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Walking the road not chosen

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 3:00 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 3:32 p.m. CDT

Editor's note: The following is another column in the ongoing series by former BCR Staff Writer Barb Kromphardt and her battle with breast cancer.

Despite my fears, I did wake up after my biopsy. Since I didn’t have general anesthesia, I woke up pretty quickly and easily, and after getting a list of instructions from the nurse, my husband drove me home, where I collapsed into bed for a couple of hours of sleep.

Recovering from the biopsy was easier than waiting for the results, which came several days later.

With my surgeon’s telephone call, I became one of about 60,000 women who will be diagnosed this year with ductal carcinoma in situ, a cancer that is contained in the milk ducts in the breast.

I still have the notepad I grabbed as soon he called.

The surgeon said there were cancer cells present, but they were not invasive. (That must have been important to him to stress to me because I have it written down several times.)

DCIS is considered a Stage 0 cancer because it hasn’t spread outside the ducts, unlike invasive breast cancer. DCIS can develop into invasive breast cancer, but when treated promptly, has a 10-year survival rate near 100 percent.

The frequency of DCIS is increasing because of the increased use of mammography. The “sparkling” cells that showed up on my first mammogram were far too small to have been felt by touch. DCIS now accounts for about one in five of every case of breast cancer diagnosed.

DCIS can be found in one location – single focus – or a few locations close together – multi-focal. Unfortunately, mine was multi-focal, and some of the cancer cells he removed were uncomfortably close to the edge of the tissue he removed. That meant there could still be cancer cells lurking in my body.

And that meant another surgical procedure, a lumpectomy this time.

“We’re going to take more tissue from the same area, just to be sure,” he told me.

The surgeon had told me the bad news – that I had cancer – and he’d told me some good news – that it wasn’t invasive breast cancer.

But he hadn’t answered the question I was most afraid of. You see, I have two daughters, and the thought that I might have passed this disease on to them was unbearable.

This time it was blessedly good news.

The surgeon said that DCIS doesn’t seem to have a hereditary factor, and it was likely that the risk to my daughters had not increased just because their mother had it. I thanked the Good Lord for that one.

After I hung up the phone, I sat there processing the news.

What I had most feared had come true. There was cancer in my breast.

But after all the fears and tears and fervent prayers, at last I knew. There was a path forward to follow, and now I could get started.

But first I had to tell my family.

My husband was ... and has been, my rock through all of this. After dealing with initial fears that his wife was going to die, he gathered his strength so he could be my strength. His good friends and learning everything he could about DCIS helped him so much.

It was harder telling my children. As their mother I wanted to protect them. I didn’t want them to worry too much about me.

But I was selfish, too. I needed their love and support to help me get through this.

I told my sister, who suffered with me. And I was glad my mom and dad were gone because I don’t know how I could have ever put this burden on them.

And then there were my friends. Dear God, was I lucky with my friends. They listened to me, prayed for me and shared their own stories of struggles. They could even get mad for me when I dealt with a medical professional who viewed me as a disease to be treated, not a scared person with a disease.

But scared or not, it was time to move ahead. My next appointment with the surgeon was set for a few days later.

Barb Kromphardt, currently of Columbus, Ind., was a reporter for the Bureau County Republican and interim managing editor of the Tonica News and the Putnam County Record. She can be reached at bkromps@yahoo.com.

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