What To Do After You Find A Lump In Your Breast
It happened last Thursday evening.
I was lying on my bed with my son, reading him a story, when I absentmindedly touched my left breast and massaged it. Then I stopped, confused, as I could feel a very definite, hard lump in my breast, close to my chest, but most definitely in my breast. Shocked, my hand dropped - I shook my head - and then touched the area again. Most definitely a lump.
My first thought was, "Aha, so that's what they mean by a lump!" as I had often been confused about the whole check-your-breasts-regulary-for-lumps brigade. Whenever I had tried previously, I had been very unsure of what I was searching for, as my breasts, when you press down slightly, have always felt slightly bumpy and lumpy. But there was no question about this, that was a lump. It was hard and immoveable.
"Hold a second, darling, I have just got to go and see Daddy" I said smilingly at my son, and slipped away downstairs.
"Feel this!" I announced to my partner, "Can you feel a lump?"
I was not worried. I was more bemused by the whole thing. Would he feel it, or was I imagining it?
He did feel it, and indeed, he could feel a lump. "It is not what you think it is," he said knowingly. "It will be ok".
But I was not so sure.
"Get it checked out," he said. So I did.
I made the soonest appointment with my Doctor's surgery, and basically, for most of the time, forgot about it. Which I found odd, as I would be doing something, and then would suddenly remember. It was like my own little secret that I was hugging to myself. I spoke to my Mum on the phone and neglected to mention it; I spoke to my brother and sister-in-law and never said a word, which is odd for me, as I usually I show and tell all to whoever will listen. But for some reason, this is different, which makes me think that perhaps it is serious, as I do not want to mention it and worry people.
My appointment was on Monday. When I walked into the office, I noted with dismay that it was not my usual female doctor, instead it was an older male gentleman. But I did not really care. If there is something wrong, chances are all and sundry will be looking and poking my boobs about so might as well get used to it. He was a perfect gentleman however, and despite me not having any previous contact with him, I felt I trusted him, especially when he called in one of the female staff to act as witness while he examined me.
Stripped to the waist and lying on the examination couch, I felt I should have been feeling exposed and vulnerable, but I did not. I was very brave. He examined the area - I stared at the ceiling.
"Any discharge from the nipples? Any history in the family of breast cancer?"
I was half hoping he would say something along the lines of, "Don't worry, it is just a cyst" but he never. Instead he said he would confer with the nurse, and either send me for a mammogram or straight off to the breast cancer clinic. He did not want me sitting around and delaying things in case it was serious.
This was rather shocking and made it seem more real, but it needs to be checked.
Every now and then I think I am going to die, but I have since recognised that this is the very final and extreme outcome. I guess thinking logically, there is no point in stressing about things until they happen, but this is easier said than done. Best case scenario, it is just a harmless cyst or a benign tumour, but if it is not and it is a cancerous lump, then I can hope it can be removed, or even my breast removed. Before dying, those options are preferable!
The Appointment Letter
I managed to keep it all together until I received the letter in the post advising of the appointment. Okay - not the actual letter itself, but the accompanying leaflet which described what would be happening to me. I was being referred to a "One-Stop Clinic" where they would first do a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound. This should hopefully reveal what they are dealing with and then either a fine needle would be used to withdraw a sample of fluid, or should the lump not be of cyst like nature, then a core biopsy would be performed to take a section of the growth for analysis.
Until I read this, I had been almost forgetting about the problem. All day at work on Saturday and Sunday, I had been cheerfully serving customers in my shop assistant role and getting on with things...and only every now and then would it pop into my head. It was like my little secret; keeping it close to my chest so to speak. I would have a sneaky feel of it every now and then, just to see whether it was still there, and of course, yes it was. I had still only told my partner about it - the thought of telling anyone else, such as my Mum, or brother or sister-in-law, who I had all seen in the meantime, was unthinkable. I did not want to see the pity and fear reflected in their faces. But then it stuck me one morning, perhaps I was not telling them as I was scared it really was something major and perhaps if I did tell them, it would make it go away, whereas holding onto the fear was destined to making it real. Seeing the procedure in writing that I would actually be going through - having needles stuck into me and sucking out this lump - made me feel really sad and sorry for myself and I could not help but cry and cry and cry properly for the first time. My partner, who I generally term as useless, was absolutely brilliant, and held me close and said I would be fine and not to worry. Usually he does not tolerate tears, but this time he did and it was wonderful to be allowed to let it all out.
So I told my Mum first, and her initial reaction was "Ooh, funny you should mention that, I have been wondering about some lumps I have had too!" So we had a little chat about it all and she said to not worry. I immediately felt better for having shared it with her! On that same day, I later saw my friend - and she said not to worry as well, she had had some lumps a couple of years ago and had indeed gone to the same place that I was due to go to - "You'll be fine!" she said and we moved onto other conversations. The next day I met my sister-in-law for lunch and to take the kids to see Santa, and she said she had had a similar thing also and had to go for tests and that she was sure I was going to be fine. I started to feel better. Everyone had been before! Perhaps I was making a big fuss and getting upset about nothing! I would be fine!
One Lump Or Two?
Finally, the evening of the appointment came around - and the letter had advised that the testing could take between two to five hours! My partner had had to cancel his attendance to a super-duper Christmas work party that he had been looking forward to for ages without a whimper - most unusual - so that he could look after our children while I went. As I could be there for hours, I was most sensible and decided to take my Christmas cards with me, so that I could write them out in the waiting room. This was perhaps the most deluded thing I had ever though with hindsight.
I got the to waiting room, and sat down with around five or six other women. Some had partners, some not, so I got out my cards and began to write a few and then I got called in. This was the end of my Christmas card writing stint, let me tell you. First up was the examination with the consultant who marked the lump with a "X" in thick black marker and then felt my arms and neck. I was advised then to go back out to the waiting room to wait for the mammogram. This was slightly uncomfortable, but not a problem for me. I even joked with the lady doing it, as I have quite small breasts, that her job was quite hard to get them in place. She was not particularly friendly, but perhaps that was just her way, I thought.
Next was to another waiting room upstairs; I followed up the same bunch of other women who had been previously waiting, to have the ultrasound. Once in, and stripped naked to the waist again, it was here that I was completely shocked and appalled as the Doctor conducting it found not just one lump - the one I had felt previously - but in fact there were two - the second was much larger and lying behind my nipple so very hard to detect.
"We'll need you to take another mammogram," the Doctor said. "This lump was not picked up on the mammogram".
"OK" I said. Great, I really thought, more exposure to radiation and breast clamping. But hey, ho, what can you do?
So I was back to waiting room with the same few women, although some of them was finishing up and going home. Whilst I was waiting, one woman was talking on her mobile and saying, "Yeah, yeah, just more cysts...". I tuned out. I had a feeling mine were not cysts and it was feeling rather like being at school being picked for PE and I was getting left behind with the rejects...
Once again, I encountered the mammogram woman, and to my surprise, this time she was more friendly and nicer to me. Bad sign, I thought, this must be serious. She kept apologising as she told me to push my chest here and thrust my other shoulder there. I did not joke with her this time.
Once back in with the Doctor, he announced that he would need to take to take some samples of the lumps.
"With the big needle, or little needle?" I asked hopefully. I had read the leaflet which explained this could happen. If the lump was a cyst, they can draw out the fluid and examine it - this is with the small needle. Should the lump be otherwise, then they need to take a sample with a big needle, which is called a "core biopsy".
"The big one, I'm afraid," he said. I felt a sinking feeling inside me; I just knew all of this was not good news.
But I was a big brave girl, and took it all. I could not watch what he was actually doing, so instead concentrated on what I could see on the ultrasound screen, which was slightly comforting as it reminded me of when I was having my babies. I watched the Doctor on screen as he anesthetized my breast with an injection and then thrust the thick, core biopsy needle into the big black mass that was showing on the monitor. Well, I initally thought he thrust it in, but when someone a bit later mentioned "scalpels", I realised that they had made an incisicion and this made me a bit wobbly, but I tried to forget it. I felt something trickling down the side of my body and realised it could only be blood, but I shoved this thought away and just concentrated on the screen. Willing him to get it in the right place, to get the sample he needed, so that this whole crazy business could be over.
"Right, now we need to get some samples of the smaller lesion," he said in a matter of fact way. Lesion?! I did not like this term and I stole a glimpse of his face, trying to read if he was scared for me, or shocked by what he had seen, but he was giving nothing away. "This one will be harder to get as it is close to your chest and is smaller, but we need to get the samples to know what we are dealing with." He was Spanish, I think, and looked a little tired (it was around 8pm by now). He had about three or four tries - all resulting in a huge CLICK noise which meant he had taken the sample, much like a hole punch works, I believe. He had tried to show me previously what he was using, but I had refused to look, saying I would rather not, and to just get it done.
"I'm really sorry," he said, in his nice soft accent, which I had to strain to understand "I have to take another one. Is this ok with you?".
"Just do what you have to do," I said courageously. "But I'm starting to feel it a bit now as the anesthetic is wearing off". He gave me another shot, which was reassurring, as I did not want to feel that thick needle in me, which made me happy, and he got the sample he needed and not one just full of fat, which made him happy too.
A cheerful nurse had been present all this time, applying pressure to the area that he had biopsied before. She had tried to talk to me earlier - to chat about how many kids I had; what are their names; how old they were, but I had replied in monosyllables, so I think she got it that I did not want to talk. I did not mean to be rude; but it seems my way of coping is to just focus on something and block everything else out. I was just staring so hard at that image of the black hole on the screen - of the little white needle poking in - the whole image swaying to and fro as is the nature of ultrasound, and willing it to be the last click.
At last, the Doctor said it was. He was pleased with his number of samples. Now I could come back to the present, but I still did not dare to look at my poor breast, for fear of it being a mass of blood and mess. As I feared my imagination was running away with me, I asked the chatty nurse what it looked like and she said "An icicle!" and giggled. She told me she was taping up both holes with steri-stitches and then she giggled again and said "Now a snowflake! Have you done all your Christmas shopping?".
I find it so hard when, medical people who are doing something awful to you that is so obviously a part of their everyday job, chat to you like you were in the supermarket. It is not right to me, and so out of place, but it must be normal to most people. To me, it is the strangest scenario in the world to be lying there with my boobs out, having a conversation with someone I do not know about my Christmas shopping.
I tentatively moved and realised it was ok for now, but that I would be in agony tomorrow. My poor breast had been poked and pounded and prodded. I had had to sign a note prior to the biopsy to say that I understood this procedure could cause bruising and I could perhaps incur infection and this worried the hell out of me now, but what could I do? The whole thing had been so quick, and I was so stressed that I had never had a rational thought about the whole thing other than to do as I was told and do what they say.
"Thank you very much," I said to the Doctor as I left the room. He was scribbling madly over a sheet of paper. Oh dear, I thought to myself. It did not look good.
Before I was finally done, I had to go back in to the first waiting room and speak to the consultant who had marked the spot with pen. I was the only woman in the waiting room. Everyone else had gone home. Whilst I was waiting, an Asian lady who was older than me walked in sobbing and sat down next to me. "Are you ok?" I asked and she blubbed out "This is terrifying!" I went to reply, but a nurse called my name to go back into the see the consultant so I left her. Once in with him, he basically told me that he could not tell me anything until they had the results back from the lab. He never once said, "don't worry," which I took to be a bad sign. Nowhere along the way had anyone told me not to worry. Instead, he introduced me to a Cancer Care Nurse, who led me out to a little room "for a chat".
She never said anything either - just checked I had the photocopied sheet of how to care for the area after the biopsy (don't remove the dressing for two days/the butterfly stitches will drop out on their own/take it easy) and she never said once "don't worry" either. She just wrote down her phone number and said to call her if I wished and would I be ok driving home?
I drove home fighting back the tears. They had not told me not to worry, but they had told me nothing else either. I had been hole punched and stuck back together like a Christmas present, but I had a feeling that my worst ever Christmas present was yet to come.
I would receive the results within 7-10 days.
© 2011 Earthy Mother