We need to talk about breasts. Not in a sexy way (sorry follks, wasn’t blessed with a sexy bone in this body), but rather in a clinical way.
You see, I have a lump in one of my breasts. I’ve had it for about five or six years. When I first noticed it, I rushed to a GP (but not my usual doctor because it felt so damn awkward telling him) to get the lump looked at. Because there was family history — my Mum’s older sister was diagnosed in her late-30s with breast cancer and eventually died from it — I was scheduled to have an ultrasound and a core biopsy. You know, just to check things out.
After the tests, it was concluded that it was a fibroadenoma. In fact, I have several of them in both breasts. Fibroadenomas are not cancerous, I was told, but I should still keep an eye on the dominant lump and see a GP if I notice any changes. I’ve had one or two more ultrasounds in-between, but this year the lump just felt so much bigger than I remembered.
(Oh, I should warn you, there’s a tiny bit of blood involved. So, if you’re squeamish, maybe you should sit this one out).
I kept feeling the lump and confirming with myself that it had grown bigger, but I wasn’t brave enough to see my GP about it. I always had a reason to not go. “It’s probably nothing,” I kept telling myself. However, I couldn’t shake the thought that the lump was bigger. So I eventually saw my GP, who referred me for an ultrasound. And then referred me to a Breast Surgeon. Who referred me for another ultrasound, a mammogram and a core biopsy. Talk about being poked and prodded.
The ultrasound is fine. It’s painless. The worst thing would be that the gel they use is cold. One time, the Radiographer warmed up the gel beforehand and I could have hugged them for it. It really made a difference. For the ultrasound, you really just lie there while they scan your breast and take screenshots of any anomalies they find (in my case, the multiple fibroadenomas).
The mammogram was different. I’ve never had one done before. They rarely do it for people under 40 because they don’t want you unncecessarily exposed to the radiation. The Mammographer actually went to double-check before we started to see if the referral was correct. Also, apparently, if you’re younger the breast tissue is more dense and therefore it’s more painful. I can’t really compare, but I will say that it hurt. Really hurt. They basically squash your breast into a pancake.
My core biopsy was done the following week. I vaguely recall the process the first time so knew what to expect, but there’s one thing I didn’t remember: blood. Blood everywhere. Okay, not everywhere, but definitely there. Of course it’s there. The Doctor is poking a needle into your breast to get to a lump, and then pinching a piece of that lump. Don’t worry, they give you a local anaesthetic. And the Doctor was professional about it, explaining in detail how the procedure would take place and what to expect. It did, unfortunately, take several attempts for them to get two good samples to send off. I asked the Assistant to have a look at my specimens, which I’m sure they thought was weird but they obliged. To me, it looked similar to a short white strand of cotton thread with its fibres coming out. It sunk to the bottom of the jar of light blue fluid it was in.
I was advised not to do any heavy lifting for two days and not get the area wet for 24hrs. All well and good, except the bleeding didn’t really stop. The original bandage they placed over the wound was definitely getting fuller. Thankfully, my GP was a phone call away and after their advice I managed to patch myself up. I had some very minor bleeding for the next three days, and the area was definitely sore, but I didn’t need to take any pain-killers for it. Although, I did change how I got dressed, drove and other day-to-day things.
After what felt like the longest three weeks of my life, I finally returned to see the Breast Surgeon who reviewed the results of my biopsy. It’s still presenting as a fibroadenoma, and they ruled out any form of cancer or tumour (in particular, a phyllodes tumour). What a relief. We discussed the results and where to go from here and I decided to have the lump removed. As the Breast Surgeon explained, they wouldn’t normally advocate removing a fibroadenoma, but mine has been growing steadily for years. And the sooner it’s removed, the smaller the scar will be.
So I’m now on a waiting list for day surgery to have the lump removed. I’m not worried about the surgery leaving a scar, although I am worried about it possibly developing a keloid. But there’s no point worrying about that just yet. My Mum is more anxious about it than I am, which I guess is normal because:
- she’s a mum, and mums worry about their kids no matter how old they are; and,
- she watched her older sister slowly get taken away by breast cancer.
I’m not going to lie though. Even though I’m aware the lump is a fibroadenoma and non-cancerous, I still get anxious about it. I know there are others who have it a lot worse than I do. I recently found some statistics which indicate that 1 in 8 women will risk being diagnosed with breast cancer, and in 2011 it was the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. I’ve read elsewhere that, on average, 7 women die from breast cancer each day. So far, I’ve dodged the statistics. And for that, I feel so lucky. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like had I received bad news.
So this has been my experience so far. Thank you for reading all the way through. If you have any questions, I’m happy to try and answer them as best as I can, but I am definitely no expert. If you have your own story to share, please let me (and other readers) know in the comments below.
Also, I realise that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ll be completely honest and say that I didn’t write this post to raise awareness for the campaign. It’s just my personal health issue I’m going through at the moment, and writing about it makes me feel less anxious. If reading about it makes you take positive action in some small way, then that’s a bonus.
I’d recommend monthly breast self-examinations. I’m not sure when for men (because, yes, men are at risk of getting breast cancer too), but I was once told that for women, doing a self-exam about a week after your period is the best time. If you notice any changes, do not hesitate (like I did) to see your local GP and ask for further testing. If you’re feeling generous, you can choose to donate to the Breast Cancer Network Australia or the National Breast Cancer Foundation (both Australian sites, but I’m sure you can find your country’s equivalent courtesy of Google).