Last Friday morning I awoke with a slight pain in my left breast. It's not unusual for me to be tender sometimes so I really just ignored it although I did remember thinking it was odd the pain wasn't bilateral.
Saturday it hurt a little worse.
Sunday I got to poking around to see if I could pinpoint the actual area of pain since it now seemed to radiate into my entire left breast.
That's when I found the lump.
This thing seemed as big as a ostrich egg to me, but, since my breasts aren't much bigger than hen's eggs I knew my brain was exaggerating.
So then I naturally went Googling for the better part of Sunday and by the end of the day I was convinced I only had months to live.
I wasn't going to tell John or my mother (with whom we now live), I told myself, until I had gone to the doctor and found out if there was anything I should be worried about.
Yeah, right. I cannot keep my mouth shut and within minutes of telling myself to keep it to myself, I was listening to the whole lumpy story poor out of my mouth. Like an uncontrollable case of diarrhea I helplessly sat there spewing forth detail after detail, well, much the same as I'm doing now.
Note to self: check to see if they make Imodium BM (for "big mouth").
Anyhow, I can't stop the story now as I'm obligated to satisfy the reader and I'm sure you want to know if I've been told I only have months to live, right? You do care, don't you? (Please just say you do, whether you do or not. Thanks.)
Monday morning I called the clinical trial nurse to let her know what was up and see if she could get Novartis to pay the bill for a mammogram. I told her I thought you could walk in for a mammogram and not have to have a doctor's order at the local radiology center.
She said that was for "screening" mammos, not diagnostic like she wanted me to have.
She said I needed to get with my GYN and he could do an exam and then write the order for the mammo or ultrasound or both.
I called the GYN and the he could see me after lunch, but the only problem was that when I had to see him back in June and have a pelvic ultrasound, he'd never been paid for the visit. $160 that Novartis promised they'd cover.
So this visit they agreed to see me but only if I forked over $100 cash at time of service. Having a big painful egg lodged in my breast, what choice did I have? Besides, my mother made me go.
I'm telling myself the whole time that I didn't really feel a lump and that's it's all in my head. After all, it's Breast Cancer Awareness month and the pink ribbons are everywhere, along with shirts and bumper stickers and TV specials and news stories. A hypochondriac like me can't HELP but end up with certain breast cancer after being inundated like that.
I don the paper shirt and wait.
The doc comes in and asks me how I am. Why do they do that? Don't they know why you are there and that, because of that, you are having a less than zippittydoodah day? How moronic, eh? He should walk in and say "Life's sucking for you right now, isn't it?" And then he should tell me his is too because his Mercedes is broke down and he had to take the Jag today. We could commiserate.
I tell him the series of events that led up to my sitting on his table in a paper shirt. He listens and scribbles and then has me lie down.
He starts to palpate my left breast and stops at the noon position. "Is that what you are talking about?" he asks.
Geeze, did I miss something ELSE?? I wonder to myself.
"No, it's right about 4:00, or half past 4, but not quite 5," I tell him.
"Holy COW! That's HUGE!" he says.
The red lights flashed and the warning sirens went off inside my head. This guy who does this for a living every day and has done so for the past 30 years or so just said "holy cow that's huge". CRAP! that's NOT good!
All I could think to say was "but it's squishy, right? so that's a good thing?"
And his come back was, "Uh-uh, that felt mighty firm to me."
He says "The ONLY good news I have for you is that breast cancer isn't NORMALLY painful, but that doesn't mean it can't be cancer. It could even be that you have a painful cyst right up against a tumor."
He went on to say that it was irregularly shaped and not round. His estimate was 4 centimeters by 2 centimeters. (I just now googled how big 4 centimeters is and it's about 1.5" WOW!)
He said an irregular shape and the firmness, coupled with my age, family history of my maternal aunt dying of breast cancer, plus the fact that I haven't had a mammogram since 2000 were all pointing at probable bad news.
He said we'd move on to the discussion of course of treatment after I got the mammo and we see what's what.
I asked if I should get it in town or wait to see if the clinical trial could schedule it for me at Shands in Jacksonville and I wouldn't have to worry about paying.
His response was that we needed the info here if I wanted him to be in on making a plan. It's too hard to get records from Shands. In fact, he never got the pelvic ultrasound results from back in June. Case in point.
He wrote the order and said we'd make a plan when the results came back.
The diagnostic center was just across the street from his office so I went right over to schedule the mammo. I was in luck, they said. I could have it right now.
Great! I really wanted to get this over and get onto the next phase of dealing with whatever the result.
Turns out the nice lady who did the mammo used to work with my mother (before she retired) in the Medical Records department of Putnam Community Medical Center in Palatka, FL. She asked all about Mom and we had a nice conversation while I tried to ignore the fact that she was handling my boobs the whole time.
She did the right side first and it was fairly uncomfortable, but when she got to the left side it was all I could do to keep from screaming. I very nearly drew blood as I bit my lip to hold back the pain in my chest. I was sure she was going to pop that lump no matter what kind it was.
Afterward she told me to stand right there and wait while she went to see the radiologist who reads the diagnostic mammograms while the patient waits.
So I waited.
She came back in and apologized saying "The doctor wants you to have an ultrasound now so he can get a better look at what he's seeing to make a more positive diagnosis. The girl who does the ultrasound work is over helping out across the street at the hospital and we've called her back so she's coming right over."
She had me take a seat in the waiting room and left me with a "hope everything works out ok for you" that just seemed to drip with sympathy.
I did NOT like the sound of that! I've had my share of medical tests done where the tech knew what was going on but couldn't let on that she/he knew anything and this sounded more like "tell your mom if she needs anything after you're dead I'll be there for her."
I sat and tried to get a handle on my fear. I kept telling myself that cancer doesn't hurt. But my mind kept coming back to everyone I ever knew who died of cancer and how they seemed to be in awful pain. I imagined that mine was now painful because of the stage I must be at... past the point of no return.
Oh hell, just bring on the morphine and get me outta here.
Fortunately I only had time to read part of the pamphlet on "Breast Cancer: Your Treatment Options" before the ultrasound tech walked in.
I didn't think anything could hurt worse than the mammogram did, but I was wrong. I actually had tears running down my cheeks as she pressed to get the best view of the lump.
She said she would be right back. She was going to go see the radiologist.
Then *the man behind the curtain* finally appear beside my table where I lay covered by a towel.
He introduced himself and said he was the radiologist.
He told me my breasts were chock full of cysts on both sides. "But you knew that, right?" he asked.
"No, I had no clue." I said, still waiting for him to get to the point.
"That huge lump your GYN felt was a grouping of 4 or 5 cysts all lined up side by side. They are firm because they are very full of fluid. Your breasts build up fluid and the body gets rid of it as your monthly cycle waxes and wanes," he explained. "Your body just isn't very good at taking out the trash."
"We call that Fibrocystic Disease" and that's what I see going on here. The lumps can be painful, tender, sore. I can relieve that pain by aspirating the fluid out with a fine needle. Would you like me to do that now?"
I politely declined. Funny how, since getting into the extension phase of this trial and no longer having to stick myself, I have regained my previous aversion to needles.
"Ok, that's fine," he said. "But if the pain increases and you find it unbearable, you can always come in and have me do the procedure."
I told him I'd keep that in mind.
I asked if Fibrocystic Disease was a precursor to cancer and he said he didn't see anything anywhere on my scans that even hinted at anything cancerous.
I couldn't help myself and the biggest smile ever broke out across my face.
"Oh my God, Doc! I was praying for good news, but I was thinking along the lines of surviving 5 years, not that the news could POSSIBLY be this good! THANK YOU!"
"Hey, I just call it like I see it, it's not me you have to thank." he said as his eyes glanced skyward at you-know-who.
So here it is God: THANK YOU! I owe you one. Well, I owe you more than one, but you know that.
So now I sit here with boobs that have been handled more in the past day than a cheerleader's on Prom Night, and even though they are so sore I'm taking Ibuprophen today, I'm one happy lumpy lady.
And with that, let this be a public service announcement to all you women out there. This is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you need to go have that mammogram done.
For about 2 hours of my life yesterday I was absolutely certain that I had a large cancerous tumor in my breast and I now know what that terrible fear is like. I was lucky this time. I could just as easily been sitting here writing about how scared I was of my upcoming chemo or mastectomy, etc.
So go get checked out. You know who you are. Quit putting it off. Too many people love you.