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Mrs. Hughes, breast cancer and me

A few nights ago,  I watched a Downton Abbey episode.  Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, found a lump in her breast. Mrs. Hughes was frightened, and she was anxious. Cancer was a word that drove a chilling fear into the heart of someone given the label as it does today. Mrs. Patmore, the cook and her friend,  told her she needed to see the local doctor, Doctor Clarkson.

There was no health insurance. Medical services had to be paid up front. Wages were low. Treatments were slim. Radical mastectomies, not common today, were the only treatment. Radical mastectomies removed the breasts, the lymph glands and frequently the muscles underneath. The patient usually died anyway. ( In 1970 fifty per cent of women with breast cancer were still dying.)  Mrs. Hughes had reason to be scared.

Dr. Clarkson drew fluid from Mrs. Hughes breast. He sent it off to the lab. There were no diagnostic  tools like MRIs or CT scans to provide clues. They settled into wait.

She returned with Mrs. Patmore to learn the results from Dr. Clarkson.  Mrs. Hughes had negative results. She could breathe. She could carry on with her busy life. She could be grateful.

My breast cancer was picked up by accident. My RA Doc ordered a chest CT scan and there it was. Something that shouldn’t be there.  A biopsy was ordered  to see what this something was. It was positive for malignancy.  An MRI was ordered, and I was sent to a  breast surgeon.

At the time I did not feel fearful or anxious. I was two weeks out from stage three thyroid cancer surgery. My RA was not under control. I was numb. I did as I was told. I walked through my days as a zombie. Fortunately, my cancer was in its early stage. Surgery, radiation, and an aromatase inhibitor was the treatment plan.

Although my breast cancer treatment has its own story, my cancer was squashed. I had more tools in my toolbox than Mrs. Hughes. I had insurance. I had diagnostic tests and I had a treatment that did not leave me a cripple. I am a lucky woman.

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