly that I had made some dietary changes, used a lot of herbs and salves, did some other natural stuff. I skipped over the less-than-legal stuff. She laughed and waived a hand dismissively, “None of those would have made a difference with cancer. Cancer doesn’t go away like that. Did you do anything medical?”
And, there it was. “Nope,” I replied. “Not a thing.” I explained to her that, over the last few days, the rest of my symptoms had gone away. I didn’t go into details because I knew she didn’t want them. I didn’t explain that the last several weeks of my life had consisted of nothing beyond making teas and poultices and herbal concoctions, applying salves and oils, doing lymph massages, making and taking natural medicines every few hours, taking baths, eating nothing but organic foods, doing yoga, and sleeping more than I ever thought I could. It didn’t matter, in her mind, so why waste my breath?
After 8 long weeks, there was nothing left of what was there before. She assured me that she had seen the ultrasound and knew what we were dealing with. She was ready to examine me. You know how when your car makes that terrible noise and you schedule an appointment with the mechanic, but when you get there the car isn’t making that noise anymore? Yeah, it was pretty much just like that.
She looked at my breast and seemed a little confused. “There is nothing there,” she said.
“Um, yeah. I know. That’s what I just told you. It all cleared up a few days ago.”
“How long ago did the symptoms start?”
“A couple months ago,” I told her.
She pushed around on the places that had showed up the worst in the ultrasound. Then, she pushed a little harder. She felt around the lymph nodes that had been swollen and sore a few days ago, but there was nothing there anymore. So she pushed harder. She raised my arms and felt, then lowered my arms and felt.
“Can you show me exactly where the hard spots were?” she asked.
I did. She pushed and poked some more.
“There is nothing there,” she told me.
“Um…yeah.” I said. Hadn’t we just had this conversation?
“Well, uh, you had this ultrasound just a few weeks ago, right?”
“And, when was your mammogram?”
“Of course you have. They did a mammogram the day they did the ultrasound.”
“No? But, you had a mammogram.”
I was starting to feel like I was in a bad adaptation of ‘Who’s on First’.
“No. No mammogram.”
“But, they did take this ultrasound?”
She was silent for a minute.
“Are you sure you don’t want a mammogram?”
I swear, that is what she asked me.
“Well, there is nothing there to ultrasound. I mean, I don’t have anything to tell them to ultrasound. There’s nothing there. Are you sure you don’t want a mammogram?”
I laughed. “Well,” I said, “can you tell me of anything else, anything at all, that could have caused the skin thickening and the layering that is in that ultrasound?”
She mumbled something that I didn’t hear, then shrugged and said, “It was possibly just something odd or unusual that went away on it’s own.” Then she changed the subject. To mammograms.
“If we do a mammogram maybe we would see something that needs to be looked at a little closer by ultrasound. Do you want to get a mammogram?”
She was quiet again. Then, she said, “Do you want an ultrasound? We could just consider it a follow-up ultrasound maybe, since you’ve already had this one to compare it to.”
“Sure. I would love to have something to compare to the first one.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a mammogram?”
She sighed. “Okay. Let me set up the ultrasound.” And, she was gone.
So, I was led down the halls to the imaging waiting room. I was suddenly a member of the pink-robes club. There were 4 of us in the waiting room, each one waiting to find out if we were about to given an expiration date or a reprieve. I was the last one left.
A new girl showed up, called my name and said, “I need to speak to you for a minute.”
She led me to a little exam room and closed the door. “Here’s the thing,” she said. “The doctors here won’t do an ultrasound unless you have a mammogram first. It’s policy.”
Wait, wasn’t it a doctor that had just suggested it? Hmmm.
I shrugged. “No problem. Let’s just skip it, then,” I said.
She looked very uncomfortable. “Um, so, you don’t want a mammogram?”
At this point I was seriously beginning to wonder if anyone in this office was firing all their cylinders. I was beginning to get the impression that they really wanted me to have a mammogram, too.
I took a really deep breath. Then another. “No, I do not want a mammogram. Can I put my clothes back on now?”
She left pretty fast, too. I’m telling you guys, they train them….
She was back just a minute later to tell me that the doctor wanted to see me before I left. She led me to another exam room and they finally let Jim come back.
I was almost finished catching him up on everything when the doctor opened the door and stuck her head in. “I just wanted to make it clear to you,” she said, “cancer does not just go away on its own.” She closed the door. Our visit was, apparently, finished.
As we left the cancer center, Jim started to laugh. “I knew it had to have been you,” he said. I raised an eyebrow at him. He says the oddest things sometimes…
“One of those girls came up to the front desk just before they came out to get me,” he told me. “She looked pretty upset. She was waving her arms around and looking mad while she told the girls behind the counter something. I recognized that look and I just knew it had to be you!”
I’m pretty sure he thinks he is funny.
So, there you have it. No more imaging was done because they couldn’t find anything to image. I suppose we will never have an answer, but I’m good with that. I intend to continue my course of treatment for a bit longer, and I intend to continue to focus more on prevention of a recurrence. I intend to keep my thermographic imaging appointment, just to be sure everything is really gone. I intend to never see a doctor again, mostly because this whole experience has reminded me that most of them aren’t too bright and they are incapable of hearing any voice but their own. I intend to actively encourage women to forgo mammograms and insist on less dangerous, more reliable options like ultrasound and thermography. I am going to actively campaign to legalize marijuana in Missouri so that anyone diagnosed with an illness doesn’t have to turn their friends and family into drug dealers in order to cure said illness. Yeah, that’s a whole other story that I won’t be able to tell for a while…
I have learned so much during this whole ordeal. I have learned to appreciate all the little things. I have learned that I need to tell people what they mean to me while I can. I have learned to trust myself. I have learned that there are a lot of people around me who love me and support me, no matter what.
I know that many of you are full of questions about what I have been doing to treat this thing. I have debated over and over whether or not to put it out there. What I have decided is that, while I am more than willing to tell anyone who wants to know what I have done, I am not willing to do it here. The internet, while being a highly useful tool, is also full of people who are less-than-wise. Some of the things I used to treat this can be dangerous if used in the wrong way, and many of the things I did were specifically formulated for breast cancer, not cancer in general. As with anything else, even natural medicine can be dangerous in the wrong circumstances, and what works for me may not work for you because there are so many factors that go into coming up with a treatment plan that works as quickly and safely as possible.
Maybe this wasn’t cancer. Maybe this was, really, just some odd, unusual thing that is not yet in any medical text. Maybe it was all the prayers and healing thoughts sent my way. Maybe it was the herbs, or the food, or any one of the other things I have been doing. Maybe it was just the Gods smiling down on me. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I’m very alive, and that is really all that matters.