Breast Cancer Journey - Leading up to the Diagnosis

Sharing My Breast Cancer Experience

I am writing this series of articles because when I found out I had breast cancer, I asked other survivors about certain milestones in their own cancer journey. Most could not remember the specifics, and I completely relate to that. I decided to try to write down my experience, hoping there will be something in my journey that might be helpful to others who feel devastated when they hear they have cancer. I must add that no two people with cancer are alike, and I have found that no two doctors are alike in their treatment. These are important distinctions to remember when going through such a journey. We are each unique, yet sharing our experiences helps make us stronger and possibly gives hope and strength so we know we are not alone.

Life Leading up to Cancer

When I turned 50 in 2015, I decided I was not going to bemoan the fact. When I was 30, I wanted to be 20; when I was 40, I wanted to be 30. Good grief, it was time for me to buck up and embrace my age. After all, I was only going to be 50 for one year, and I can’t get younger. Before I know it, 60 will be here.

What a year it has been! Just a few days before my birthday, my husband and I became grandparents, which has brought great joy and excitement to our lives. Those happy feelings bring youthful feelings. My son and his wife just became parents, and what a wonderful time for all of us. Also, my daughter will be getting married this summer, which has been exciting with all the planning. I have been busier this year than I have ever been in my life. Pretty good for a 50-year-old…

Perfect!  It is ALL about attitude.
Perfect! It is ALL about attitude.

Cancer is Inconvenient

Changing my attitude on age was a good thing. Turning 50 was nothing compared to the serious speed bump I was about to hit. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 31, 2016. I had two weeks before surgery. Surprisingly, it did not slow me down because I had too many things to do as a wife, a mom, a grandma, and a teacher.

As a matter of fact, when I first found out, I thought, “What an inconvenience!” Of course, there is much more emotional detail involved, but as a teacher, it felt like the flight of the bumblebee when I sat down to write lesson plans for the last 5 weeks of school, which I was missing for the first time in my 24 year career. I am one of those teachers who thinks the school is going to implode if I am not able to be there. I chose my substitute, and guess what? She was more than capable. Things do work out.

Another thing I craved was time with my grandson. He was nearly 10 months old, and he was used to his Gram holding him, throwing him in the air, constantly hugging him, chasing him in his walker, playing on the floor, and all the other wonderful play time that grandparents get to enjoy. My biggest fear was that he would think I didn’t like him anymore, so I wanted to fit in as much time with him that I could. Guess what? He still knows his Gram loves him, and he still lights up a room with his smile when he sees me.

My daughter’s wedding plans came to a complete halt. She wanted to concentrate on me and all my appointments. My husband, whose work requires him to travel, canceled all his jobs for the next 6 months. My son was calling and dropping by more. What a wonderful family I have, but, as I said before, what an inconvenience this cancer thing has caused. At the same time, what a blessing it has been.

What? Cancer a blessing? Yes, in a weird sort of way, it has been a blessing. It has shown me perspective, and in an unfortunate way, it has shown me how loved I am by so many.

Some teachers threw me a party on my last day before leaving for surgery.
Some teachers threw me a party on my last day before leaving for surgery.

Breast Cancer Journey - Second Set of Ears – Constant Supporter - Advocate

You might say I have expected breast cancer to pop up for years and had been waiting for the hammer to fall. My sister had breast cancer 15 years ago and she is a survivor. My maternal aunt had breast cancer. She survived the first time, but she did not beat it the second time. Both were in their 50’s when they were first diagnosed. And, before mammograms or regular yearly checkups were the norm, my great grandmother died of breast cancer.

On March 22nd during my mammogram, I was taken back 3 different times for each side and two separate times for sonograms for each breast. Two years ago I had a fibromatosis, which is a benign tumor, removed from under my right breast. At first, I was going back in to have the right breast examined again and again, which didn’t surprise me. Then, they started concentrating on the left breast. I had no lumps or unusual sensations in my left breast, but the right breast seemed to be forgotten.

The radiologist just happened to see a shadow on the edge of the image of my left breast. In my mind, I am thinking it is calcification or a cyst because women in my family also had a history of fibrocystic breast disease. Besides, I had just started my 50’s, so I had a few more years to wait for my first “real” diagnosis.

Finally, the smashing and squeezing and scanning are over. Rather than being taken back to the waiting room, I am taken to a small room with a couch, a table with a box of Kleenex, and a chair. I am okay with this because I had been told the year before I needed a needle biopsy for what they believed to be a calcification on my right breast. I probably had another one.

The radiologist came into the room, and she didn’t smile or greet me. She sat down, very business-like, with no bedside manner and bluntly said, “You have a mass in your left breast. It is not a cyst or a calcification. It is an asymmetrical mass.” Her staccato felt like a machine gun. I quietly said, “Okay.” She handed me a sheet with information about an ultrasound guided needle biopsy and a date and time for the following week for the procedure. Then, “Do you have any questions?” I was so shocked and put off by her demeanor that I said, “No.”

Maybe she gave me more information, but I was so shocked by what she told me and how she told me that I could have completely missed something she said or misconstrued her demeanor. I didn’t think about having my husband with me for a mammogram.

On my way home, I cried. My mind was racing with only one possibility for this “asymmetrical mass”: cancer, Cancer, CANCER!

By the time I got home, I pulled myself together. I calmly told my husband. He was due to leave for a business trip the day after the biopsy and wanted to know if I wanted him to cancel the trip. Being “brave” and letting my common sense kick in, I told him no because it would be several days before the results were back and we didn’t know if it was going to be cancer or not. He, like me, felt like he knew what the results were going to be. “Asymmetrical mass” are not good words to hear, and we both knew it.

He told me that he was going to make plans to set up the job exercise, which would take about a week, and then he would come home if needed. Some may feel that is cold, but it isn’t. We have always been a military family, and we are used to dealing with major life-changing decisions together even with distance between. It was quite normal that he was not going to be with me when the results came in. It did not bother me.

I also knew that he was going to “covertly” start researching breast cancer. I am the type who will let it ride until I need to research it. I was not going to look up a bunch of information online to read then stew over and make myself a nervous wreck, which would not be good for me or anybody. He, on the other hand, was used to being in charge and armed with information so he could manage the situation no matter which way it fell. I knew I could completely rely on him to hear the results and know what they meant. He was my advocate.

The day before surgery.  Had to hold the grandson.  I knew it would be a while before I got to hold him again.
The day before surgery. Had to hold the grandson. I knew it would be a while before I got to hold him again.

The Biopsy Experience

On March 29th, I had a biopsy. The nurse came in to prepare me for the biopsy. I took off my bra and top, and a nurse gave me a heated blanket. Since it was on my left side, she placed a pillow under my left side to prop me up. I was expecting a table that I would lie flat on and place my breast in a hole, which was what I did for my first biopsy last year. The nurse explained that the location of the lump did not make that a convenient position. The radiologist came and introduced herself. She numbed the area then she used and ultrasound guided needle to go in to take the sample tissue.

The doctor and the nurse were so congenial. They asked me questions about my family and teaching, and they talked about what they had done for the weekend. It was a very pleasant environment.

The worst part for me was the bandage the nurse wrapped around me for pressure. It is difficult to stop bleeding on the breast, so it has to be tight. I will be honest, both times it was wrapped so tight I couldn't breathe and it hurt my sternum and my back. After about 3 hours, my husband loosened it. Since he was a career soldier, he had field dressing experience. It was still tight, but I could breathe and the pain was not there. I had to sleep in it.

On the way out, my nurse advocate told us she was going to call at 4:00 p.m. on March 31st, and she gave us her number if either of us had questions. My husband told her he was going to be gone and explained our plan for him to return if he had to. I don’t think she really understood our situation, and it was obvious that she believed he should stay home. She asked me if I had someone to call to be with me when I got the call. I told her I did; of course, I was not going to call someone. Maybe I should have, but I just wanted this to stay between me and my husband for the time. It just wasn't my style to call someone before knowing the results. It would only alarm others if I shared it, and I would have felt silly if it was just another cyst or calcification.

The Results Call

On March 31st, the call came. “Susan, it’s cancer. It is…” I was in shock even though I suspected it and expected it. There is nothing that can prepare you for those words, even if you tried to prepare for it. I was not hearing anything beyond “it’s cancer,” and stopped her, “Please call my husband with the details because I will not remember a thing.” While I was talking to her, my husband was trying to call me. I hung up and did not even attempt to call him back so the nurse could reach him. I simply stared into my kitchen.

He called me and wanted to know how I was doing. I told him that even though I thought I was prepared, I was actually feeling shocked. He asked me if I wanted to know what she said. I told him that I did, but I did not want all the medical jargon. He is extremely scientific-minded, and, well, I am not. I had to tell him that I could not take his minute detailed description. I needed laymen’s terms. He understood. “Okay, you have a 6.5 mm tumor in your left breast. It is very small. You will have a breast MRI next Monday on April 4th. You see the surgeon next Thursday on April 7th, and I will be home on Wednesday.” That is what I needed, but it hit me: my left breast??? I never had a problem with my left breast – what the...? I could not feel any lump in my left breast! Then he said, “I can come home tonight.” That was touching to me and actually romantic for us. I could tell that my constantly-in-control-husband felt helpless.

“No, I am going to call my best friends and my sisters. I am sure there will be a house full of women within the next 30 minutes.” We both laughed, and he agreed to wait. I also assured him that I had to get ready for a substitute and make sure bills were paid and blah, blah, blah… as goes the details of a busy life. I was going to keep myself busy. I was not going to curl up in a ball and fall into self-pity. Knowing these things actually gave me comfort. I would not have time to dwell on it. He, on the other hand, was going to dwell on it in his off-time in a hotel room and would be researching every legitimate piece of information on breast cancer. (Legitimate sites:,,and

By this time, I had “sucked it up,” and was being strong for him. While giving him some relief on my mental status, I didn’t fool him, but that is how we do things. We take care of business first. I could tell he wanted to tell me about his research, but he knew I was not ready and needed to take this cancer thing a step at a time. He said he would complete the job exercise setup and be home by Wednesday. I was good with that. I know some do not understand this situation, but it is quite normal to us.

Dealing with the Results

My way of dealing with my cancer results may be foreign to some of you. If you suspect you have cancer, please reflect on how you are going to handle it. It is not easy. I did not want to be a burden to my husband or my kids. I didn't want to leave a mess behind for a substitute at the end of the school year. I thought I had to be strong, and, for the most part, I was, but there were times I had to let go and allow others to help me. Not an easy thing for me, but my friends and loved ones needed to know they were helping, too.

Please share how you dealt with the news for yourself or for a loved one in the comments. I think sharing the experience is important for myself and for others.

Next up: Being Strong for Others


lions44 profile image

lions44 3 months ago from Auburn, WA

Bravo. Great to read your story. Stay strong. This is a share everywhere kind of hub. Keep us posted.

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thank you, Lions44. More to come.

Thanks for dropping by!

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Susan....What a woman! Bless you and for certain, Bless that wonderful, sweet husband of yours. The "way you deal with such things," does not seem strange to me at all. I understand and can definitely relate.

You've written this beautifully, Susan. I can literally feel your concern yet the strength within you, your expected bit of fear while you maintain your composure and focus on your list of things to do.

Sharing your journal will be helpful to you now and in the future, not to mention the gift you are giving your readers. I look forward to keeping track along with all your dedicated Hubber friends.

You are beautiful, strong, positive and very loved by many. Sounds like your Medical support & team are top shelf. This is what I call a good place to be at this moment. Know I'm with you in spirit, have placed your name on my night stand list for my nighttime chats with God. Sending you hugs as I envision that beautiful smiling face of yours. How blessed to have your loving family........Peace, Paula

Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Thanks for sharing this news about your medical diagnosis. I can empathize with you because I was diagnosed with a large mass on my left kidney in March of 2015. Upon advice from a urologist, I didn't have a biopsy but had the whole kidney removed in an operation at the end of April of 2015. With the help of loved ones, friends, and God, the cancer was confined to the kidney and my subsequent ultrasound checkups have shown that I am good for now. My next checkup is in October and all I can do is watch my diet, keep my fingers crossed, and pray for the best. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 75. She had a mastectomy and lived cancer free until her death at the age of 90. My mother, however, died of Parkinsons disease. Good luck and I will pray for you. I look forward to reading your updates. I am sharing this hub with HP followers.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

Thank you for sharing your journey with us all. I agree, it is very important that you do so. Nothing can prepare a person for that diagnosis, but still reading how others have handled it, and realizing you are not alone in your thoughts, that has to have value.

blessings, cousin!

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Hi Paula!! Thanks so much for your sweet comments. I am glad you understand about how we handled things. Many people did not understand why he left for his job or why he didn't immediately come home. We don't roll that way. Ha! Responsibility first. There was nothing he could do by sitting here. I still went to school and did things around the house. I think my sweet daughter came more for herself than for me. I truly felt loved by all.

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Paul, I am so glad your surgery got rid of the tumor. I believe mine did too. How have you changed your diet? My diet was never that bad, but I am trying to eat more fruits and vegetables and leave out as much red meat as possible. It seems that everything is out to kill us when you research what you can and can't eat! I haven't had my first round of testing since the surgery. I think I will in August, but I am not sure of that - it really is a journey. God has been my refuge, and I am so fortunate to have a husband who keeps everything straight for me and has learned all the terminology. Thank you for your kind words and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers for continued good results.

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thanks, Bill!! Hope all is going well with you!

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

I hear you loud & clear Susan. That is me & my family as well. "Business as usual," keep active, focused and as normal day to day as possible. There's plenty of time for all else and we take things one day at a time.

I wish you all goodness!!

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thanks, Paula! Yes, one day at a time.

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 months ago from California

Love that I am not the only person who thinks cancer is inconvenient. The day I had my biopsy I was planning my son's 7th birthday. I forgot to take the Valium the doctor had ordered.

In 22 years of walking with cancer I too have found that how each person copes with the diagnosis is different. Recently I heard a lady tell one of the nurses that in 5 years she hasn't told anyone but her husband and boss. Totally crazy in my opinion.

Best to you.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Hi Judy! Cancer is inconvenient! Knocks us off our track. Each of us has our own way of coping, but I am with you about the lady who hasn't told anyone but her husband and boss. Wow! How did she explain her absence? Since I have had surgery, I get a lot of "chest to eye and back to chest" stares. Not sure how I would hide it. That experience will go in another post. HA!

Take care and thanks for sharing! :-)

teaches12345 3 months ago

Your grandson is so beautiful. I love your positive approach to this journey of the unknown. It is something we need, even if not affected by cancer, to help others get through life. God bless you for sharing. I will look forward to reading more of your posts on this topic.

Kaili Bisson profile image

Kaili Bisson 3 months ago from Canada

Dear Susan,

Thank you for sharing your story. It is such a personal journey, and everyone is different. You are truly blessed to have a wonderful and supportive family. Draw on that support.

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 35, and made the decision to have a hysterectomy so I would never need to think about whether they got it all or not. I can totally relate to the zombie-state you describe, when someone uses the word cancer, and it is you they are talking about.

I am going to share this in hopes that someone else out there may be helped, and I will be awaiting your updates.



sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Kaili, thank you for sharing your story, too. Hearing "cancer" was quite numbing to me. Almost like an out of body experience.

I completely understand the total hysterectomy. I had one when I was 43. My tumors were pre-cancerous, but, like you, I wanted all of it gone.

I appreciate your kind words and sharing.



Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Susan, with only one kidney left, I have to limit the salt in my diet and stay away from fried foods. Yes, the doctor wants me to eat more fruit and vegetables and eat very little beef. I also must abstain from alcohol and drink at least two liters of water every day.

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thank you, Teaches! I think we should always try to find the positive in a bad situation. If not, only misery can come out of it. Just looking at my grandson brings me joy - no matter the situation. :-D

sholland10 profile image

sholland10 3 months ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Paul, even before I found out about cancer, I was trying to cut back on salt. It seems I have developed some type of aversion to it and fried foods because after eating too much, my heart races. The doctor cannot find anything, so I try to regulate it myself.

The funny thing is that my husband who has heart disease in his family was cutting back on salt, and his tests came back with low sodium. His doctor told him to eat a little more salt. Huh? Ha!

I don't know. We are each so different. I will try anything to feel better and ensure a healthy future. :-)

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