I really hope this doesn’t turn into a breast cancer blog. There are so many other great breast cancer blogs out there, the world doesn’t need to hear from me on the subject. Also I don’t want to have fucking breast cancer. I haven’t blogged in forever, and I have been wanting to get back to it, but I was hoping to post about cool things, like bullet journaling and moss graffiti. Instead my return to blogging is prompted by a breast cancer scare–my second in the last six months, my fifth overall. Five breast cancer scares? Yes, five.
Breast Cancer Scare #1: Age 19
When my son was almost 9 months old, I felt a lump in my right breast while I was showering. It was unmistakable; not something I imagined feeling. Still I ignored it for three days because I was 19 and invincible–I just had a baby and I had to will death away. Then the tumor grew.
Three days later I sat on my doctor’s examining table, sure I was going to die. She was sure it was a fluid-filled cyst. We were both wrong. Due to the tumor’s size and the fact that my doctor was unable to aspirate it, I had a lumpectomy three days later. It turned out to be a fibroadenoma–a benign breast lump made of glandular and connective tissue. This type of tumor is very common in people in their 20s and 30s, so this and all subsequent scares are rare examples of me being textbook.
Breast Cancer Scare #2: Age 23
In the shower I felt several lumps again. My doctor referred me to a breast specialist at Loyola University Medical Center and there I learned that I had fibrocystic breasts. This makes them pert and bouncy (yay!), but really hard to scan via mammogram (boo!), so I had my first breast ultrasound. Aside from fibrocystic tissue, the specialist found a few fluid-filled cysts that she was not worried about and told me that as long as I performed monthly self breast exams and found nothing new, I didn’t need to worry. I enjoyed a long period of radio silence from my boobs. Naturally, I became complacent and stopped performing monthly self breast exams.
Breast Cancer Scare #3: Age 38
I had been out late the night before, breaking up with a guy I had been dating only because he was really good-looking and lots of reckless fun. It had become undeniably evident that we weren’t an ideological match, what with him hating everyone except white males, so I ended it. Loudly. Dramatically. Emphatically. Drunkenly. I bet I was cute.
Anyway, I suffered through work and tried to tune out the, “you make bad choices and you are going to die alone” messages my head was broadcasting loud and clear all day long and was about to head home when I remembered I had my annual healthy lady exam at 6 that evening.
Laying on the table as my doctor examined my breasts, her voice cut over the sound of crinkling paper, “how long have you had these?” “My breasts?” I asked with a giggle. She was talking about three lumps she had found. I had no fucking idea. I don’t remember the rest of the visit. I met with her nurse and scheduled a mammogram and bilateral ultrasound on my way out the door. Then I went home to die alone.
A few days later I got my mammogram and ultrasound, and a few days after that, the results came in. The diagnosis was that the masses were likely to be fibroadenomas. To make sure, I would come in for a follow up mammogram and ultrasound every 6 months for the next two years. As long as the masses remained stable, the diagnosis would stand, and we would leave them in. The masses remained stable over the next two years. Good times.
Breast Cancer Scare #4: Age 43
After my two-year mammary probation was over I had two clean annual mammogram and ultrasound exams. The one after that–in December 2015–showed two new masses. The radiologist wasn’t super concerned at the time but he put me back on mammary probation. Every six months for the next two years I would come in for a mammogram and ultrasound.
My first six-month follow-up fell on the Friday before the July 4th weekend. As I drove in, my heart sank. I knew. It wasn’t nerves, I just knew something wasn’t right. I had the mammogram and then the ultrasound. I waited in the ultrasound room and when the door opened, I saw a man’s hand opening it. My mammogram and ultrasound techs were women, so I knew this would be the radiologist with news.
One of the new masses had grown by more than 30% and guidelines dictated we should biopsy it. The radiologist assured me that this was a precaution and he really didn’t think we’d find anything. I scheduled the biopsy for the following week. The biopsy revealed an intraductal papilloma with florid hyperplasia. The mass had to come out. My surgery would be in just less than three weeks. More waiting.
There was still a slim chance (5%) that the mass was malignant and we would find that out after the mass was removed. Thankfully, it was benign and the margins were clean. I had to take 8 weeks off of burlesque and all other physical activities, which made my fitness goals difficult and worse still, made me feel very isolated and out of touch.
When I got the final benign results, everyone around me was very happy. Some people saw that I wasn’t overjoyed and couldn’t understand why not. I tried to explain. Intraductal papillomas have a potential for malignancy–which is why they removed mine–and there were four more masses in there. My boobs had just threatened to hurt or even kill me. I had another mammogram and ultrasound coming up in 4 months. How was I supposed to celebrate and relax? No one understood except one friend who had been through the trauma of a cancer scare and an actual cancer diagnosis. I still don’t know if the others understand, but if you read on below you’ll see why I was reticent to celebrate.
Breast Cancer Scare #5: Age 44
This past Tuesday I had my 6-month follow-up to the lumpectomy I had back at the end of August. I asked my best friend come with me in case the news was really bad and I was too upset to drive home, and she did. I had that sinking feeling again and I wasn’t sure how bad it would be. We went to lunch before my appointment and had lots of comforting, distracting talks. On the way to my appointment I felt like I might barf. We got to the high risk breast clinic and I put on my exam robe and waited with my BFF in the waiting room. We pretended to be interested in TV with the other nervous ladies and talked about scandalous sexy things that are totally inappropriate for a suburban high risk breast clinic waiting room until it was time for me to go in.
When the mammogram and ultrasound were done I cleaned the gel off of my chest and sat in one of the chairs by the exam table. When the door opened, I saw a man’s hand again. Yep. There’s a new mass, and it’s big and it looks very similar to the intraductal papilloma that was removed. The radiologist told me that the new mass needed to be biopsied. Fabulous.
Current Situation: Kind of Freaking Out
I really don’t know how cancer patients are all cheery and upbeat, because I am just going through a breast cancer scare and I’m feeling all sorts of negative. I’m scared, angry, annoyed, frustrated and tired. When I first found out, I didn’t sleep or eat for three days. Then all I wanted to do was sleep and eat fancy cheese. I am an unpleasant blend of depressed and anxious. Every time I think about something I have to look forward to, I am afraid to take it much farther because I don’t know what is going to happen in the near term or the long term. Will I need surgery? More aggressive treatment?
I had the biopsy on Friday, I’ll have the results by Wednesday and I’ll meet with my breast surgeon on Friday the 13th. I am on restricted activity due to the biopsy, which is frustrating, and my boob hurts like hell. I’ve been walking around covering it with my hand because I am afraid someone will bump it–it looks like I am feeling myself up and/or displaying my left boob Vanna White style. I can’t lift my baby girl until tomorrow and I can’t dance or submerge my body in water until Wednesday. All of this sucks. I know it could be a lot worse, but it still sucks. I really hope I don’t look back at this post and cringe at what a negative creep I am being.
So yeah, now you know. I’ll keep you posted, but man this better not become a breast cancer blog…