It’s not my first… this one makes number five since I started growing fibroadenomas in 1994, if you’re keeping score, which I suppose I am.
Lumps suck. Lumps are scary, not supposed to be there, infuriating, disempowering and defeminizing. In my case, so far, they have all come through pathology with labels that are always somewhat “unique,” but also, thankfully, always something other than cancer. But no matter how much my body seems determined to make ambulatory surgery with local anesthesia and IV sedation a hobby, I have never gotten used to it.
My last lump adventure was in 2005. It was a seven appointments long, high-stress, multiple-biopsied extravaganza which culminated in the surgical removal of two “areas of concern.” In the end, my “atypical apocrine-like cells” were passed around to several pathologists at two different teaching hospitals, and ultimately labeled as indeterminate and rare, but most likely benign anomalies.
So here I am with four surgical scars and deeply insulted breasts, but also with my (“most likely”) good health and an ever growing secret stash of four-leaf clovers and lucky pennies.
Five weeks or so ago, I found a new lump. One would think I’d be downright religious by now about regularly checking myself, but with all my scar tissue and surgical troughs, I find it almost impossible to tell whether or not there’s anything different going on from month to month. I’m not very good about checking. But this sucker was big. A good inch and a half across. I was horrified as I realized, a day or so after I found it, that I could see the lump in a mirror at my gym, through two layers of fabric, mid bicep-curl.
These things get scarier as I get older. While I know that statistics are on my side and that the vast majority of lumps are benign, I also know that the numbers get slightly less favorable when lumps appear after age 40. I have not spent the past five weeks worried sick about cancer — I know that would be highly unlikely, and have instead used my negative energy worrying about surgery. But it’s still impossible to completely quiet the “what ifs.” They have a way of murmuring and whispering their way through each day until the final post-surgical pathology report comes in, no matter how much the odds tell them to shut the hell up.
As a doctor’s kid, I was well-taught to comfort myself with the knowledge that “medicine is all odds.” I know that getting ahead of myself with worry takes a physical toll as well as an emotional one, so for the most part, I try to focus on the procedure itself and the pain-in-the-assedness of it all, rather than get caught up in the possibility that I may be in for a longer, far more difficult journey in the case of any malignancy. So I tend to walk into pre-surgical appointments feeling fairly confident. “Yeah, I know the drill,” I think to myself, having been here several times before.
But then, something always cues those damned murmurings. The “Understanding Breast Cancer” poster in the exam room, or the sterile white room itself, which someone has attempted to soften with sparsely placed home decor, including a framed landscape scene of a barn in a field of bluebonnets. The wall art is oddly soothing in its serenity, until one notices its awkward placement near a needle disposal box marked “BIOHAZARD.” I appreciate the efforts to smooth out the rough edges of a sterile environment, but also find it darkly humorous.
Ultrasound. Unsettling statements like, “here’s what concerns us” and “possible solid mass” and “next week’s surgical schedule.” Mammogram and second ultrasound to confirm findings.
Fill the fridge with groceries. Take the kids swimming. Pretend there’s not a golf ball-sized lump in the left half of my swimsuit top. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
Click on either title to link to: