Nine Words

There are some words you never want to hear.

“You have a small lump on your left breast,” said while your gynecologist is feeling you up, are among them.

I probably don’t do it every month,
precisely, but I try.
I handle the words rationally and maturely by deciding I’m going to die of breast cancer before my 29th birthday. (Which is a week away, at the time of this announcement.)
The doctor is much more positive about it. “It doesn’t feel suspicious,” she says, “but we’ll set you up with an ultrasound.” And she goes on to continue the conversation that we’d been having before the appearance of The Lump.
But I haven’t caught up with her. I’m still stuck on The Lump. Isn’t a lump, by its very nature, suspicious? (At this point, Rational Me is tsking in the back of my mind, very softly repeating the characteristics of suspicious lumps, but unwilling to force the issue until I’ve had my mini internal breakdown.) How could I not have felt it when I did my own exam a few weeks before? (I could swear it wasn’t there.)
I go through the rest of the appointment in a half-daze.

At the end of it, the nurse tells me “We’ll schedule the appointmentit probably won’t be todayand we’ll call you.”

It probably won’t be today, I think. I have a Lump. And you’re telling me you probably won’t schedule the appointment today?

Before I have the wherewithal to protest, I’m at the checkout station. The nice lady behind the counter (bless her) takes one look at the papers I hand over and says “We’ll see if we can get this scheduled for you before you leave,” then runs off to find the scheduler.

I’m called to another office and confirm that yes, I want the first available appointment.

That’s Monday at 8:30. It’s Friday afternoon. I have two days to wait.

I get out of the building and head to my car. The wind seeps under my sunglasses and makes my eyes water. In the car, I have to clean off my running eyeliner.

That evening, I tell Matt what’s up. And I’m all right. Until he hugs me. That’s when I give one of those embarrassing little hiccup sobs. And I blink like crazy trying to hold back the tears. But it doesn’t work.
Two days.
48 hours have never been so long.
I know the statistics. I’m under 30 (though just barely), which is in my favor. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family. And approximately 80% of lumps are benign.
But, whispers that little voice in the back of my head, the one that shares chromosome pairs with my Inner Critic, there’s always that 20%.And you’ve had two relatives die of two different cancers in the last three years. How’s luck working for your family?
I hate that little voice.
I wish I could murder it.
By Sunday evening, I’m alternating between being numb to the world and feeling like I could throw up.

I drink 7-Up and cuddle with Matt and the cats and binge on Daria and try to keep myself from poking at The Lump. (I’m surprised I haven’t bruised myself with all the poking and prodding I’ve done. Trying to assure myself that it’s still soft and mobile not hard and fixed.)

Sunday night (or, really, Monday morning), I fall asleep surprisingly quickly. (All the worrying and trying-not-to-worry is exhausting.) I wake up once, at 3 a.m., and then fall back asleep to dream of the Weeping Angels and the Doctor.
I think there was something to this dream. Haven’t figured it out yet.

The two of us are just about to head back into the angel infested mansion to do something incredibly stupid and brave and I give the Doctor a hug and say, “You know you’re loved, right?”
I wake up at that moment.
Two minutes later, my alarm goes off. (It’s the Doctor Who theme, incidentally.)
It’s 6 a.m.
We get to the Breast Center ten minutes after 8:00. Check in is speedy and they’ve got me gowned (I put it on backwards at first; that’s what happens when your gynecologist has you wear it with the opening to the back) and sitting in a back waiting room by 9:00.
The nurse comes to talk to me soon after, confirming that due to my age they’re going to do an ultrasound rather than a mammogram and she moves me to the appropriate waiting room.

I don’t know how long I wait. I jerk myself awake more than once before the tech, a woman probably not a lot older than me, comes to take me back for the ultrasound.

She asks me how I am and I answer honestly, “I’ve had better days.”

Breast ultrasound showing a small cyst
(via Wiki Commons)
She’s confident and reassuring and on feeling The Lump, immediately says, “That feels like a cyst, but we’ll make sure.”

I’ve had ultrasounds on my heart and carotid before, so I know what to expect.

She finds a cyst on my left breast. It’s not The Lump. It’s not even palpable. Perfectly normal. The lump, she says, as she moves the ultrasound wand, is a fat lobule. Sometimes they become “trapped” and you can feel them. 

(I’ve been stressing myself out over fat. How ironic.)

On the right breast, she finds a couple of cysts—“a little family”—and nothing else.
All perfectly normal, she assures, as I fight to wipe off the gel (it’s making the gown stick to me). But the radiologist will take a look at the scans and then she’ll be back with the final word.
I’m not sure how long I sit in the fourth and final waiting room. But it’s long enough that I start to get antsy and that little voice in the back of my head wonders if something showed suspicious on the films.
I tell it to shut up and concentrate on the table-top fountain, watching the water catch and stream off each copper leaf and pool on the rocks at the bottom.

And then there she is, with the Radiologist’s “okay.”

Cue, reaction:

I don’t need any follow up.

I’m informed that if I do notice anything in future self exams or have any problems (presumably with the cysts), I can call them and come in instead of having to go through my gynecologist. But other than that, they’ll expect me back for a baseline mammogram at 35.

It’s over.
In the waiting room, I tell Matt, practically deadpan, “it’s fat,” and he gives me a hug and says “Let’s go get coffee.”
Outside, the day looks brighter and greener and, for the first time in two days, I don’t feel like I have some carnivorous little creature devouring the lining of my stomach.

You know, as a writer, I think it’s important to have new experiences so that you can better capture them in words. I’ll even purposefully put myself in the path of experiences I think may be less than pleasurable (though not particularly harmful).

But there are some experiences I could definitely do without. 


25 thoughts on “Nine Words

  1. Wow. What a scary Ordeal. You Put it in Such great Words, (I Know that stupid Little voice In your head, seeking out your weak Spots and Enhancing the in an attempt to drive you crazy, and in most cases does.)
    I am So glad you are ok and everything worked out. That is wonderful news 😀


  2. Wow. I had a lump in my throat the entire time I was reading this and this is the first time I've ever been to your blog. Amazingly captured. I'm glad that everything turned out alright in the end.


  3. What a frightening experience! I had to have my first mammogram about 4 years ago and it was not nearly as painful as I expected. I was going in for a baseline mamo..not b/c there had been any kind of scare.


  4. Thank you. 

    I wouldn't wish that kind of thing on even my worst enemy or antagonist. 

    Now, I have to struggle to get back to that space between being vigilant and paranoid, when I do my monthly exams. 


  5. This experience is one that I hope to never go through and am sorry that you had too.  Unlike you, though, I have had great aunts on both sides have breast cancer…so it definitely runs through my family.  As I read, I almost wanted to stop and to a self examination (but that probably wouldn't be proper at work). Thanks for writing this and reminding me that I should probably be more proactive about it all.


  6. It's a fine line, I think, between being proactive and paranoid. I probably did self exams every couple of months, when I remembered. And now, I know I'm going to have to watch it in the coming months to keep from poking at myself constantly. :\

    Thanks for stopping by. 

    And take care. 


  7. Glad that everything came out okay – and yes, i completely agree, there are some experiences as a writer I would far rather imagine than actually go through. I'm way better at making stuff up than dealing with reality!


  8. Yay for fat! So glad that's all it was. And thanks for the reminder that I need to be better about giving myself self-exams. It makes me all squeemish because I'm afraid I'll find something!


  9. So scary! This reminded me so much of my own experience with a vaginal ultrasound not too long ago. I had worried myself silly over it, and it was nothing. NO-THING. I could have lived without that entire experience, too.

    Glad that it was just fat. That's one situation where fat is a GREAT thing! 


  10. That is so scary! I have “lumpy” boobs according to my OBGYN. I keep telling him that's not the best pick up line. I'm glad yours turned out to be fat. Bet you never thought you'd be glad to be diagnosed as “fat”. Ha! I have to start mamograms this year because of family history and I dread it. I'm really glad you are ok.


  11. “It makes me all squeemish because I'm afraid I'll find something!”

    Yes! That's why I hate going in for regular check ups. (Even though I know that's the best way to keep any nasty Something from getting worse.)

    And now, I'm going to be even more paranoid during my self exams. Boo.


  12. Great retelling of your story. It was gripping. So happy for you that everything worked out and I too wish you didn't have to go through this even if it produced a great post. Nice job, Erin


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