Radiology Saved My Life


Long before I worked for the ACR, a phone call from my radiologist changed everything.

We see something in your mammogram. Can you come back in?” The request from the imaging center was not unusual for me. I started getting my annual mammogram at the age of 40 and had been called back a couple of times before due to dense breasts. What was unusual was how soon they wanted me to return.

At the time, I had traveled to Chicago to watch over my nieces and nephew while my brother and sister-in-law were away. The urgency of the appointment worried me, but I tried to push all apprehensions aside until I could get back home to Virginia.

Upon my return, it was a whirlwind of radiological procedures: a second mammogram was followed immediately by an ultrasound. A couple of days later I had an ultrasound- guided biopsy, which (after the cancer was confirmed by pathology) was followed by an MRI a week later. I eventually was diagnosed with stage-2b moderately differentiated invasive ductal carcinoma. Although I was given handouts explaining the procedures, everything happened so fast that it was hard to grasp the details and purpose of each study. It was not until much later, after treatment, that I was able to piece together the whole story of my diagnosis.

On a mammogram the year before, the radiology report indicated some small benign-appearing calcifications in the exact area of my cancer. Within the year, a 1.9-cm tumor had grown and metastasized to my left axillary lymph node.

My yearly mammogram saved my life, and I shudder to think how bad it could have been had I waited another year to get my mammogram. Now that I work at the ACR and understand how the College and its members advocate for fair legislation around breast imaging, I am so grateful that there is a constant fight to protect access to annual mammograms. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, a committed specialty was fighting to make sure I had access to the breast imaging that saved my life.

Because of the early detection, I was able to have surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. As a result, I just passed my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free.
My cancer team was amazing. My surgeon, oncologist, and radiation oncologist were all competent, compassionate physicians. They talked with me and spent time asking about more than just my physical symptoms. They all have my deepest gratitude. Yet the people on my team that I never got to thank in person were the radiologists who made the initial diagnosis. They are my hidden benefactors. I can only say thank you and hope that all radiologists accept my gratitude as surrogates for those that helped me.

Cancer is still a part of my life today. I had a brain MRI a year after treatment ended due to loss of coordination. Fortunately that came back negative for cancer, but it is likely to be cancer-treatment–related cognitive impairment, and for me it’s just a fact of life now. Finding the correct words and making certain cognitive connections are especially difficult at times, but I do not mourn the loss. What I have gained is the ability to see my daughter grow into a young woman and my son start high school.

The days go by and October is upon us. A panic begins to set in as the time comes around for my annual mammogram. The radiologist reads my mammogram immediately so I can leave the office with information rather than anxiously wait at home for a phone call. I look forward to seeing the radiologist face-to-face and having him tell me that all is OK. Then I can breathe again.

 By Michele Huneke, MT(ASCP), business analyst, ACR Press

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