Four days after I wrote that letter to 2014, I found a lump in my breast. Good one, 2014! Way to listen to my request there! ‘Preciate ya… sure do…
Then I did what any person does when they find some sort of bump, lump, or pain — I Googled it. The first information I found sounded promising. The lump moved around easily, so it was most likely a cyst. Then I came across another cite that said you can’t always go by that because sometimes malignant tumors are movable.
My lump is in the lower inner quadrant of the breast, so one site said that only six percent of breast cancers are found in that area. Well, that sounded good until I realized that the variety of my dad’s lymphoma makes up only six percent of lymphoma patients. Fun fact: Medical issues in my family freakishly happen in similar numbers. The sebaceous cysts I inherited from my dad? My first one popped up on my chin in the fourth grade. My dad’s first cyst popped up on his forehead in the fourth grade. My father’s father died at age 57 of a heart attack. My dad turned 57 while in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery.
Those coincidences were in the back of my mind as I read another website that said breast cancers found in the lower inner quadrant can be difficult to stage correctly because they sometimes spread to mammary lymph nodes between the breasts, making them harder to treat.
So I stopped Googling… Public service announcement, peeps: Do not Google symptoms. No good comes from it. None.
Then, in an attempt to find humor in the situation, the song “Lump” popped in my head.
Found it alone in my pajamas
And felt the circling of the cancer piranhas
It’s a lump, a lump
It’s in my boob
It’s a lump, a lump, a lump
Will I get new boobs soon?
(With all apologies to The Presidents of the United States… The band… Although if any actual Presidents were offended, I apologize to you as well.)
Anyhoo, three days later I was at the doctor. I’m 41 2/3 years old, and yes I hadn’t had a mammogram before, but I swear that I had planned to go before my 42nd birthday in May. Honestly, it was on my to-do list, but every single medical staff person I encountered asked, “And you’ve never had a mammogram?” To which I wanted to reply, “No, and please stop asking in that tone of voice.”
My regular doctor’s schedule was full the morning of my appointment, so I saw the nurse practitioner. “If you think of your breast in terms of a clock, where is the lump?” she asked.
Do they make clocks with a face that looks like a boob? Wait, don’t answer that…
I told her that the lump was at the five o’clock or seven o’clock position, depending on which way you’re looking at it. She did what she called a breast exam, but honestly, I don’t see how she could have felt anything with the way she barely pressed on my chest. Seriously, woman, I’m no Dolly Parton, but they’re definitely not small, so you’ve really gotta get in there and work it.
Eventually she got around to where the lump is and she moved it around bit, but she was too quiet. Finally she said that she would refer me to get an ultrasound. “They’ll definitely want to do an ultrasound, but they’ll probably do a mammogram too since you haven’t had one.”
Good, now everyone can quit asking me that freakin’ question.
My aunt (my mom’s sister-in-law) is an oncology nurse, and — bless her sweet, patient heart — she is the go-to person in the family when someone has some sort of cancer scare or confirmation. So of course, I called her on that Wednesday night just to get some reassurance. Unfortunately, I got the call a couple of days later that the first available appointment for an ultrasound and mammogram was over two weeks away — January 28th. They put me on the cancellation list, but the only calls I got from the Breast Center (not what you think it is, fellas) were to confirm the appointment and pre-register.
There I was with two and a half weeks to ponder whether lump was really benign or malignant. The odds were in my favor; 80 percent of breast lumps are benign. I’m still young… ish. There were no visible signs of a malignant tumor — the puckering/dimpling of skin, weird nipple shenanigans, and such. Then again, I had my first period at age 12 and have never had kids — both life events that are supposed to raise the risk of developing breast cancer.
Also to give you an unedited glimpse into the special insanity that lies in my brain, I had other wonderfully optimistic thoughts gnawing at me. Crap like, Why should I be spared from having cancer? People younger than I am deal with it all the time. The St. Jude’s commercial tells me that every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer. Young people die every day. My friend Carmen died two years ago at 39. My friend Rhonda died 14 years ago at 32. A former student at our school a few years younger than I am died just a couple of weeks ago. One of my cousin’s friends died a couple of months ago… of breast cancer… at 41.
In this sometimes diabolically random world we live in, I would be beyond stupid to believe that the same could not happen to me.
Then I was angry about a diagnosis that I hadn’t yet gotten and might never get. When the good news about Dad’s remission came last Wednesday, there was a huge sigh of relief, but I couldn’t feel truly overjoyed because I was afraid I’d have to put my waders on again to navigate the next pile of shit that might come my way the next week.
Finally, the appointment came this morning. The mammogram came first. At the Breast Center at GHS, ladies have a personal dressing room that connects to the mammogram room, complete with your own TV to watch. You could almost fool yourself into thinking you were about to walk out on stage for a play or a concert or Oprah — if it weren’t for the whole ugly dressing gown that opens in the front.
(Pro tip for the mammogram virgins: Take your deodorant with you. If you wear any, you’ll have to wipe it off, and while I’m sure the deodorant wipes they gave me afterward are working just fine, I’d feel more confident if I had my own Dove antiperspirant.)
I changed into the gown provided, and thinking I’m here at a medical facility getting a test, I assumed that I was supposed to disrobe down to the skivvies. Um, no… That’s what they’d probably call overkill — because the mammogram tech came and got me and promptly said, “Oh, you can keep your pants, socks, and shoes on. That way you won’t get cold.” Oops… newbie mistake. However, I give props to that mammogram room because that floor was not cold at all!
Once I was back to half-dressed, I went back to the mammogram room for what would be the first round of boob pics. (Haha… There’s one for the Google searches!) The tech situated the girl on the right for three different pics, and as she began the process for the left one, she said, “By the way, my name is K____.”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, “it’s good to be on a first-name basis at this point.”
Since Lefty Leona had the lump, she got an extra pic taken, but Righty Regina wasn’t left out, because a little while later, K returned for a couple more shots. During the first round of pictures, I wondered what all the fuss was about. All the women I knew talked about how awful it was to have their boobs smushed down, but while this wasn’t something I wanted to do every day, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.
I can’t say the same for the second round or the third, and there may have been a fourth, but I lost count. K told me that the doctor needed extra pics because (you guessed it) I’ve never had a mammogram. I do have to say that K was super nice and even let me look at the shot that showed the lump. When I asked about the need for extra pics, she gave me a pat on the shoulder and said it was all normal.
After almost an hour and a half of mammogram pics, the ultrasound tech fetched me. I laid down on the table, and she instructed me to raise my right arm.
“Oh, but the lump is in the left one,” I said.
She told me Dr. G______ wanted to have both breasts done because (say it with me) I’ve never had a mammogram.
When she got to the left breast, she had me point to the location of the lump and felt it herself.
“Oh, you’ve got a little roly poly there, don’t ya?” she said.
Yes, that’s exactly, what I thought of when I first found it. What a cute little roly poly. I’ll buy a terrarium and name it George and feed it and love it forever and ever.
She finished with the left breast and left to check with the doctor. Less than five minutes later she was back and said I was done. The lump is a lipoma — a benign fatty cyst — and it’s up to me whether I want to have it removed. I do have to go back in six months for a recheck mammogram just because of the lump.
How lucky I am is not lost on me. Things could have gone in another direction. Just because 2013 was a shit year doesn’t mean that 2014 can’t work the same way. But today I’m grateful for what wasn’t and for the prayers, positive thoughts, and good juju that came from friends responding to a cryptic Facebook post.
And for the love of all that’s holy, ladies, if at all humanly possible, get a freakin’ mammogram BEFORE you find a lump — because you will never live it down.