This last week has continued the ugh factor. Hubby had a health scare that started with a trip to the dentist for a cracked tooth and ended up in the ER for BP so high most normal people would have dropped from a heart attack or stroke. Thankfully he has a very strong heart, defying the doctors’ observations that he shouldn’t have been able to walk around. After several tests and a lot of history taking, he’s going to have to have a sleep study (snoring=oxygen deprivation=elevated blood pressure), change his allergy medications (allergy meds containing decongestant have a decongestant WAY too strong and will elevate blood pressure, even if it’s only taken once a week), be more careful about his diet (can’t eat like a teenager/got to watch salt intake), needs to lose about 15 pounds, get more/better sleep and manage his stress level. Hopefully once all the above modifications/remedies are applied, he will need minimal medication. All the appointments/followups are scheduled, I bought a blood pressure monitor to take his BP daily since we have to keep a log, researched foods that are helpful in lowering blood pressure as well as what to avoid, etc. You’d think all of the above would have been enough, right?
Okay, if you’re not female, LEAVE NOW. You have been warned.
In the middle of all the above, over the last 3 to 4 days I began having intermittent pain in my right breast. Not stabbing or excruciating pain, but kind of like a dull tenderness, with a weird heat/burning sensation from inside. No heat detectable on the skin surface, etc. I get breast tenderness right before my period anyway, so I wasn’t really paying attention, especially since I was worried to death over hubby. But the intermittent heat sensation got my attention since I had never experienced that before. It kind of felt like when you rub Ben-Gay on your skin, that type of warmth. In the shower I kind of felt around but didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary.
Night before last I take my shower and hubby and I go to bed. He’s just gone to sleep and I get that darned pain/heat sensation again. I reach up to rub the area and my world stops. What The F**k Is THAT??? It was such a shock I jerked my hand away as a cold sweat broke out over my body. My mind starts racing–I do self breast exams, and I don’t ever remember feeling anything like what I just felt. Taking a deep breath, I reach over and examine my left breast. A little tender, nothing out of the ordinary. I go over to the right. OMG. There is definitely something there, and it is NOT small. With my medical background I know to pay attention to anything that feels rock-like, and if you’re considering something like breast cancer, the smaller, the better. This isn’t like a pellet, or a pea, but it isn’t like a rock, either. It shifts when I press on it, but it spans from one side of the areola to the other. I am submerged in pure, unadulterated fear. Considering all that has gone on over the prior few days, I am NOT going to wake up hubby and tell him this, no way, no how. So, I spent the entire night consumed in suffocating panic, getting a grand total of two hours sleep (a generous estimate).
The morning comes and I take the munchkin to school. I had mentioned to hubby earlier in the week before his problems flared that I was having an intermittent tenderness in my breast. Not wanting to launch him into a total panic, I tried to play it nonchalant. Since I was due for a Pap smear and mammogram anyway, and my boob was kinda sorta bothering me, I was going to see if the internal medicine doctor he went to could see me that day. I knew my regular GYN couldn’t squeeze me in on such short notice. I called, they said come on in. I gave hubby a hug and kiss, said I’d be back shortly and headed on out.
By the time I got to the doctor’s office I was in a full blown panic. They have a few different practitioners there, and the nurse told me the lady who saw hubby wouldn’t be in until the following day–they only had male docs there that day, but I could come back tomorrow if I wasn’t comfortable seeing a man. Trust me, at this point they could have done a breast and pelvic exam with half the city present–I didn’t care. The guy was really nice, had a detailed discussion about what was going on before we got down to the nitty gritty. First was a visual inspection, looking for any dimpling, etc. Then he starts out on the left breast since it was the “normal” one–everything felt fine. He goes over to the right side, works from the outside in. He got to that one part and immediately said he could feel what I had felt. Trying to calm me, he said it wasn’t what he’d call a huge mass. By this time I’m praying he’s going to say less than 2.5 cm–that seems to be the magic number as far as size versus spread if it’s something bad. He traces the perimeter and says he thinks it’s about 1 to 1.5 cm. He then proceeds to do the pelvic exam, the nurse assists with all the fun stuff, and we’re done. He immediately writes orders for a mammogram and ultrasound and tells me he wants me to go straight over to the radiologist. After making sure he’s recorded a full description of my symptoms, he decides to draw blood work while I’m still there…just in case. It would be one less test we’d have to wait on if I needed to have further procedures. Trust me–I am not married to my boobs. If push comes to shove, take them off. They can always rebuild me a pair of perky B cups if necessary.
Orders are written and faxed, blood is drawn, and they give me the paperwork to take to the radiologist. They have several offices so I go to the one where I’ve gotten a mammogram before. Turns out they only do screening mammograms–the diagnostic mammograms and ultrasound are done at another office, but thankfully it’s just down the street. I call hubby, tell him I’m going to be a while. By this time he realizes something is not kosher. I let him know they definitely felt something, so I’m going to go get squished so they can have a better idea what it is. I’m trying to joke so as not to elevate his blood pressure, but damn it’s hard.
I get to the other office and thankfully they’ve already received the fax from the doctor. Looking at his notes they immediately squeeze me into the schedule. At first they said it was going to be an hour, and since the waiting room was packed I thought that was being generous. Fifteen minutes later they were calling my name. They take you back, you change into a gown that has three armholes–put it on like a robe with the opening to the front and then the extra panel comes across the front and you slide your left arm through a second time. Then you’re led to a second waiting area filled with other women in the same garb. I had been scared shitless…until I sat down. Suddenly the most amazing calm settled over me–it was instantaneous, and something I definitely couldn’t ignore. All anxiety, all fear, all tension was just *poof*–gone. That little voice speaks up, and I just knew someone was there with me. As I wondered to myself who it would be, I turned to look at the table beside me that held the usual pile of magazines. What was at the very top? The catalogue for the Vermont Country Store. Immediately I knew…it was my grand Aunt Vern. I could almost hear her as well as feel her arm across my shoulders, telling me everything was going to be okay, it wasn’t what I was afraid of, etc. Her presence would further be reinforced by a later experience in that same waiting room.
They call me back for the diagnostic mammogram. The woman goes over my symptoms, the location of the mass as well as confirming I’m, well, me. She very carefully positions me, apologizes for the squishing, and I just tell her ‘you do what you gotta do, I’m good’. She does right top and side, left top and side, then another view of the right. They’ve also found my previous mammogram I had done there two years ago. I’m sent back out to the gowned waiting room until they’re ready to do the ultrasound. There’s a lady in there who strikes up a conversation with me. She’s there for followup of a breast cyst, as well as having other radiological studies done for other issues. When she was a little girl, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (in 1964). She ended up having a radical mastectomy on the affected breast–scar from top to bottom as well as into the armpit where they removed the lymph nodes. She didn’t have any chemo or radiation, and never had a recurrence. She lived to the ripe old age of 86. She never hid her scars, had a prosthesis she’d slip into her bra, and was very open about the whole thing, which in turn ended up helping her offspring when they had to face their own health scares. I told her what had happened to me over the past 3-4 days, the doctor confirming the mass, etc. She told me to just put into God’s hands and it would work out (which is what Aunt Vern would have told me, as well as the conversation that followed). We talked about what we knew about mastectomies as well as reconstructions, etc. She told me her hubby was a boob man, but didn’t mind if she needed to have anything removed because it meant her being healthy. I told her my hubby loves my boobs, but he loves my butt even more, so it wasn’t a big deal either way. An elderly lady three chairs down from us chimed in, “And we never get cancer in our butts, do we? You never hear about any woman having her butt removed, or her thighs. Our butts and thighs hang around for-ev-er!” That was SO Aunt Vern, it was unmistakable–it was like she was sitting there in the flesh. By this time we were all laughing so hard we were about to fall on the floor. At this moment the tech came out and called me to come do the ultrasound. The lady patted my hand and told me “honey, everything’s gonna be okay.”
I go in and the lady explains how the ultrasound is done. I get settled on the table and she pulls up some images on the screen on the side table–images of my right breast mammogram from two years ago and from a few minutes ago. For just a few seconds my stomach totally drops–the one from two years ago looks ‘normal’, while the one from a few minutes ago has a whitish mass filling about one third of the front of my breast. Before I can say anything, she tells me it looks like the thing is a cyst because it’s not solid, but fluid-filled. She’s going to do an ultrasound on both sides to get a clearer look at what’s there. She definitely took her time and did a very detailed examination–much, much longer than a mammogram takes. When she was done I got to go back out to the gowned waiting room while the radiologist goes over all the images. The lady I had talked with before is still there, and I let her know they think it’s a cyst, which she goes on to assure me that everything would be fine. You can have cysts for years, etc, and they’re just bothersome. Just for future reference, though, she pulls out one of her business cards and writes the name of a doctor on the back, a female breast surgeon who has an excellent reputation and plenty of experience. At that time she’s called in for her ultrasound, I wish her luck and we part ways.
A little while later the technician comes out and calls me back, exactly fourteen hours after I found the mass. She takes me back to the dressing room where my things are at and proceeds to go over the findings with me. I have a large cyst in my right breast, and from the size/pressure, that’s what’s causing my symptoms. She says they usually occur in women from the age of 35 to 50, right around the time of peri-menopause, affected by the shifting hormone levels, etc. She says they usually don’t rupture on their own, but can shrink and puff up at random. I finally asked her the critical question–is it cancer? She said no, the fluid filled ones are just cysts, to which I immediately broke out into a happy dance. After fourteen hours of hell, it was more than fitting to do a happy dance. She told me that actually both of my breasts had cysts, most of which were small. However, there were a few that had “debris” in them, not showing as completely clear/just fluid filled. Those were of concern, and they want me to come back in six months for a followup ultrasound to see if those have changed any. I told her I didn’t have a problem with that at all, I would be back right there in six months. One might question why I wasn’t scared/alarmed by what she told me about the “debris” ones. The fact is, I know the earlier you catch breast cancer, the higher the chance you have of a cure. Right now they’re seeing something they can only see on ultrasound–it’s not even showing up on the mammogram. If it does grow in the next six months, if they have to do a biopsy and they see malignant changes, go ahead and take those suckers off. I will not have a lumpectomy–I would not be able to handle the stress of having to go back again and again, seeing if anything else has popped up…that would drive me insane. Do a double mastectomy, build me a new pair, and I’ll be good to go.
Right now I’m celebrating being advanced cancer-free. A large tumor is never a good thing. Dust-sized particles I can deal with, because that’s the earliest phase possible. From here on out, I’m good to go.
Ladies, please, get the mammogram done. It’s inconvenient, somewhat uncomfortable, but if you find a problem early, it means you have a chance to get it taken care of and continue on with life. It is SO worth it!