Pivoting on a Crucial Third Opinion
My story is one of dueling radiologists’ opinions and an “angel” surgeon who stepped in and said, “When you have two opposing opinions, get a third one.” Without her intervention, I would have heeded the more positive second reading and would have bypassed a biopsy. As a consequence, I would have skipped gaily along until my next annual mammogram, as my stage 0, grade 2 carcinoma in situ spread stealthily. And, oh my, I would have been in much deeper trouble.
As breast cancer journeys go, mine is one of extremely good luck and even greater good fortune as I was diagnosed and assigned a treatment plan just as the Coronavirus began to heat up, resulting in the cancellations of even routine screenings. My successful surgery developed a minor hiccup: a hematoma. My bruised and swollen basketball-sized mound complicated what I would classify as a fairly simple surgical recovery. Categorize that as a small price to pay. (Silver lining note: it also provided me with a built-in excuse to avoid mowing the lawn all spring.)
For my convalescence, my surgeon advocated a narcotics-free approach, which worked perfectly well. My 21-session daily radiation began in the hospital cancer wing during the early, pre-vaccination day of Covid. At the time, I was as scared about catching COVID-19 as I was about transmitting it to my phenomenal healthcare team.
The timing allowed a gentle peace to wash over me; I could focus on myself without feeling that I was missing out on “normal” life. As with other patients of this momentous time in global history, I was deprived of the in-person support of my large Irish family and my friends, but Team Keegan surrounded me with as much care as was possible for the time.
I joke that the period of my radiation treatment was by far the smelliest time of my life. No deodorant, coupled with radiation and the hot flashes that accompanied my aromatase inhibiters – made for an undeniably sweaty time. I am now more than a year and a half out from my diagnosis, and am deeply thankful for the thorough and ongoing aftercare afforded me. My good fortune propels me to remind all of the women in my life to religiously schedule mammograms and to question the results thoroughly. And as an appreciative and joyous survivor, I am the first to contact newly diagnosed individuals to serve as a volunteer, self-anointed BCC – breast cancer coach. We learn from one another.
Lucky me, I was advised to get a third opinion on a conflicting doctor’s review of my mammogram, and my breast cancer was discovered very early. Also fortunate was my ability to have surgery and be assigned a treatment plan just as hospitals were beginning to shut down to elective surgery due to rising COVID rates. Overall, I am a joyous survivor who is a walking example of the benefits of early detection and second opinions.