Be Your Own Advocate: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For A Second Opinion

Tonya Head ShotToday guest blogger, Tonya Priestley shares her story about following her intuition after being reassured nothing was wrong following an abnormal mammogram. She insisted on a second opinion which ultimately lead to her being diagnosed with ER/PR-positive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)…

On my 38th birthday, I gifted myself a mammogram. I had no signs or symptoms, no family history, and no doctor’s referral, but decided to move forward with a screening after seeing a close friend of mine struggle with very aggressive breast cancer. After the mammogram and a needle biopsy identified some calcifications, I was told that I didn’t need to worry because I did not have breast cancer, rather I just had some atypical cells.

The words ‘atypical cells’ didn’t settle well with me. I requested a copy of the results and called a nurse for an opinion. The nurse told me that I needed to see a surgeon.

The surgeon conducted a lumpectomy, which was a short surgery but a painful recovery process – physically and emotionally. I woke up cold and was given pain medication, a kind of narcotic, and immediately threw up. Then I received the news from the surgeon: the lumpectomy confirmed that I in fact did have breast cancer. I was diagnosed with ER/PR-positive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

The next step was to have a bilateral mastectomy. The mastectomy was scheduled for December 23, 2010, and with two young daughters I was determined to be home in time for Christmas. Given my experience after the lumpectomy, I was fearful that I would be in pain or groggy from the narcotics on Christmas Day.

My fear led me to begin looking into alternatives to narcotics for pain relief. I learned about the ON-Q pain relief pump which delivers a local anesthetic through a catheter right to the surgical site. The pump reduced the amount of narcotics I needed and, because the pain was so minimal, I was able to leave the hospital the next day and be home in time for Christmas Eve with my girls and my husband.

I urge others to be their own advocate and to not be afraid to question your doctor. Getting more than one opinion in my case is what caught my breast cancer. Had I not done so, I believe I would be walking around with cancer. I hope that others facing cancer will trust their instincts and take charge of their own health.

Tonya, from Portland, Oregon, is a mother of two pre-teen girls. Tonya’s breast cancer was found by accident, her PCP misread the results, but Tonya persisted because she knew that something was wrong. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s and underwent a double mastectomy on December 23, two days before Christmas. Also, in November 2012 she proactively decided to have her ovaries removed because ovarian cancer runs in her family.  Since the surgeries, Tonya has returned to her job in medical equipment sales. 

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