When Cancer Comes Back


Diagnosed the Second Time Around

Iris Winston, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2007, shared her experiences in an effort to help others dealing with similar problems. After surgery and a series of radiation treatments, she was declared cancer-free in September 2008. Nine years later, the news was not so good. In this series she writes about getting the second diagnosis and again will describe her journey the second time around.

By Iris Winston

It’s May 2, 2016 and it’s time for my annual physical. My doctor calls for the usual series of blood tests and, because I am considered “high risk” after having had breast cancer, she requires an annual mammogram. Unpleasant and painful as the breast compression is, I am not concerned.After all, I have been free of cancer for more than nine years and no longer have to have regular checks from the radiation specialist.

June 25, 2016

I have the mammogram at the Queensway Carleton Hospital. As uncomfortable as always, but, as this is a Saturday, I am dealt with on time and it is soon over. I walk out into the sunshine and carry on with a now carefree day.

June 30, 2016

The caller from the QCH says that a few more images are required. Now, I start to worry and phone my doctor’s office.The receptionist is calming and says that it is likely more X-rays are needed for some technical reason. She apparently had a similar callback and all was well in her case.

July 12, 2016

I am back for the repeat.While I wait, I chat with another patient, also on a return visit. We agree that there are some places where you would rather not be invited back, but…

The technician warns me that the procedure will be painful this time. (You mean, a routine mammogram isn’t?) She is correct. This set of compressions is worse than the regular group.

Next, I am sent for an ultrasound. It turns into two ultrasounds because the radiologist says she wants to see for herself and does her own testing.

July 20, 2016

I am back at the QCH for a biopsy. The technician explains that if there is a bad reaction afterwards (e.g. pus, great swelling) I should go to emergency immediately,adding that this won’t happen.Maybe not, but it is an added worry. Then the radiologist comes in and positions my left arm above my head. Before she starts on the biopsy — actually five biopsies, as it turns out — she asks me to tell her if the procedure is painful, but cautions me not to move.The needles are painful because I seem to be resistant to the local anesthetic, but I manage to keep still as requested.

I can see that she is concerned. Before I leave, I ask her if she thinks I will need surgery. She nods and apologizes for the news. Then she gives me a hug. Now I am sure that the cancer is back — albeit in the other breast. But I won’t hear officially for a week and even though I am sure, the waiting is hard.

I am relieved to see my friend as I return to the waiting room. I had said I did not need a drive or company, but I am so glad she insisted on taking me.

My daughter — an oncology veterinary surgeon — warns me to prepare for the doctors to push for aggressive action, possibly a double mastectomy. She is right to warn me, but I have a lot of trouble getting my head around the thought.The lumpectomy last time was difficult enough.

July 23, 2016

The bruising on my breast is spectacular and I am a little tender, but within the normal range for someone who has been beaten up. I know I will also feel a little emotionally tender, waiting for the official word on the biopsy results. ■

Iris will share more updates on this journey, second time around, in future issues of the magazine.