All Clear: 2 Years On

Last Thursday I went back for my now-annual checkup with my favourite breast specialist in the world, Dr Hoe Ah Leong.

That was after nearly 4 hours of ultrasounds and X-rays and the mammogram and waiting around for my films and report.

The mammogram technologist that served me was so funny. Whenever I go back for my scans, I need to bring my old films so that the doctors who write up the reports have a comparison, and so would my surgeon. The technologist, a pretty young Filipina, shook my old films out, and stood, stunned for 20 seconds.

“Ma’am, you did your mammogram last year?”
“How come I only have your films for one breast, there should be films for two.”
“I wish there was two. I had a mastectomy in 2010, my dear.”
“OHHHHH!” Pause. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

I must have unnerved her because as she was positioning me for the mammogram on my left breast she kept failing to get my boob in the right position. She knocked my collarbone. She pinched my armpit. She raised the plate. She lowered the plate. Finally, she just squashed it as much as she could and took the darn shot. I could have told her she didn’t press the plates down hard enough. (True enough Dr Hoe later said, “Hmm, this mammogram is a bit fuzzy at the bottom.”)

Next was the ultrasound. My doctor had ordered up scans for my breast, my liver and my gall bladder. There’s something about an ultrasound scan that always makes me edgy. Especially if the technologist is scarily silent. Good thing i got another chatty PInoy girl. Still, the few moments she rolled over one spot from every angle made my heart skip a beat.

After the long wait for my films and reports, I hoofed it to Dr Hoe’s clinic on the third floor of the main medical centre.

Christine, the nurse who christened me Liang Po Po two years ago, took one look at me and said, “How about you go and take a nice long tea break?”

My buttocks were complaining that I was oppressing them with so much sitting down, but I took a look at the two poor teenagers asleep on the waiting area couch as their mother and father waited to see Dr Hoe, and I made an about-turn and went to get a coffee from Delifrance.

Finally at 5.45pm I saw my beloved doctor, looking as cheery as ever, with his ubiquitous blue shirt as neat as it probably had been at 8am.

“You look good, Theresa!”
“You too, Dr Hoe!”
We grinned at one another.
“Okay, so your reports look good. Come come, let’s take a look.”

One thing I love about Dr Hoe is how he operates like a teacher. My mammograms, chest X-ray and ultrasound scans were all clipped up on the lightbox for examination.

There is a single calcification in my left breast, which had been there last year too. Calcifications are not a good sign if they appear in a cluster. My right breast mammogram, two years ago, was peppered with large clusters of calcifications especially just above the nipple area.

“But this single calcification is all right, nothing to worry about,” he assured me.

For breast cancer patients, if cancer recurs, it would usually be in the other breast, the lungs, or the organs nearest to the breast area, like the liver and gall bladder.

All my scans were clear. The only thing of note was that I had a little cyst in my left breast, which also showed up in last year’s scans.

“Probably a fatty piece,” said Dr Hoe with such confidence that any worry I had melted away.

With the help of his nurse, I lay on the examination bed while he palpated my breast, neck and armpit areas. There are also instances where lumps form in the neck or armpit, “but your lymph nodes were clear—remember we did the test on the sentinel nodes. DCIS prognosis is excellent.”

I was deeply happy to hear all he said. Some days, I admit, I take my survival for granted. Some days, I forget, had I not acted on the weird pain my breast, I might be facing a very different today.

True, every time I see Dr Hoe I am reminded that cancer could recur. Some days, that casts a shadow over my heart.

But I thank God that I have Him—and truly, I am living on time that He has so kindly given me. I am determined to make the best use of it as I can, but I am also peaceful, knowing “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”