Friday, May 16, 2014

Life & Lumps: A Public Service Announcement

Welcome to the new version of my blog! It was time to reinvent, revitalize, and refocus! A Hip Story started as a chronicle of my joint disorder and has morphed into a real expression of who I am, what I like, what I think, and how I live. This will now be more of a lifestyle blog; about my life here in Portland, things I love, being an (almost) thirty-something, professional woman and anything else that I feel like writing about! Please note the new URL; be sure to update your link, bookmark, etc. Welcome, welcome back, and please leave feedback in the comments!

Now that the business is taken care of, let me get down to the heart of the matter. A little more than a month ago, I got a really scary wake-up call. Now that I have the all clear, and have had time to digest it all with my husband, family, and close friends, I realize I need to write about it. For closure, for therapy, and for all of you. Because it's really important. Normally you might think this is a TLDR post, but you should read it.

On April 10, 2014, Ethan found a lump in my left breast. In the interest of full disclosure, allow me to say that a) my breasts are naturally pretty lumpy, b) I'm (fairly) good about self-exams, and c) my doctor actually said "Let your husband do it. Two birds, one stone." Boy, am I glad he 'checked,' that day. I was in bed that night, reading a novel about a young woman (31), at the height of her career, who is diagnosed with breast cancer. It reminded me that I hadn't checked in a while. Naturally, I ask Ethan to give me a feel. "What's that?" he asks. Haha, NOT FUNNY, I say. "Babe, no, really, what's that?" And sure enough, there it was. A pea-size lump that was very one of these things is not like the other. Instant panic.

Cancer runs in my family. My mom died of it, though hers was not breast. But other women in the family have had it, and my mom's best friend died of it, a few years before she did. I've always been afraid of it. And there I was, playing out all the bad scenarios in my head. I 9-1-1ed my closest girlfriends. What could this be? You had cysts, right? I Googled it (ALWAYS the wrong thing to do. ALWAYS). Thankfully, I already had an appointment with my lady-doctor the very next day for something routine. Which is so fortunate, because there's no way on God's green that I would have seen anybody that fast. Already, I thought hoped someone up there was looking out for me.

The lady-doctor did her checking and then I told her. At first, she couldn't find it, but when she landed on it, her facial expression changed, and I took it to mean "THIS IS THE WORST, BUY A COFFIN" because I am a worrier. She suggested because of the location, and family history, that we get an ultrasound to assess the lump. "Can we do it tomorrow?" "Should I just cut them off now?" "Maybe it will go away if I ignore it." These are all the things I thought in that moment. And in all the moments of waiting. Because there was a lot of waiting. A LOT. And that's just the worst. Because I am my own worst enemy.

Enter: Breast Care Center in Scarborough, a division of Maine Med. I need to take a minute to tell you about this amazing place. Every person, all of them, from reception to physicians, were extraordinary. Kind, patient, sweet. I have never been treated better by any physician's office ever ever.. I suppose, due to the nature of what they deal with, they have to be that way, and it takes a special person to do that work. But it made the process so much easier.

So, I'm there meeting with a Nurse Practitioner. An amazingly sweet lady. I lay down on the exam table and she says on the ultrasound we will see one of three things. We will see nothing, which means it's breast tissue and nothing to worry about. We'll see a cyst, which is also nothing to worry about. Or, we'll see a solid mass. And the only way to know what those are, is to biopsy. Somewhere, in the pit of my belly, I know it's option three.

I do not let Ethan leave my side. He acts strong for me, but I know he too, is terrified. We go into the ultrasound room. I had hoped the first time we'd be in a place like this together is listening to our baby's heartbeat. Instead, I am in an ugly johnny, open in the front, exposing myself to the world and looking at the inside of my boob on the ultrasound machine. It's not very interesting, just a lot of white stuff until BAM. There it is. My lump. E and I took to referring to it as "The Target." The Target has been found, the Target has been scanned. It looked like I thought it might; a near perfectly round black void in all the white. There it was. The radiologist was going to look at it right then and tell me. The NP finally comes back and says "we think it's a fibroadenoma, a benign solid mass." Think was not going to be good enough for me. She says "we can wait six months, ultrasound again, and biopsy if we need to. Or biopsy now, which is the only way to confirm 100%. " She gave me her card because I was to overwhelmed to say anything at that moment.

I knew I wouldn't feel truly at ease until I knew for sure it was benign. So, we scheduled a biopsy. More waiting. Visions of gigantic needles stabbing my boob fill my thoughts. By this time, it's been more than two weeks since lump-gate. Everyone tells me I am doing the right thing getting the biopsy. I agree. Finally, the day arrives. Again, more exposure, ugly johnny, but this time there is an ENTOURAGE of people in the room. Me, Ethan, the nurse, the radiologist and an MD. I'm not sure I've flashed that many people at one time. Maybe in college. Unlikely. The GOOD news is, the radiologist was super hot, so at least if I am about to be stabbed repeatedly in my boob, it would be by a good looking, charming man. I remember saying to E before everyone arrived "I hope the radiologist isn't a dude. It would be weird." But then I saw him, and it was okay. The biopsy itself wasn't terrible. The worst part was the SOUND. This awful plastic click, like those annoying clapper things you get at sporting events, but louder and more gun-like. I didn't watch the needle. Ethan did. Bless his heart. They had to get THREE samples. By the third one, I felt the pressure of the needle, but thankfully no pain. The Target has been probed. The Target has been tested.

They sent me home (back to work, because, what else am I to do) with an ice pack. I had to shove said ice pack into my bra for 15 minutes every hour.  I'm pretty sure my left nipple will always be a little hard, because of all that ice contact. The worst part? I had to SLEEP WITH MY BRA ON that night. Because, the day wasn't punishing enough. The BCC called the next day to check in on me, again a measure of how wonderful they are.

Forty-eight hours later, nearly 4 weeks after The Target was discovered, I got a call from the NP. The fibroadenoma was confirmed. No negative cells. Benign. Come back in 6 months for a follow-up.  I basically cried right there in my office. Relief. Epic relief.

The Target is benign. 

I am young, the odds it was cancer were slim, though less so for me than for others with no cancer in the family tree. But I tell you what, I was scared to death, and so was my husband. So, here's what I learned/realized:

-Fibroadenomas are common in women my age. They can be related to hormones/hormonal changes.
-I will remain diligent about my health; eating right, exercise. I want to always be ready to fight off something bad, just in case.
-I have an AMAZING support system. I have the best friends, family, co-workers. I told a couple people I work with, one of whom sent me a very nice card during the stretches of waiting, which I received via campus mail on a particularly trying day. You all mean more to me than you know.
-I will check myself always, and have Ethan check often as well. I will not let more than a week go by without hands on boobs. I can't, now. I won't. You shouldn't either.

So, ladies, before you go to bed tonight, give yourself a breast-exam. Or let your partner. Or both. If you're a dude reading this, remind the ladies you love to check themselves, and offer to help (unless it's your mom or sister or something, but whatever I don't judge).


  1. Wonderful post. I am SO RELIEVED for you. What a nightmare. I'm also glad you are back to blogging in a new and improved way. I look forward...

    1. Thanks Arielle. It was a nightmare, but also a wake-up call. I am glad I am able to share and I hope it inspires women to practice good self-care.

  2. Wow, what a journey. Thanks for sharing, Maria, so glad everything's OK :)