What the Lump in My Breast Taught Me
All you need is love
One test, two tests, grope test, bruise test
The follow-up to the news that I have a lump in my breast is several doctor's visits, tests, and finally surgery and post-op exams.
On November 10th, three weeks and three days after I had my second breast exam in just a few months, I went in to the local breast cancer clinic, aptly named the Breast Center, for a mammogram. My mom and boyfriend both met me there. (I am blessed to have a fantastic support system in them). They took me back for a mammogram. Changing into the paper vest smock, I blinked back tears. It is hard to articulate the fear that I have felt these past few months. Getting up every day and acting like everything is okay, with that fear tugging at the back of my mind, when all I want to do is crawl back into bed and sleep until this is all over. The mammogram itself was not bad at all. Uncomfortable, sure, but not painful.
Over the course of the past few months, though, the lump in my breast has started to cause me discomfort. At first, it was only when my hormones kicked in. Then it didn't go away. That niggling discomfort, like a spiny ball inside of me that unfolds its barbs to stick me once in a while. Oddly, it is not in the same spot as "the spot" is. Believe me, I Google-d my symptoms. I am the Google queen. My Google research actually reassured me, as did the assurances from my friends and loved ones that this is not malignant, this is not cancer.
One week after my mammogram, I had another appointment, this time for a sonogram. That is a test I am quite familiar with, since I had those once a week towards the end of my pregnancy. As soon as the nurse placed the device on me, you could see it. A big black spot. Very present and very real. I said, "You probably can't tell me anything about that." She replied, "the doctor will speak to you in a few minutes."
My doctor is a great guy. He's very personable and smiley, which I like. He seems genuine. He had done a breast exam before the sonogram, and he told me that my mammogram had looked great, no problems. Mammograms often cannot see abnormalities, which is why the sonogram was ordered. After the nurse cleaned off the gel from the sonogram and covered me again, she left. A minute or two later, the doc came in. "We're going to go ahead and do a needle biopsy," he said. Do you want to bring your family back before we do it or do you want to just get it done? he asked. "Let's just do it," I said. He patted my knee (I was sitting up on the exam table). "That's what I thought," he said.
Two nurses came in to help with the biopsy. They deadened the area first. The biopsy didn't hurt. It was just pressure. As he was drawing the needle out each time, it fought him. "That's a good sign" he said. When it fights like that, the doctor told me, it is like it has the texture and solidity of a rubber ball, which indicates that it is fibrocystic. After we were done with that part, my support system came back to talk to the doc with me. He told us all the same things again, about the rubber ball-ness of it and the positive nature of that sign. The nurse in charge of receiving the test results back from pathology told me to call on Thursday morning to find out what they said.
One foot in front of the other
Making the call
Those few days between the appointment and the phone call dragged on for what seemed like an eternity.
I know my mom understands how that waiting feels. I know that at least one in eight women who is diagnosed with breast cancer knows how it feels, and probably another half of those eight women have had a health scare similar to the one I just experienced.
Thursday morning arrived. I was working on something for my work-from-home job, and I purposefully avoided calling the clinic. Around 9:30 a.m., my mom called me. I don't remember if I answered or not, but I knew why she was calling. I couldn't put off the phone call any longer, so I dialed. And the nurse I needed to speak to was in a meeting.
Argh. Wait a little bit longer.
She called me back about twenty minutes later. The news was good. "Fibrocystic abnormalities" she said. She scheduled an appointment for me to come in and talk to the doctor in a few weeks. At that time, we will schedule an appointment for out-patient surgery.
The flood of relief I felt was overwhelming.
I think the scariest part of all of this is the idea that if I did find out this was cancer, then it is a whole other playing field that involves figuring out who will raise my little boy if something takes me out.
And while this was positive news, it became very real to me that nothing is guaranteed. The little things we get so stressed out about on a daily basis are so very insignificant when faced with that fact.
Up next: Surgery!
After hearing the news, I called my mom to tell her. She was so relieved and happy to hear it. I texted my boss, who said the whole office said "Hooray!" I texted my boyfriend, my friend, and my son's father, who called me to tell me how happy he was.
The next step in this process is to schedule my surgery. Although it will be outpatient, I will be put under. I have talked about videotaping or photographing this part of the process. A part of me will be taken out. I haven't had a major surgery since I was five. I am not sure if they will allow it, but I am going to ask.
I have no idea how this will pan out financially. The BCCS program paid for all the testing, but the surgery is not covered. I know I will get hit with a bill for thousands of dollars after this is over, but at least I will get the surgery. Although the growth is not malignant (biopsies are 95 percent accurate, so there is still a small chance something could be found, but the doctor does not expect that and neither do I), my doc still wants to remove it. If it isn't removed, it will grow to be twice the size it is in a year's time, and the discomfort it causes me will intensify as it grows.
What have I learned?
This experience has taught me many things. Every time Mother Nature flexes her goddess will with an incredible display of her prowess, it makes my soul smile. Being reminded of how little control any of us have over anything usually makes me happy. I love to be reminded of how insignificant we all are in the universal scheme of things.
Yet we maneuver through each day with the assumption of control. We determine what we wear, which route we will take on our way to work, what we will eat for each meal. We control our own routines and fall comfortably into our habits. They are reassuring. They feel safe. This was a reminder of how little control we have. I eat right and generally take care of myself. I try to stay in shape and be as healthy as possible. The discovery of some insidious growth that could have stretched its dark tentacles deep into my being was a shock to the system. A slap in the face reminder of how little control I have over even my own body.
It was also a realization of how precious little time we have here. Even though this was nothing really, even if I live another seventy years, that's really not that long. I have been here 35 years now, and it doesn't seem like any time at all. It feels like just a few years since I was running around with my best friend in the backyard, playing in the sprinkler and then transitioning into a game of Bloody Murder when the sun went down. My son turns four in February, and I swear it was only yesterday that I was in the hospital with a newborn baby, cuddling his tiny self to me, learning for the first time what love truly is.
Pale Blue Dot
Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees
Remember, remember what I learned in November
Sometimes, we get so caught up in the minute details of life that we cannot see the bigger picture.
Although I learned lessons from this experience, I still fail at this.
I get so caught up in little things that I forget the bigger picture.
*Don't sweat the small stuff
*Let go of the semblance of control
*Remember these things when everything else tries to make you forget them.
Don't beat yourself up when you fail--there always is tomorrow....until there isn't, and neither you nor I have any control over that.
Now, here's some Destiny's Child for your listening pleasure.
I'm A Survivor
One final thing...
Stefon returns to SNL.
This character always makes me laugh.