Sunday, September 28, 2014
Day 79 of 100 Days of Good Karma.
Someone asked how I found the lump, and what brought me to the doctor. I wish I could say it was as simple as finding a lump in the shower and I was at the doctor the next day.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t that cut and dry.
My very first mammogram happened a few years ago.
I was about 30 years old, and I thought I felt a lump in my left breast.
Even though it scared the shit out of me I scheduled a mammogram just like I thought I was supposed to.
I went through the pushing and pulling and man-handling and squeezing and compressing and the ‘take a breath – hold it’ rigmarole of breast imaging.
I’d heard older women joke about the misery of mammograms before, but this was my first time experiencing it first hand.
Let’s just say it was an educational experience.
After the scans were over I sat in an exam room waiting for the doctor to come in. I was wearing the obligatory hospital gown top (open to the front!), feeling cold and bruised and ridiculous. I just wanted this whole thing to be over.
The doctor came in and had me remove the top. He very brusquely asked, “Where is the lump?”
I pointed. The doctor and nurse stared at my chest.
I had the distinct feeling the doctor thought I was wasting his time. I think he even made a comment about my young age.
I will never forget the stomach roiling humiliation of that moment.
I chastised myself for being there at all. Thirty year old women, I told myself, do not find lumps in their breasts.
Now I know differently.
It is very hard to maintain that there might be something medically wrong when you find yourself sitting half naked in front of a strange man.
All I wanted was to put my shirt on and creep away. Instead I tried to get ahold of myself.
This was important, damn it.
The doctor peered closer and then felt around some. I felt my face flame. This guy had had the bedside manner of a Neanderthal.
I don’t remember if they showed me the images or not. It was too long ago.
I do remember him examining me and saying, “There is a lot of dense breast tissue. But a lot of women have dense breast tissue.”
Thinking I was in the clear, I gratefully put my shirt back on and went along my merry way.
Over the next four years, any time I felt the lump in the shower I reassured myself, “It’s just dense breast tissue. A doctor said so.”
Fast forward to 2014: I have Stage 3 breast cancer, and the ‘dense breast tissue’ he talked about is the largest of the two tumors.
In retrospect, yes the lump changed. But it changed so gradually over four years that I barely noticed. The only reason I feel a change is because the lump is now changing back, growing smaller and softer.
I don’t know why the lump wasn’t biopsied back then then. I figured hey, they’re the experts, and so moved on.
Any time the lump came up during an annual physical, I told my doctor I’d had the lump checked and it was just dense breast tissue.
I thought the lump was a known quantity. Just a weird but common irregularity in my body.
I don’t know if the lump was cancer then. If it wasn’t, it became cancer later, growing and spreading in a quiet and insidious way.
After being diagnosed this year, I found out that at least three other women I know went to the same imaging place and were also told there wasn’t a problem.
All three had breast cancer.
Two of these women are no longer living.
One was my friend Patti.
Today’s silver lining: Even though I kick myself for those years when I might have been able to do something about the lump, I’m glad I caught the cancer now before it could spread even further into my body.
I won’t put the name of the first imaging center here (I prefer not to get sued). But if you live in this area, I’d be happy to steer you in the direction of a good imaging center for your breast diagnostic needs.
So that’s how the lump was found the first time.
Please, if you feel that there is something wrong, do not let a doctor make you feel stupid or too young or like the problem is in your head.
Be braver than I was. Push back. Ask questions. Get a second opinion.
I know it’s hard, but your life is worth it.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the story: what brought me back to the doctor.
What’s your silver lining today? I love comments!