the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: mammogram

One Month of Waiting


During the last month, I haven’t been very good at commenting on blogs, answering emails, or returning calls.  After I wrote a post about accompanying Sophia to her mammogram, nothing was found on the mammogram or the ultra-sound.  We were ecstatic.  However, she also had an MRI done.  Sophia’s surgeon called with some bad news: they saw “something” in her right breast on the MRI.   This was especially scary because a year and a half ago, the same doctor removed a cancer tumor from her left breast.   This could signify something more serious.   Sophia and I both freaked out.

The surgeon, a well-known doctor at Cedars-Sinai, said that because this “something” could only be seen on the MRI, a regular biopsy could not be performed, and that the only way to go was to do a full invasive surgical biopsy, general anaesthesia and all.

Now, this doctor already knew that Sophia wasn’t just going to follow orders.  If there ever existed an organization called Proactive Patients of America, Sophia would be the poster child.   A year and a half ago, Sophia convinced her doctor to do a new radiation procedure, Mammosite, an intense twice-daily five day therapy available for those with early-stage breast cancer.  The treatment is used instead of the typical seven weeks of whole breast external beam radiation therapy   This required Sophia to have an additional small surgery, and to walk around with a “balloon” inserted in her breast for ten days.  The procedure works by delivering radiation from inside the breast directly to the tissue where cancer is most likely to recur.  It was painful and uncomfortable, but it seemed to have worked, and this technique is supposed to be much more concentrated than regular radiation, and therefore protect the heart and lungs from extensive radiation damage.

Sophia bravely made it through the treatment.

This time, after this latest discovery, Sophia went back into action, doing her own research.  She was wary of getting invasive surgery on her other breast.  Her healing after the original surgery has been difficult.  She went home and Googled every cancer site in the world.  She learned about another relatively new treatment,  a non-invasive biopsy called the MRI-Guided Vacuum Assisted Breast Biopsy that could be used in certain circumstances.  Rather than surgery, the patient is put into a MRI machine, and then, with an assistance of a new apparatus, a special needle is used which “vacuums” the samples out.

Sophia asked her surgeon about the procedure.  He said it was a theoretical possibility, but there was one big problem.  Cedars-Sinai did not have the equipment. 

Here is where most of us would give up.  I told Sophia to forget it.  Did she listen to me?  Of course not.  She went ahead and convinced the hospital to RENT the equipment for her.   This way they could learn the new technique better and eventually buy the system for the hospital to use.

While this was a giant step forward, there was still a lot of fear in the air:

1)  Sophia was giving herself up as a guinea pig.
2)  What happens if they do find cancer?

For two weeks, we waited for the big day.   Tensions grew between us.   It was hard to concentrate on anything other than the wait.   At night, rather than talk about any issues, we spent our time watching TV shows about Texas Hold-em. 

A few days before the hospital appointment, Sophia got a small cut on her finger and it got infected.  It seemed like a big nothing, but when the doctor heard about it, he said they must postpone the appointment because the procedure could cause a severe infection.  We wouldn’t be able to do the biopsy for another ten days.  Sophia was put on two super-strong antibiotics they give people with a most serious Staph infection.

Ten more days!!  Let’s just say that during those ten days, Sophia and I became professional Texas Hold-em players by watching TV every night.  We would talk about players like Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson over dinner, like they were family.

Eventually, the day came.  I was not in the hospital room during the procedure.  I was in the waiting room leafing through a Golf Magazine.  Why does the hospital put these magazines out?  Are they for the patients or the doctors?  

As I sat there, Sophia was slipped in and out of the MRI machine at least 10 times, while they were mapping, positioning, re-positioning, checking, putting the needle in, etc. .  I’ve never been in an MRI machine, but I hear it is pretty unpleasant; you wear earplugs because it’s as loud as sitting in the engine of a fighter jet, your hands are tied, you have to keep perfectly still, and you feel like you’re trapped inside a barrel.

Despite it all, it was still better than invasive surgery.  The procedure took about an hour and a half, plus time in recovery.  We went home and waited again, this time for the results.

More watching poker shows for a few days.

Today, there was good news:  it was benign.   No cancer.

Sophia and I can stop watching poker and go back to fighting with each other again.  Back to normal.

I know a lot of you go on those Revlon breast cancer walks or contribute to the cause.  Thank you.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve been amazed at how Sophia has handled it all — from the way she took medical matters into her own hands, to her willingness to be a guinea pig, to the way she kept her sense of humor.  

Of course, things aren’t really “over” yet.  That is one terrible thing about cancer.  You can never fully say it is over.  There is a five year “period” where you have to keep a watchful eye for any recurrance. 

Yes, Sophia and I are still separated and all that.  Nothing has changed.  But during the past month, I certainly was reminded about why I married Sophia in the first place — her beauty, brains, and grit.

If you haven’t heard my song to Sophia yet — which I put out there on the eve of her procedure — you can find it here.   Feel free to send her a message — or write a better song!


Waiting for the Mammogram


This afternoon, I  accompanied Sophia  to Cedars Sinai for her mammogram.   There were six other women of varying ages in the waiting room.  As I played "Virtual Darts" on my cellphone, Sophia talked with the other women. 

One woman complained about how long it took for her to get an appointment.  Another woman said she’d been waiting for two hours in the waiting room.  Another joked that they make you wait for two hours in one waiting room, then they bring you inside to another waiting area, where you’re tricked into waiting another hour! —  the same gimmick they use at Disneyland to make you feel like you’re moving in line at Space Mountain.  

"And at least at Space Mountain, you don’t have to wear a smock that barely covers you," said the woman.

I probably shouldn’t have gotten involved in the conversation, but blogging has made me an ultra-curious person.  I now talk to everyone, hoping to get a blog post out of it.  I politely asked about the mammogram procedure — and everyone took turns telling me how painful it could be. 

"They squeeze your breasts like they’re in a vise.  Ouch, ouch!" said a third woman.

"I’m sure of one thing, said Sophia,  "If there was such a thing as a penile-gram, and men had to have their penis squished flat every year, I’m sure medical science would have come up with a better machine ten years ago."

All the women nodded in agreement — and looked at me as if I were the enemy.

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