…but there’s definitely something there. You need to get it checked out. What are you doing after this?’ And so begins my morning of Googling ‘breast biopsy’ and touching my boob a lot.
I love my gynecologist (Dr. Jennifer Alderman at the Gainesville Gynecology Group if you’re in Gainesville and looking.). I’ve been going to her for about ten years, seeing her once a year like clockwork. She’s super cool, speaks to me frankly without seeming cold, asks the right questions, and gives the right answers. I saw her yesterday and everything was business as normal until my breast exam. ‘Have you felt this lump?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t remember feeling anything like this on you before.’
I hadn’t felt it. I don’t do regular self exams. I know I should. I do it when I think about it. I do. But that’s only once every few months. But I don’t think I would have caught this lump if I *did* do self-exams. Dr. Alderman had me feel it, and while I definitely did feel something there, it’s not how I expected a lump to feel. I expected it to feel as hard as a rock, probably spherical, and pretty small. This lump is firm, but somewhat soft. It kind of feels like a muscle in comparison to the slightly softer tissue around it. It’s about the size of my thumb which seems huge to me. It definitely moves separately from the tissue around it. But I really don’t think I would have noticed it without Dr. Alderman showing me right were it is.
The doctor wanted a mammogram and ultrasound done immediately. She was firm, without being alarming. She was serious when she asked me what I was doing after this appointment. I did have to go back to work to finish something up before the weekend, but the GYN office made an appointment for me on Monday. Dr. Alderman explained to me that if something looks funky at the imaging center, they would send me for a biopsy. She was sure to make me understand that if the imaging center tells me everything looks clear and sends me on my way, I need to have a biopsy anyway. Turns out mammograms and ultrasounds are great at detecting changes in your breast, especially if you have an imaging history, but are pretty lousy at detecting the difference between all the different types of lumps and bumps that can live in your breast. So I was instructed to let her know immediately if the ultrasound center sent me away with a clean bill, and she would refer to me to someone for a biopsy.
As Dr. Alderman sent me on my way, I was feeling a little quirky. Not frightened. Not quite nervous. But there’s the whole unknown thing. Not the unknown of whether I have cancer or not (Nearly all lumps are completely benign. I don’t think I have cancer. If I do, well, we’ll deal with that when we find that out.), but the unknown of what happens behind the doors of a different doctor’s office. I’ve had mammograms before, so that’s fine. Right after the last one they whisked me into the next room to have an ultrasound, and that was kind of scary because it was unexpected. But I’ve never had a biopsy. I had a skin melanoma excised** from my left butt cheek about a year ago, and that ended up being a *lot* different than I expected it to be. I don’t want those kinds of surprises again. I want to know what to expect.
As I walked across the parking lot to my car, I remembered that Lorena had gone through a similar experience to this a couple of years ago. So I did what I do: I went straight to the Internet. Because Lorena does what she does: She writes. So I found her first post in a series about her mammogram, Lenny the Cyst, and her biopsy. I read most all of Lorena’s series on the way home at red lights and finished later in the evening. And Lorena, I want you to know that it helped! It helped me *so* much. I wasn’t sure if I’d write about this, but Lorena made a couple of really good points throughout her posts that I’d like to reiterate.
She found that when she started talking to ladies about her breast lump experience, many would surprisingly tell her, ‘I went through the same thing!’ It seems like this kind of lump/mammogram/biopsy thing happens pretty frequently, but for many reasons we don’t talk about it. I understand if one prefers to keep medical matters private. That is totally ok by me. But if you don’t care so much, as I don’t, I think we should make a point to talk about things like breast lumps. Talking and writing about it makes it much less frightening to others, and even to ourselves. Just writing this up this morning while I’ve clicked around on biopsy sites has made me feel tremendously more at ease with whatever next week brings me. I have a better idea of what’s going to happen, so I’m not as nervous and my mind isn’t racing the way it was last night when I went to bed.
Also, my lump is completely different from Lorena’s. Hers was painful; mine is not. Hers is tiny; mine is larger. Hers turned out to be a cyst; I don’t think mine is. So the more we talk about all of these different lumps and bumps and breast stuff, the more we realize that there are all kinds of things that can go on in there, and nearly all the time these things are perfectly fine and not cancer.
So the good news is that I have a couple of baseline mammograms on file so there will be something to compare the new one to. I’ll find out what kind of biopsy I’ll have before I go to that appointment so that I can research that a bit and know what to expect. And then everything will be fine and dandy and life will move right along. I really kind of hope it’s a mass of hair and teeth, but I doubt if I’ll be that lucky.
**Edited to add: I really had no idea what I was getting into with that one. No one told me I’d be having a ‘wide excision’. I thought they would just shave some more of the mole off, similar to how they did the shave biopsy, but just go a little deeper. Chris asked me if I wanted him to go with me, and at first I declined. But thought about it for a minute and thought it’d be a good idea. I like having him around. So when we ended up on the surgical ward I was so confused. I wasn’t having surgery. I was just having a mole removed! Things were a lot more invasive than I imagined. I ended up with like seven or eight stitches. If you’re interested, here’s a great blog post documenting someone else’s wide excision: http://martinfamilyjourney.blogspot.com/2013/11/caution-graphic-photos.html
I did get ice cream after that one, though. Always a bonus.