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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 80

"Once again though, my painting had to take a backseat in 1993 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer## writes artist Bertie Stroup Marah, continuing her autobiography.

It started when I discovered a lump in my right breast. I called this to the attention of my now former doctor. He totally ignored my concern, shrugging it off and suggesting the lump was probably a cyst that could be dealt with later.

Even though this same doctor had improperly treated my depression, I did not question his judgment. I was as ill-informed about the dangers of breast cancer as I had previously been about severe depression. Had I been knowledgeable, I would have demanded an immediate biopsy and, possibly, a lumpectomy. Instead, it was six months before I had my routine mammogram. At that time, I told the technician of the lump in my breast. I marked its location on a diagram for the examiner. Even with this information, they failed to detect the cancer.

A year from the time I initially told my doctor about the lump I was back in his office for a physical. He had forgotten my original complaint. When I asked him what he intended to do about the lump in my breast, the startled look on his face told me I was in deep trouble. He referred me to a surgeon for a biopsy. The surgeon was incredulous that the lump had been allowed to remain in my breast for a year. He did not mince words when he told me that should never have happened.

On the day of the biopsy, Mike and Gloria accompanied me to the doctor's office. I knew in my heart it was cancer. Thirty minutes after the procedure, the surgeon appeared to give me the results. The sad look on his face confirmed my intuition. The doctor was kind and empathetic, and he was also blunt: mine was an aggressive form of breast cancer. He didn't laugh when I jokingly asked if I needed a referral to Dr. Kevorkian.

Mike and Gloria were so stunned by the surgeon's diagnosis that neither could remember much of the conversation. I knew exactly what the surgeon had said.

I must undergo an immediate lumpectomy to remove the area around the biopsy, as well as the lymph nodes under my arm. Pathologists would determine if the cancer cells had metastasized. Depending on these results, a course of treatment would be determined.


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