Before I start this post, I just want to share that my results were benign. Thank you to my doctors, nurses, family, friends, animals, and husband that got me through this scary time.
It is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I’ve been meaning to sit down to write this post for some time now. In truth, there are many reasons I’ve avoided writing it, but I hope that by sharing my story, it might encourage someone to take their breast health seriously.
On Friday, April 9, I woke up with a sore right breast and found a lump in the lower right side of it. I’ll always remember the date because it also happened to be my wedding anniversary. I called my doctor right away because of course finding a lump sent my anxiety into overdrive. Unfortunately, my doctor was out of the office and wouldn’t be able to see me for some time. I turned to my husband who immediately got on the phone with a family friend who is also a physician to see if she could fit me into her schedule. Thankfully, she found the time in her day and agreed to see me.
The lump itself was tender, red, and hurt to touch. Of course, turning to Google only flamed the panic burning in my chest. As we drove to the doctor in the suburbs, my husband and I chatted about memories from five years ago on our wedding day. I remember feeling silly on the drive, feeling like the doctor was going to take one look at the breast and tell me it was nothing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as she wanted to get me in for an ultrasound and mammogram to figure out what the lump was. I had to wait until the following Monday to get the imaging done.
I filled the weekend with friends, family, and dogs to keep my mind occupied. When Monday came around, I was slightly less panicked and again felt silly driving to the imaging center. I was certain the mammogram would show nothing more than a cyst and send me home. I thought it would be a waste of everyone’s time and that there were more emergent cases they needed to work on.
The mammogram wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I’ll look forward to again, but I’ve experienced worse things. There was a mammogram technician in the room and an upright machine with plastic-looking trays on it. The tech got all up close and personal while maneuvering my breast and body into a yoga-like position on the machine. Slowly the space between the two plastic trays closed in on my breast and squeezes nice and tight, but I’d rate it a 4 out of 10 on the pain scale. In total, I believe they took six pictures, three per breast.
After that, it was time for the ultrasound. I got the ultrasound because they show more detail than a mammogram. An ultrasound wasn’t something new for me. I’d had them done on my uterus before when I was diagnosed with PCOS. The ultrasound was easy, just a tech moving the ultrasound probe over the breasts. They even heated up the gel first! Unfortunately, techs weren’t able to share any sort of diagnosis during the ultrasound.
Once the ultrasound was complete, the radiologist looked over both the mammogram and ultrasound in a separate room. At this point, my husband was able to join me while we waited for results. Still, I was sure the doctor would come in with a smile and provide us some much-needed reassurance that everything was fine. As soon as the doctor walked in however, I knew it was not the good news I was so desperately waiting for.
She explained that the lump was irregular and she didn’t like the way it looked. She wanted to biopsy it as soon as possible and send it out to a lab. She said there was a high probability it was cancerous and that my lymph node also looked swollen and enflamed. I started to feel hot, my vision blurred, and I asked if I could have some water while I lay down. I was at a loss.
Once I started feeling better, we chatted about the biopsy and what I could expect. It was scheduled for four hours later so in the meantime, I had to drive back to Chicago and get my second COVID-19 vaccine. It was such a fun day. I was crying in the waiting room while waiting to get vaccinated. Once called back, the nurse asked what was wrong and I shared what was going on. I’ll never forget what the nurse said to me. She simply said, “Don’t stress until you have something to stress over.” I don’t know why that seemed to hit my right between the eyes, but it did. I was so busy imagining all the different scenarios that hadn’t even happened yet.
When I got back to the breast center, I was prepped for the biopsy. If you are queasy, I suggest skipping over this paragraph. They had me lie down on a metal table, three women were in the room with me during the procedure. I told them how thrilled I was that it was all women in the room, it felt oddly powerful. They gave me a local anesthetic in my breast first. I don’t mind needles, it definitely burned but it wasn’t horrible. Then, they inserted the biopsy tool that made a loud snapping sound as it gathered a tissue sample from the lump. It was at this point that the pain ramped up quickly and I started to once again feel faint. It felt like a rubber band snapping on the inside of my breast. I asked for more anesthesia as the nurses packed ice on my body since I was sweating profusely and feeling limp. They asked if I wanted to stop but I insisted they continue. They took eight samples from my breast and then moved to the lymph node in my armpit. The anesthesia injection in the armpit was a lot more painful but thankfully, the actual biopsy portion was much easier.
In total, the biopsy took about thirty minutes and then I was shuffled to a new room to get a post-biopsy mammogram. During the biopsy, they had inserted tiny titanium markers into my breast so that they could easily see where the lump was on imaging. The post-biopsy mammogram takes pictures of the titanium marker. I won’t lie, the post-biopsy mammogram was slightly more painful.
Afterward, I was wrapped tightly in an Ace bandage, told not to shower, and to take Tylenol. I’d get the results of the biopsy in 2-4 days.
The next day, I felt as if I’d been hit by a truck. And then that truck reversed and ran over me again. And then a vulture came and picked at my remains and then pooped me out. I felt like shit. I slept that day away and blamed it on a combination of stress, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the biopsy procedure. It was a blessing that I could sleep and escape from the worry of waiting for the results.
On Wednesday afternoon, I received the call I had been so desperately waiting for. The lump was benign. It was an abscess and my lymph node was inflamed as a reaction to the abscess. My husband and I held each other and cried with relief. I was prescribed an antibiotic and told to schedule a follow-up ultrasound in two weeks.
I wish I could say I felt like myself again once I got the results. The truth is, it took me some time to get back on my feet both physically and mentally. I was hard on myself for not feeling more grateful or being perfectly happy again.
I’ve since had two ultrasounds and the original lump has gone away almost completely. Unfortunately, they did find a lump in my left breast. They believe the one in the left breast is benign (a fibroadenoma) just by how it looks on imaging. Every six months I go in for a little check-up to see if there is any growth of that lump. We will continue to monitor over the next two years.
Navigating a heath scare was challenging, but what I wasn’t expecting though was to feel empowered. Every doctor I’ve worked with during this journey has been a woman. While in the waiting room for my checkups, I’m in awe of the women around me knowing many of them did not get the results I did. I’m inspired by them as they conduct business calls, laugh with friends, and Facetime with their children before seeing the doctor.
I had a conversation just the other day with a young woman with a very similar story to mine. I wish it was something that was talked about more openly so we don’t have to feel so alone going through it. In fact, so many women will face something like this. It’s estimated that 1 out of 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life.
My next check-up is in December. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still a little worried, but mostly I feel thankful. Thankful for this outcome, for my husband, for being able to afford the healthcare bills that still come. I don’t take for granted the privilege I have. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am.
If you’re still reading this and you have breasts, please do a self-breast exam and make it a monthly task. Early detection is so key in a favorable outcome. You can find instructions on how to do one here. If you need help with navigating costs or addressing barriers, check out Susan G. Koman.
RJ: The best of both worlds, this Olde English Bulldog mix is always up for adventures but then just as happy to crash on the couch. At about six-years-old this guy is the perfect age where he has the puppy nonsense behind him but still tht fun youthful energy. He is a big boy who could easily knock over small children so he’d be best in a home with adults. He is a very special boy and ready for his forever home!
Millie: This jelly bean is ready to embark on her next chapter of life with her zest and can-do attitude. Millie loves games, playing outdoors, running, biking, whatever you enjoy doing, she does too! This one-year-old would love to find her people for the holiday season!
You can find my boots here and my vest here. The skirt is from last year!
All photos: Adventure Satos