Saturday, December 13, 2014

Abiding When Tension is High: Test Results

Was it mere coincidence that a few days before I received a letter in the mail indicating that my mammogram screening required further evaluation, I'd done extensive reading on abiding in Christ? I think not. Just the day before I'd read quite a bit about Elizabeth Elliot, and will have that biography for you in the next couple weeks, hopefully.

Roughly five hours after reading the letter, I mustered the courage to get away from the kids, go into the bathroom, lock the door, and examine the indicated breast. And yes, there is a hard, pea-sized lump, not noticed before, and missed by my doctor a few months before. It being a Friday, and my doctor only working Tuesdays and Thursdays, the wait will not be easy. I was likely contacted earlier than she was, which indicates, possibly, that it was not a number 5, which is the highest number on the mammogram-reading scale, indicating the worst. My letter was merely a form letter, not a detailed letter indicating exact findings.

I panicked over the lump, though I didn't plan my demise in my head just yet. Wanting to know as much as possible, I researched and learned they would do a diagnostic mammogram (magnified, different-angled pictures of the area), and an ultrasound to try to ascertain if the lump is fluid-filled, indicating a cyst and benign, or a solid mass with irregular borders, requiring a biopsy. Biopsies can be with a needle guided by ultrasound or MRI, or they can be via surgery. With a needle however, they can't tell you a cancer is invasive, only that it's present, and if they miss the cancerous cells, you can get a false negative with a needle biopsy.

This pea-sized lump is not like the fibrocystic lumps I've had for quite a while. I haven't felt anything like it before, and I haven't ever had anything in the lower region before either. It's most likely benign, such as an adenoma, and even if otherwise, most people do not die of breast cancer.

My mother did have breast cancer in her sixties--a small lump removed, with no problems later. She took hormone replacement therapy for about ten years (known to cause breast cancer), and smoked and drank heavily, with no exercise (alcohol is a definite risk factor). She had no family history, however. Only 15% of cancer sufferers have a family history. Many do not have any risk factors. Most cancers do not appear before the fifties.

My only risk factor would be my mother's cancer (though because hers was post-menopausal, it wouldn't be likely to show up this early in me), and having had my first pregnancy after thirty. I only took hormones in the form of a birth control pill for one year, to preserve my fertility while suffering from endometriosis. I stopped taking it after one year due to it aggravating migraines.

It is the extent of your body's lifetime exposure to estrogen that puts you at risk for breast cancer, which is why having your first baby after thirty is a risk factor, as well as having a late menopause or early menses. I had six total pregnancies (two miscarriages) and nursed extensively, going nearly 10 years with few cycles, so that might negate the late childrearing risk factor, as does the extended nursing, which is protective. Having more children is also protective. In 2014 the U.S. birth rate went below 2 children per American woman, and if this trend continues, we are likely to see small hikes in breast cancer rates.

None of this should alarm you, personally, because lifetime breast cancer risk remains relatively low, despite a lot of number crunching. There are two different guidelines floating around currently. One, by the American Cancer Society, suggests that you begin mammograms at 40. The other, by the American Medical Association, I think it was termed, suggests you begin at 50, because only a small percentage of lives are saved by starting at age 40, and there are more false positive mammograms between 40 and 50, due to denser breast tissue, making it harder to read the mammogram, causing unnecessary fear in many women.

God is bigger than statistics and risk factors, but his plan sometimes includes hard things, like cancer, thus, the need to abide in Him through all things, with an open hand.

I'm happy to meet the Lord at any time, with one misgiving. The thing I'm having the most difficult time with, in terms of abiding, is the possibility of leaving children with a husband who has trouble caring for them even while I'm at the grocery store. He struggles mightily with children as a whole. He is at his best as a father when he is out with one child at a time. It seems so cruel to leave him in total control of a family, and with children having special needs besides.

However, no human being is irreplaceable, and it's haughty for me to feel that my children wouldn't be just as well off or better in my absence, by the grace of God. As a mother, I'm just as flawed as the next, not special.

I've had the privilege of reading many missionary stories lately, from Missionary Stories With the Millers, and the power, grace, and mercy of God has not been lost on me.

Have you had a medical scare? How did you abide through it?


Beth Bullington said...

Praying for you -- the waiting can be the hardest part. When we were in Singapore last summer, the medical advisor wanted me to get a mammogram and an ultrasound so I did. They discovered a lump and the option was to remove it or needle biopsy. I opted to remove it. The report came back that it was just a cyst. There were many days of wondering what this would happen as we were waiting and uncertain. I just kept reminding myself the truth that God is in control and that he will be with me.

Christine said...

Thank you, Beth, for telling your story. I am so glad it turned out fine for you. It gives me hope. I remember you mentioning the tests you had. You sure did a good job keeping the details a secret. :) Had I not felt the lump, I think this would not be so hard. Thank you again, and for praying too!

Beth Bullington said...

Anything more?