Filed under: Things That Suck
WARNING: this post is all about boobs, both my own and those of the general female population. If you don’t want to read about boobs, please click here for a few laughs instead and come back tomorrow for something else.
Ok, so I assume if you’re still reading you are not going to be disgusted, offended, or sport permanent scars from the next few paragraphs where I shall be discussing boobs. Right? Good.
If you are an adult woman you know at least 3 of the following:
- You can get breast cancer.
- You are never too young to get breast cancer, women in their 20′s have fought it.
- You must have regularly scheduled check-ups and mammograms.
- Do monthly self-examinations and go see a doctor if anything is lumpy or otherwise amiss.
- October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Even though I am only 28, I have been careful to have yearly examinations for the last decade and have become very aware of the curvature of my chest. I know my boobs, folks. I know which one sits a little higher, which one has the larger nipple, where those random, errant hairs sprout from (what, don’t act like you don’t have them too), when they change size and what all the moles look like. I know what they feel like and what days they are extra tender. I consider myself and my boobs well acquainted.
In August I woke up one morning with some extreme pain in my right boob, right under my armpit. Initially, as I am a converted back-sleeper, I assumed I had just slept on my side funny and had strained a muscle or something. A few days later it was still there, still painfully tender, and when I starting poking around in my armpit I felt a definite lump, something that felt to be about the size of a ball of cookie dough, to my inexperienced squooshing-of-lumps it felt enormous.
I changed insurance last year when I got my new job and hadn’t been in for a girly appointment since then. So, I clicked around, found a new doctor that had the best coverage under my new policy and called up their office. I was initially told that there was a 3-month wait for new patients, but after a brief explanation of my predicament the receptionist put me on hold for about a minute and then, with what seemed to be a bit of veiled panic in her voice, scheduled me for 7:30 the next morning. I was not going to meet with the woman who would be my regular OB, but it was better to meet with Dr. Fill-In and get this all checked out than to wait for an opening in her schedule.
I tried not to freak out. I tried to keep thinking “This is a routine thing for them, they always have women with possible lumps come in immediately. Just want to check it out. Cover their asses. Total routine, not a big deal. Don’t freak out.“
Honestly, I didn’t do a very good job of not freaking out. I was scared. I was really scared. I called my Dad to let him know what was going on, he is my In Case of Emergency person and if, for whatever reason–surgery, excessive medication, collapse from hyperventilation, death–I wasn’t able to drive myself to work/home in the morning I wanted him to know he’d be receiving a call. He was wonderful to reassure me that this was probably their standard response, he offered to come with me, he promised to be there if I needed him.
I called J-Mo and told him what was going on, he was out of town for work and I didn’t want him to be blind sided by some disastrous news in the morning IF something went horribly awry. I didn’t even know what could go awry. I think I imagined this lump in my chest as some kind of ticking bomb, a land mine that would explode at any moment and blow me to smithereens. See how I suck at not freaking out? I was trying to stay calm, but what ended up coming out of my mouth was halting explanations punctuated by bouts of hyperventilation and regular crying. J-Mo was ready to leave the project he was working on and head back to Salt Lake that minute so he could be there to hold my hand.
I love both of these men, my Dad and J-Mo, for being so supportive when I was so terrified. But ultimately, I decided it would be easier for me if I went alone. I knew my Dad was just 30 minutes away, so if my boob, I don’t know, exploded or something he wouldn’t be far away. I promised to keep him in the loop with any updates as the appointment progressed. It took quite a bit of convincing to keep J-Mo away, I promised if it was anything more interesting than a regular visit he could run back here as quickly as possible and take care of me. But going by myself, just like any other appointment, would make me believe more fully that it was just a routine check-up on something potentially weird going on in my boob. Nothing more.
I still didn’t sleep that night.
The next morning I showed up early, filled out all my forms, and answered umpteen billion questions about myself, my body, and my family history of cancer and, specifically, breast cancer. The very wonderful nurse carefully typed up everything I said into my permanent file. She explained things to me, asked even more questions, took my vitals and performed a few other tests, and did a damn fine job of making sure I didn’t hyperventilate right there in the examination room. She did more to calm my nerves than the lengthy, uphill run and hot bath the night before, and the meditative thoughts I’d been working on for the previous 18 hours.
Dr. Fill-In came in, didn’t introduce himself, didn’t say hello, squeezed my right boob twice and said “Well, you’re too young to have cancer, but go up to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and have some more tests done anyway.” And he walked out.
If I could have, I would have shot him in the back of the head with laser beams, the ones that were primed and ready to go right behind my blood shot eyeballs. On the one hand, I was relieved that he didn’t come in, gravely check his clipboard, and tell me I had 2 months to live. On the other hand, what kind of statement is that!? My insurance was billed almost $400 dollars for that one, doctoral sentence. I was pissed! I wanted more than that! Some reassurance, or some explanation, or some literature on the topic. But no, just “go to the CANCER INSTITUTE, you know, that place where the people who have cancer go, and let them figure it out.”
Not cool, Dr. Fill-In, not cool.
Over the next week or so I had several rounds of tests at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I still don’t have many answers. What I know is this:
- The lump in my right armpit is still there, I can feel it and it still hurts under pressure.
- It is not a swollen lymph node or gland, as that swelling would have gone down by now.
- An ultrasound will pick up images of fluid filled objects (see: baby in a pregnant, amniotic-fluid filled belly).
- Cancer cells are solid masses of gunk and thereby will not show up on an ultrasound.
- Cysts are fluid filled masses, they will show up in an ultrasound.
- My lump is not a fluid-filled lump, my ultrasound did not pick up anything. It was unremarkable in every way. That sounds great, except for the part where cancer cells DO NOT show up on an ultrasound.
I feel like I’m caught in a big, twisting circle of unanswered questions and stressful emotions I am incapable of dealing with in a healthy way. I have been told that everything is fine, it’s nothing, and not to worry about it. Which again, sounds great, but I still don’t know what it is.
“You’re too young for cancer.”
“Cancer cells are solid masses, not fluids.”
“It’s not a swollen lymph node or a blocked gland. It’s not a cyst or otherwise exhibiting any kind of fluidity.”
“You’re probably totally fine….”
Blaaaaarrrrgh! Have you checked my blood pressure!? Clearly, I am NOT fine! (The lovely nurse checked it, on each visit, and despite my preconceived notions of sky high numbers, my blood pressure is smack in the middle of normal range.) I don’t want some unidentifiable lump hanging out in my boob without properly identifying itself. I want answers, dammit! I want that thing out of my body and on a cold, metal slab where it can be poked to death, prodded, dissected and explained!
I have some more follow-up appointments next month. The general consensus from my doctors–besides “Oh, it’s nothing”–is that if it didn’t change in the next 6-8 weeks they would do some more investigating, possibly a biopsy, and try and figure out what exactly is hanging out in my chest. Again, I am trying not to freak out; after my initial, literal dizziness from the idea that I could have breast cancer, I’ve have been doing much better. Then October rolled around and little pink ribbons starting popping up on every conceivable thing. Pink ribbons for boobies! Get checked for lumps! You are never too busy for a mammogram! You are never to young to have cancer!
It’s frustrating, you see, because the slogans and messaging from Team Komen, et al seem to completely contradict what Dr. Fill-In told me. I tried! I have legitimate concerns and I need some legitimate answers! With the exception of my car accident a few years ago, I have been remarkably healthy. I don’t have a regular doctor, I don’t need prescription medications, I rarely get sick enough to warrant serious concern. Perhaps I just don’t know how to work the healthcare system to receive the information I need? Perhaps I don’t know how to ask the right questions or be the annoying patient who calls every 10 minutes with a new concern? What would you do in my position? I am just a few weeks away from my appointment with my new OB, what questions should I ask? Other than going over this whole mess with the lump in my breast (AGAIN! I HAVE A LUMP! IN MY BREAST! COMMENCE FREAKOUT!) what else should she know? How do you get needed answers from medical professionals? Honestly, friends, at this point I am grasping at straws here, any advice or help would be greatly appreciated.
20 Comments so far
Leave a comment