For women who have had breast cancer, have had lumpectomies or mastectomies, it is probably difficult to believe. But five and a half years after I was diagnosed and had cryoablation, I still feel guilt and perhaps a bit of shame when I stand among you and say I had breast cancer.
Why would I feel guilty? Simply because my cancer was diagnosed early, was a small tumor and 47 days after I learned I had it, it was gone. No surgery, not miracles, no chemo, no radiation. Simply about an hour’s inconvenience in my life and a big band aid on one side of my breast for a couple of days. Oh yeah, perhaps a little black and blue for a week or so.
I was fortunate to be living near Centra State Hospital in Freehold, NJ. and the hospital has not only a spectacular Women’s Center with caring staff, but a radiologist on staff who believes a physician should keep up with latest studies, technology and common sense. Enter Dr. Tomkovich, a radiologist who had already traveled to China and Europe both to learn and to teach, and who was willing to participate in a trial for yet another innovation, cryoablation.
The doctor went out of his way to explain everything to me; the Women’s Center physician drew me a picture of precisely where and how large the tumor was. They both explained the process, gave me options of cryoablation or lumpectomy and left the decision making up to me.
It was a simple procedure. And I could watch on the same monitor screen the doctor was watching. Ice Cure is the company who designed the procedure and Dr. Tomkovich explained there were not going to be any foreign materials at all placed in my body. The needle would be filled with liquid nitrogen, and that frozen mixture actually stays inside the needle, not released into my body at all. The liquid nitrogen freezes the needle, which, watching the ultrasound screen, he then inserts right smack into the middle of the tumor. It was really exciting to watch.
I could see a little ice cube form all around the tumor, and then I could watch as the tumor shriveled. Seven or eight minutes. Then a wait of a few minutes, then a second frozen needle insertion just to be sure. The doctor had perfect aim, thanks to a steady hand, I suppose and the modern and up-do-date equipment that let him see exactly what he was doing.
As took the needle out, cleansed the area and put a band aid over the tiny speck on the tiny opening where the needle had been injected, Dr. Tomkovich explained the tumor would continue to shrivel up and die, and then would slough out of my body, just like every dead cell does every day.
And that was the end of it. Sure I had a little swelling, I think I remember a little bit of an ache. But they didn’t last for long and they did not interfere with anything. In fact, I attended a luncheon meeting an hour after leaving the hospital, and I went on a planned trip to Israel two weeks later for walking tours of historic sites.
I went back to the radiologist and oncologist for regular visits, more because I was part of a trial rather than I needed to see the doctors, over the next five years.
I agreed to take the anastrozole every day the oncologist insisted I take for five years. And yes, I continue to take it now since he suggested studies show it’s effective if taken over ten years. It’s inexpensive, has no side effects easy to take, so I agreed.
So can you understand why I feel guilty?
I have never had the pain, the anguish, the decision-making, the angst of women who have breast cancer that upsets their lives, possibly changes their shape and causes them grief and anxiety. My only pain is in the guilt I feel when people look at me and sympathetically say, “oh, you’ve had cancer? Poor thing. How are you dealing with it?”