*Spoiler Alert: I’m talking about my boobs in this blog post.
The first thing I want to state clearly before anything else is that I am in no way claiming to identify with the very painful, unexpected, and challenging struggle that real breast cancer survivors deal with on a regular basis. I do not have breast cancer. I’ve never had breast cancer. With God’s grace, I won’t ever have breast cancer. But if the events I went through on February 17, 2016 are any indication – any slight glimpse or small slice – of the earth shattering effect this disease can have on one’s life, then please know that all cancer sufferers have no choice but to be strong, even if they appear weak to outsiders. I respected all of you before, but this experience only furthered my admiration of your courage.
Next, if you couldn’t tell by the date, it’s taken me a while to come to a place where I can write about this on this blog. Am I embarrassed? Maybe a little. Logically, that doesn’t make sense, but shame and fear don’t have to be based in logic in order to happen. I think that it’s been hard for me to find the words to tell this story, and still is. I’m going to do my best right now:
On the morning of February 16th, I awoke and began my exercise routine as usual. My breasts were tender, which was pretty typical for where I was in my cycle for the month, so I didn’t give it much thought.
I did my workout as best I could, incorporating jacks and burpees where Shaun T required, but as the 25-minute workout wore on, the tenderness in my left breast morphed into pain. It was a dull pain, but still pain. It discouraged me from jumping by the time I was at the end because I didn’t want to feel the sting.
As the day carried on, the pain worsened, and on the morning of February 17th, I couldn’t lie on my stomach, couldn’t change bras, couldn’t face the showerhead, and couldn’t run, jump, dance, or do movements that incorporated impact. Any movement I made was painful, so I tried to keep still. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain I’ve ever experienced (dry labor with Kennedy) I would say my pain level was at an 8. I was crying.
I told Fabian what was happening and his mind raced to panic. He’s not a hysterical person, ever, but he immediately began fearing the worst. Rather than drive myself crazy Googling symptoms and trying to diagnose myself, I made a tearful call to my gynecologist to ask if there was any way I could be seen that day.
Thankfully, there was an opening just two hours later, and I took the appointment. I left Fabian at home to watch Kennedy while I went because I didn’t feel like having her come to the doctor with me (I think the original plan was to leave her with my dad, but he was unavailable at the time).
My gynecologist examined me and observed nothing out of the ordinary. No lumps, no breaking of the skin, and no engorgement, so he referred me to an imaging center for a mammogram and ultrasound “just in case.”
Just in case? At the time, I was only 31. I had just finished with the MBA program and I was in the best shape of my life! This couldn’t possibly be happening to me.
I sobbed as I walked down the hallway to the elevators and through the lobby out to the parking garage where my car was parked. I sobbed as I turned the key over and started the engine, plugged the address for the mammography place into my phone and drove the 1.5 miles from my starting location. As I parked my car in the parking lot, I started to get angry.
I walked into the clean, pretty building and was greeted by a woman who seemed distracted but still interested in completing her job as receptionist, or medical assistant, or file clerk…I’m not sure what her official title was. She handed me a clipboard with what seemed like endless forms to fill out, and I angrily scribbled all 20 letters of my first and last name onto them along with my address, phone number, emergency contact info, any allergies, and whether or not I had a family history of breast cancer. [Side note: Breast pain is NOT an indication of breast cancer.]
Fueling my anger was the seemingly careless banter of the women behind the front desk. Looking back, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, but it was still inappropriate for them to be smack-talking one another as they’d trade places entering and exiting the area as they completed their duties. I don’t want to hear that on a normal day, let alone when I’m anxiously awaiting my first-ever mammogram and breast ultrasound. I wrote a complaint about this.
A technician called me back after what seemed like an eternity, showed me to a room, and instructed me to change into a smock that she provided. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. It was certainly roomy enough to provide me adequate coverage, and the pattern was a nice touch, and it even looked like it was handmade. I thought that it might be daunting to have the job of sewing smocks for patients to wear before mammograms. Your creation could be the last thing that person wears before being told about a life-changing diagnosis (Can you tell the weight of this scenario made me crumble just a bit?).
Nonetheless, I detested the smock. I also detested that I’d been moved to another place to sit and wait again. No more effing waiting, okay? Just get the test over with so I can go home and hide for a month. Please just let me go. Please tell me this is some nightmare I will wake up from. Please make this pain go away.
The mammogram was first. Mad props to all women over 40, and all the others who have had to have this procedure done. It hurts. It’s awkward. It’s not quick. The technician, who was honestly very sweet and kind, maneuvered my breast onto a glass plate to be crushed in order to capture the image. There was a grab bar for me to hold on to, and I mostly just stared at the ceiling, trying not to fall apart, wincing with pain. Though my issue was localized to one side, both breasts were examined, and both hurt. After that procedure was done, I was taken to another room for the ultrasound. My gynecologist must’ve written STAT onto my order, because one of the doctors stood in while the ultrasound technician did my scan. I’ve never enjoyed ultrasounds. Outside of getting to see glimpses of my baby while I carried her, the components of an ultrasound are not compatible with my preferences. First there’s that jelly. Ew. Then there’s the probe. Always cold! Then there’s the pressure that seems to always accompany. I get that you need to see things closer, but ow! As an anxious woman with strict personal bubbles, this stuff makes me depressed.
As the technician probed both breasts for the ultrasound, the doctor was able to confirm that the tissues appeared normal. I asked the doctor to look again, and the ultrasound tech moved the probe over my left breast slowly once more at my request. I peeked at the screen more closely as I winced from the sensation of touch. I’m no doctor, but I didn’t see anything suspicious either. He confirmed again that things were normal, and gave me information for what would happen with follow up. I left in a better mood, but still in pain. I taught Cize that night, but I don’t know how.
The conclusion of this ordeal was that my pain was connected to a hormonal shift. I’ve not experienced anything like it since, and hadn’t before. I had my hormone levels tested shortly afterward, and was told that everything is normal, to my surprise. I’ve anticipated starting menopause early due to the medical history of women in my family, but I was told that I’m not in that stage or near it right now.
After all was said and done, I felt grateful, shaken, and humbled. Medically, I was fine. Emotionally, I had to prepare to be. Physically…I’m okay.