Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Wake Up Call

On the 22nd of August I stopped breathing. For a Month. Or at least that's what it felt like.

A routine blood test prompted a call from the medical centre receptionist:
"The doctor wants you to make an appointment tomorrow (a Saturday) about your test results." She is a dry woman at the best of times.
"Tomorrow, wha', uh, is it that urgent?"
"He just wants you to make an appointment."
"Uh, please, would it be possible to speak to him?" I begged, "He knows I get anxious about this kind of thing."
She put me on hold.
Meanwhile my cortisol spiked and I sternly told my diaphragm to relax. He (my diaphragm is a stubborn man) refused.
She returned.
"The doctor just said you need an urgent change to your medication so he'd like to see you tomorrow."
"BULLSHIT, I call BULLSHIT," my mind screamed. "I'm a f**king Pharmacist for God's sake. An 'urgent' change to a thyroxine (thyroid hormone) dose is not going to make an iota of difference." My mind is a blasphemous potty-mouth, I apologise.
Meanwhile my mouth mumbled OK and negotiated an appointment for the next day that would allow me to go to the other side of Melbourne, drive an hour back to work and still get in on time.

Turns out my TSH was super high (a measure of low thyroid function) and doctor wanted me to get an ultrasound on my thyroid. He asked me when my last thyroid ultrasound had been and looked a little pale when I said it had been five years.

My brain went into a meltdown. When it comes to health I catastrophise superbly. I got to work and Dr Googled excessively (always a good idea). I was pretty certain that my TSH was high in response to stress; having just sat an exam the day before the test, lurgy-lugging the previous week, and with a new lurgy currently burrowing its way into my cortisol-rich, exhausted little immune system. Plus I was becoming antsy because the follow up scan from the breast lump scare six months earlier was due. Dr Google also told me that the enormous amounts of raw kale I was drinking in my sludgy brown smoothie every morning, was full of goitrogens which can exacerbate hypothyroid conditions. I'm not entirely sure where I sit on the whole goitrogens, 'I quit sugar', superfoods scene but at that moment I was sure I WAS POISONING MYSELF!

Monday came and I booked my appointment at the radiology clinic, needing to repeat three times 'mammogram, bilateral breast ultrasound, thyroid ultrasound.' I was sure it would be like at the beauty clinic when I would book for 'eyebrow wax, eyebrow tint and lash tint' and they would invariably forget one of the procedures.

Scan day was one of the first warm sunny days of spring. Of course it was. I can safely say I have never forgotten to put deodorant on, I don't understand people that can forget. It is as important to me as remembering to wear pants. On that gorgeous sunny day I had to leave the house sans deodorant, add in a bit of raging adrenaline and I was BO queen by the time I arrived at the clinic. I spent the next two hours having my boobs pressed between x-ray plates (mammogram- doesn't hurt, is just a weird old situation if you've never had one); and being coated in that really pretty aqua ultrasound goop from chin to liver. Fortunately I had a friendly ultrasound technician, but my anxiety wasn't helped by having the specialist come in to do a little extra scan after the tech thought she found some seriously prominent parathyroid glands. Turns out they were lymph nodes. Thanks lurgy.

Back to doctor the next day. Thyroid was OK, parathyroid likely OK- just needs a blood test to confirm the lymph node hypothesis, breast thing still there, needs to be followed up by specialist. I call it a 'thing' because it isn't even a lump. It is a 8mm x 4mm blocked duct they happened to find on the opposite side of the breast from the lump I originally found which has since gone away. All this fuss over an accidental find. But my brain kept telling me the accidental find could save my life...

Specialist the next week, wants to do a biopsy because radiologist described the 'thing' as being stable in size but "fluid appears slightly more complex." I try to tell myself this is a normal occurence in mammary duct ecstasia (the fancy pantsy name for a blocked duct) but my mind is screaming CANCER. I cry a bit and tell the doctor "Nana only had twelve years after her diagnosis, I need more than twelve years." She reassures me that she is doing the tests to rule out anything nasty and that the underactive thyroid is partially to blame for me "feeling a bit blue." She checks three times that I have increased my dose of thyroxine.

Biopsy day. I have trouble dressing myself because I am shaking so much. The Bookworm drives me across town to the clinic the specialist has chosen because they "take good pictures." Initially my heart leaps because there is a lot of mutter about the quality of the initial ultrasound and I may not need a biopsy. Eventually though the decision is made to go ahead because the specialist has requested it. The radiologist has the kindest face and engages me in continual conversation as he injects local anaesthetic into my boob. The fine needle aspiration doesn't yield much because the fluid is "complex." It occurs to me that I may never be able to think about complexity in wine the same way again. As he goes in for the core biopsy, a much more invasive procedure (which yields more accurate results), I am prompted to tell my tale of transition from Pharmacist to wine-girl. I attempt to be entertaining, I crack the odd joke (the audience is warm and responsive) and try not to flinch or gasp as the loud click of the punch biopsy goes off. He too reassures me that there is nothing he is terribly concerned about. This makes me feel much better for about an hour. Until my mind again starts to explore the possibilities.

A quick word on biopsies in case you ever have to have one (and the chances are that you will at some stage). The worst part about them is how scary the word 'biopsy' is. The local stings a little but after that you don't feel anything. I took a couple of painkillers as the local wore off, another dose before bed that night and after that it was fine. I had a bruised booby for a few days and the steri-strips were a bit itchy as the small wound healed, but nothing to fret about.

It is the waiting that is the worst. The biopsy was done on the 23rd of September, a month after that first worrying phone call. I have been dealing with the anxiety of not knowing for a month now (coupled with an underactive thyroid, I am becoming quite irrational) and there was still a week to go. I have forgotten what it is like to sleep through the night and have to talk myself down from frenzied two hour Dr Google sessions. I should mention that this is through the private health system, theoretically quicker. So far I have racked up $700 which my insurance doesn't cover.

I am wondering if this is my fault. I drink wine and alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. I am not a heavy drinker by any means but even one glass increases that risk. I begin to question if I will have to change careers. I can be a bit hippy dippy at times and I believe that the universe sends me this fantastic article by Jane Caro for a reason. The reality is that the bad things that can happen are a combination of so many unlucky moments all in a row. I could give up wine entirely tomorrow and live another fifty years without something that I really enjoy, is that a better life?

Finally, the day of the specialist appointment and the news is good. It's just one of those benign, relatively common hormone-related breast changes (a fibroadenoma if you want to google it, but I advise against it:) The blood tests for the parathyroid have come back too and that was all a false alarm.

I feel like I have been given a second chance at life. I know that sounds terribly dramatic but it was a drawn out and scary process teamed with a  bit of underlying anxiety. I know I need to get better at this, we don't get any healthier as we get older. I feel like I have had a few wake up calls lately. Every time something like this has happened I get so sad that I haven't done most of the things I would like to do. We have to make the most of our healthy years but, just like my morning alarm, I keep hitting snooze on the wake ups calls. It needs to be different this time.

I wrote this as I went through the experience. It helped to document it. I didn't think I would ever write a 1600 word article about my boobs and publish it on the internet but there you have it. This is the icky-health-stuff I referred to for so long. I really appreciate all the well-wishes along the way. We all need to talk about this stuff more. Addressing the monster under the bed, giving him a name and understanding his motivation makes him a whole lot easier to deal with and maybe even a bit less scary.

N x


  1. Jeezus girl, you had a rough time. I've been in a similar situation a few years back and felt exactly how you felt, in fact, while I was reading your story it all came back.

    I'm glad you're all good (and a glass of wine every now and again is fine, some say even beneficial, so try to keep things in perspective).

    1. Thank you x
      If we didn't eat or drink all the things that are possibly linked to illness there wouldn't be much left would there :)

  2. I'm sorry you had to go through that :( I had a biopsy recently too, and they are scary things.

    But here's to second chances! Your post has given me extra motivation! :)

    1. Ergh that's no good sweet. Glad you are OK too. Seize the day :)

  3. So positive to share stories like this for your own benefit and the sake of others - so glad you're well sweetie xx

    1. As I was going through the whole thing, it really did help to know that others had had scares too. It really helps not to feel alone :)

  4. Though I have never faced a situation like this, I remember my mum going through a similar one. It is the anxiety that is the worst to bear. Thank God, you are fine girl.

    1. And the waiting... so much waiting...

      Thank you x

  5. You poor thing Nicole - what a stressful year. Thank goodness Festivus is around the corner for some R&R!

    1. I have all my digits crossed that i get some R & R :)

  6. First of all, you poor old sausage. That sounds like one hell of a journey. And one that is never ever aided by Dr Google...not that that stops us consulting him for a second. I'm so pleased that it turned out to be OK.

    Also, bizarrely as I've never seen your real actual face, I feel awful that I was a million miles away wrapped up in my own little shit bubble and didn't get to sending you all the internet love much MUCH sooner than now. Have a little extra to make up for it.
    M x


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