Zoe's Story: Bad News and Good News (Week 1)
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Dr Laracuente’s office ordered me a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.
Typically, woman get a screening mammogram annually (something I encourage every woman to do). After a screening mammogram and suspicious results are seen, the radiologist will request a diagnostic mammogram. It is almost the same experience as a regular check, but the technologist will take more images of the suspicious area. I am sure it is a lot more technical, but from a patient perspective, they are one and the same.
Ladies, I know the prospect of having your breasts squished between two cold plates whilst contorting your body into a position not supported by our skeleton is not a celebrated experience, but I blinked and missed my annual screening mammogram for FIVE entire years. Something that has almost certainly impacted me profoundly. GO! Do not put off your annuals and please, always prioritize your health. Breast cancer can happen to you …I can personally attest to that.
Now to the ultrasound... which is often used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a mammogram. It is non-invasive and uses sound waves to produce pictures of the internal structures of the breast.
I had my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound performed at Diagnostic Centers of America (DCA) in Delray. COVID had impacted the patient experience there, but the team had managed to develop a streamlined process that is efficient and clearly puts patient safety first. I arrived 15 minutes ahead of my appointment. I followed their arrival instructions by texting the word arrived. When they were ready for me, I received a text advising me I could enter the center. I had already used their e-check in system and the technician was waiting for me. I was taken straight into the MAMMO room, given a gown, and was left to change.
The test was completed quickly, with not too much discomfort and then I was escorted to the ultrasound room. The technician uses a warm gel on the area and proceeds to take images and measure the areas of concern. The radiologist reading my procedure requested some additional images of my lymph node, as there was cortical thickening and it measured 1.7 cm vs the normal 0.5 cm. That was the most uncomfortable part of my morning, because a lot of pressure was applied to my armpit. The entire experience altogether was efficient and painless.
I had barely arrived back at my office at the Addison (a 15-minute journey) when Dr. Laracuente’s office called me on the phone. He had received my results and wanted me to immediately meet with him for blood work and a chat. I remember driving to his office thinking how can this be happening to me!
Raquel took vile after vile of my blood for my tumor markers (a tumor marker is a biomarker found in blood that can be elevated by the presence of certain types of cancer). Ronald (my SUPER-HERO doctor) gave me the news that they had found a highly suspicious mass and lymph node in my right breast.
My face rarely shifts through emotion, especially when I am processing information. My demeanor did not change and I think Ronald must have questioned my level of understanding because he exclaimed "Zoe, this is really bad!"
Deep down I had known that nugget of information certainly for weeks, but now it was real life! He also said he wanted to order a Bilateral Breast MRI with and without contrast.
I spent my drive back to work sharing the news and having a good conversation with one of my oldest friends. Chatting with her normally results in us both roaring with laughter; I must say, this conversation was no different. We both decided some time off work was in order for me, away from the COVID-Mania. And although a vacation would be a lot nicer, I had to take it a step further, securing some "out of office" time with a cancer diagnosis. That conversation helped set the tone with a positive perspective to this new challenge, and I decided at that moment (as I walked in the gates of the beautiful Addison) that this diagnosis would not be allowed to get me down, impact negatively me, the people I love and the guests I serve. It will be business as usual.
Sharing the news with my daughter Sonja was exactly as I envisioned. She is so much like me, and tearful outbursts are surplus to requirement. Her logical approach was exactly what I needed, and she immediately took charge of my diet, sadly including (but not limited to) the removal of red meat, most animal protein, dairy (yes that includes cheese), processed carbs, SUGAR and alcohol. Every good British woman knows that tea makes everything in life tolerable. ...but black tea most certainly does not have the same desired result. Sonja found a solution to this problem with oat-milk, which is 100% vegan and allows tea to taste like tea. She shops daily and cooks healthy nutritious cancer fighting meals. ....but I really, really miss the wine.
My siblings are different; When my brother Ben is upset, he shuts down and mumbles. My sister Cassie is sensitive and very emotional. When they heard my news though, they were so strong and upbeat.
Being a mum myself, I know all mothers would rather be sick themselves than have our children sick. My mum, prone to tearful outbursts and who is also truly the strongest woman I know, has been extremely composed throughout - but I know she is taking long tearful walks alone to cry it out.
To let my work family team know, I gathered everyone together (mind you, 6-ft apart and fully-masked) and shared the news. It felt like our normal morning huddle. These are courageous women who have sacrificed much of themselves for a career in hospitality. My voice broke a couple of times because, in some weird way, I felt like I was letting them down. They asked more questions than I had answers, but I know I will draw strength and courage through this team of incredible women. And, I know with complete certainty that they will tackle their daily Addison tasks with complete dedication when I am weak and when I most need them to ensure the Addison’s legacy grows. …even through COVID.