Found a Lump in Your Breast: An Everyday Woman's Experience on What to Expect - Part 1
How to Do a Breast Self-Exam
- Breast Self-Exam (BSE)
self breast exams to find cancer early
So, You Feel Something in Your Breast
Let's be honest: I have not been good about doing my breast self-exams. I usually think of it when my breasts are sore during or right before my period, which is not a good time to check because there are natural changes in the breast during this time. The other time I check is in the weeks leading up to my annual well-woman exam. Although you might say, "At least she's checking," the reality is that it's a panic exam: I know my doctor is going to ask me if I've been doing my exams and this makes me feel like less of a liar when I say, "Yes."
As this year's appointment approached, about 3 weeks out, I began my last minute breast self-exam. Right breast: nothing. Left breast: noth...wait...what the heck is that?! Yikes. What I realized is that, even though I had been dutifully doing these last minute exams for years, I didn't really even know what I was looking for. I seemed to remember something about pea-sized roundness, but that's about it. Unfortunately, what I felt was not pea-sized and not round: it was bigger and shaped like an almond. Of course, panic set in. What's my doctor going to say? Am I just being paranoid? I felt pretty stupid for not having checked before: if it was this big now, when would I have felt it if I had been checking? A month ago? Six months ago? Good grief. For several days, I kept checking and said nothing to my husband. When I finally told him I felt something, he said he had figured something was up: I'd been touching my boob for days, with a worried expression on my face. Oops - guess I'm not as subtle as I thought.
So, it's finally the day of my appointment. On the update sheet where it asks "Do you have any questions for the doctor?" I put: what is a lump in the breast supposed to feel like? My doctor comes in, goes through the usual, and then reads my question. After she read it, she looked up at me and said, "Do you feel something?" Well, yeah. We discussed it and I told her my fear that I was just being overly paranoid. She asked where it was and I asked her if she'd just do her regular exam and see if she felt something; that way if she did, I'd know I wasn't nuts. Right breast: nothing. Left breast: almost immediately, "is this it?" she asks. Uh, yep. So, just like that, she orders a breast ultrasound. No messing around, no doubts now that it was something and not just my overactive imagination.
Getting a Mammogram
Time for Testing
I called the number for The Breast Place on the sheet and was told that I'd have to have a mammogram before they'd do the ultrasound. What? My doctor didn't say that! So now, suddenly, I'm poised to have my first mammogram.
My mother had told me about them: they squish your breast in a machine. Really helpful, Ma. Now, my experience. You go back and get a tiny version of a hospital gown: short, no sleeves, and shows some area of skin no matter how you try to arrange it around yourself. Granted, it's just a bunch of other half-naked women back there, but seeing as how this was my first time, I was a little self-conscious and uncomfortable.
My name is called and I go back to a dimly lit room. Starting to sound ominous, isn't it? Not really. The technician asks a few questions and asks me to put this little thing (it was a sticky thing, with a little metal button-like thingie on it - not very helpful to you, I know) on the spot on my breast where I felt something. Then we started. Now, with my basic-to-non-existent understanding of mammograms, I had this vision of some giant square machine where my breast would somehow be inserted and flattened like a pancake. I wasn't far off. You stand up and there are 2 square "plates" where the technician arranges your breast. Literally. It's kind of like the female version of "turn your head and cough." She practically had to be a contortionist to get around the plates and bars of the machine in order to carefully man-handle my boob into the right place, at which point she pushes a button and the 2 plates come together and: squish your breast (although not as flat as a pancake). The right breast was no biggie. There was no pain, not even any real discomfort. The plates were only down for a few seconds and then you're released. The left breast, however, was a different story. It hurt. Seriously. And the tech was really so nice, she only lowered the plates to the point where I said to stop and really tried to hurry the pictures, if she could.
After that, back to the waiting room to await the ultrasound. Now, these I had experienced before: the warm jelly and incessant pushing and rolling of an instrument over your affected area. Again, this time it was a little painful. This technician was also nice, but I noticed after awhile that she appeared to be getting frustrated: she was making little grunt noises and expelling her breath harshly, as well as pushing down on my breast so hard with that rolly-thingie that it brought tears to my eyes. She snapped a few photos and then said, "I'm not sure what I see. I've got to go talk to the doctor." Not exactly reassuring. So, she comes back, takes a few more pics and says, "Well, it's either something or it's nothing." Also not very reassuring. I asked if it's something, what's the next step? "Biopsy." Oh, great. Then she wiped the gooey, now-cold jelly off of my breast and sent me on my way.
Now, I'm just waiting to hear back. 3 days later, my doctor calls and says I'm abnormal. Or at least the lump in my breast is. Ok, so it's something and therefore time for a biopsy. I call the surgeon she recommends, schedule the consultation appointment, and begin doing my research on breast biopsies.
Some sites I found helpful
- BreastNotes.com Breast Information
- Breast cancer - MayoClinic.com
Breast cancer Comprehensive overview covers symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies.
- Breast Ultrasound
- BreastCancer.org - Breast Cancer Treatment Information and Pictures
Breast Cancer Information from a Nonprofit Organization