A warning to my readers — this post also contains a true story, and it’s from my heart… and my heart cusses like a drunken sailor!
A sharp pain woke me up, in the middle of the night… and it’s in my left breast. Wtf?! Apparently, I had rolled over onto my stomach and somehow hurt my boob in the process. But I was too tired to worry about it, and quickly drifted back to sleep.
Sometime later, the sound of Apple’s electronic harp gently pulled me from my dreams. God… it’s Monday. As I lay there on my back, stretching and rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I suddenly remember the mysterious pain in my breast… only now, I’m wide awake… and a little scared.
Focusing my gaze on the ceiling fan, I raise my left arm over my head and rest it on my pillow. With my right hand, I feel around for what I’m praying is an imaginary source of the pain… but there it is… a lump, maybe the size of a small grape. Fuck.
My heart is pounding now, and why wouldn’t it be? I mean, I have a big-ass lump of cancer in my left breast, and I’m going to die! It really IS Monday, isn’t it…
For the next 6 days, I didn’t say anything about this to anyone, because then shit would get real; instead, I chose to rationalize it internally. The optimist in me said I should go to the doctor immediately, find out what it is, and treat it accordingly; my internal pessimist said to avoid the doctor at all costs because whatever it is is probably going to kill me anyway; and the rest of me was a depressed wreck who didn’t care one way or the other. Maybe it would just go away on its own…
I finally dragged my dying ass in to see my doctor, who also happens to be a tennis pal. It had been nearly a year since my last well-woman exam, and because I’ve never done a self-exam, I told her I had no idea how long the lump had been there, only that it’s been hurting for the past week.
As I lay there on the examination table, her well-trained fingers quickly found my lump… then another… and another… Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. They were in both breasts, too.
How the hell did this happen?! I mean, no one in my family has ever had breast cancer – or any other cancer, for that matter! I have so much going on at work right now, too… and who will take take care of my fur babies?
As my life was flashing before my eyes, I could hear my friend’s voice telling me to schedule a mammogram blah, blah, blah… don’t worry blah, blah, blah… on the court blah, blah… it’s like my brain was short circuiting. I don’t even remember driving my dying ass home.
Two days later, I’m at the Breast Center for my mammogram. Now, I have small boobs, and starting with my left one, the technician is literally having to pull and push and stretch and squish it to get it positioned just right between two clear plates. Well… that wasn’t too terrible. But then she tells me to take a deep breath and hold it… and to my horror, the plates start coming together.
Moments later, I’m staring down at my poor little boob, smashed beyond recognition… what fresh hell is THIS?! Is it going to stay like that?! Are the lumps going to explode from the pressure?! I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS!
She finally releases the plates, and I’m like, can I go home now… and cry?!
Nope… because Nurse Ratched is now going to smash the right one… and then do it all over again, only horizontally. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
And it didn’t just end there. She repeated the entire process again and again… and again. By the time my ordeal was finally over, I had murdered this woman 50 different ways in my head. It’s a good thing it was just in my head, too, because if not I would have murdered an innocent woman… well, sort of. As it turns out, I have dense breasts, where there is a lot of muscle mass and fibrous tissue. And because of that, and the fact that the largest lump couldn’t be smashed because it’s located too far to the left and near my armpit, Little Hitler didn’t get a single good image for the doctor. Sooooooo… I was scheduled for an ultrasound the following day.
Seriously?! I hate my life…
But wait… an ultrasound doesn’t involve smashing, does it? So it has to be less painful…
The ultrasound technician spends about 10 hours minutes rubbing and probing the already very sore lump on my left breast, and IT. IS. EXCRUCIATING. I keep waiting for her to ask me, “Is it safe?”
When it was all said and done, she had measured a total of 7 spots – 3 on my left breast, and 4 on my right, though there were others that I guess were so small that they didn’t require measuring.
Oh look… here comes the doctor to read the results and tell me how long I’ve got to live.
“Hi Jen, I’m Dr. You’re Screwed.” She talks to the technician for a minute, and looks at the results. Then she picks up the ultrasound thingy (oh hell no, not again…) and goes right for the painful lump.
“Do you see this black spot here?” she asked, pointing to the dark area on the monitor. “It’s a cyst. It shows up dark because it’s liquid rather than a solid mass.”
In a few short minutes with the doctor, I learned that I had wasted nearly 2 weeks of my life being unbelievably depressed and stressed out, and that my “cancer” was nothing more than clusters of harmless cysts, allegedly caused by my affinity for coffee. Sweet baby jesus, I love my life!
Since it was causing discomfort, the doctor went ahead and aspirated the large cyst on my left breast, which was no picnic, but at least I’m now pain free. She also half-joked with me that without these cysts, my breasts would actually be smaller than they are now… so, um… yay me?
Long story short (too late, I know, lol!), we all have been affected by breast cancer, in one way or another – even if it was in our heads. That’s why it’s SO important that we are proactive when it comes to our own breast health.
According to breastcancer.org, this year alone, an estimated 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 61,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. But on the upside (yes, there actually IS an upside), breast cancer also has a 5-year survival rate of 98% with early detection. The American Cancer Society recommends:
- Yearly mammograms at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
- A breast exam about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
- And that all women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and should report ANY breast change promptly to their doctor or nurse. Breast self-exam is recommended (at least once a month) for women starting in their 20s.
Don’t be like me and assume that just because (so far) only other women have gotten breast cancer, and that you don’t need to take any preventive measures, because you DO. And if for whatever reason you need a mammogram… don’t make excuses – GET ONE!
“Cancer doesn’t run in my family, so I don’t need a mammogram.” Said the very first woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Mammograms hurt.” Don’t be such a baby! Breast cancer hurts far worse… AND it can kill you!
“I don’t have time.” Then make time! Unless your employer is a total asshole, you should be able to use a personal or sick day to take care of your lady business. If you can’t do that, schedule your mammogram during lunch one day. And if you can’t do that – quit… because no job is as valuable as your life.
“I don’t have the money.” Mammograms are 100% covered by most insurance carriers, however if that doesn’t apply to you, there are numerous programs which offer free or discounted mammograms and/or flexible payment options. Just call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for information about facilities in your area.
The fight against breast cancer starts with YOU, my peeps. Along with regular breast exams with your doctor, perform monthly self-exams and report any changes to your doctor immediately. You can also help spread awareness by sharing this post with all of the fabulous women in your life :-)