I Found a Lump in Breast: Ten Lessons Learned

I’m one of those people with over 600 friends on Facebook. I don’t think this makes me awesome or popular. In fact, I’ve read in social psychology studies that I’m a glut by half. No, there’s no way I can be close to over 600 people. I’m kinda lazy. There’s no way I can be close to even 60 people.

Yet, I’m 31 and have a collection of Facebook friends I’ve known through the years, some since I was 5.

I don’t share an overwhelming amount of personal information on the Internet. My heartbreaks are not public news. I don’t air my professional frustrations or gripes about friends and acquaintances. The personal things I have shared, the death of my father and my struggle with depression, are things I feel might be able to help others, and writing about it helps me. It’s a bit like distance group therapy.

So, when I found a lump in my breast last month, it wasn’t originally anything I planned to talk about except to my closest friends. Even then, I wasn’t even very forthcoming with them, only my boyfriend, who levitated out of the bed when I woke him up to tell him about my discovery.

My appointment morning came, along with a sustained panic attack. I wasn’t quite sure I could drive, as my leg began to shake and seemed too weak to hit the gas pedal. When the doctor asked me if I drink a bunch of caffeine, I burst into strange idiotic laughter and told her I’m shaking because I’m nervous.
“About the mass?”
No, about Ireland’s chances in the Euro 2012, obviously. Then I almost threw up on her.
Apparently, she asked not because I was so jittery, but because caffeine increases instances of breast lumps.
Oh, great. I drink caffeine about once a week, if that. No lump of joe for me.

So, I went home with what now felt like a burning knot in my boob and an appointment for Thursday for a mammogram and ultrasound.

Then, I really began to freak out. This might have been because we had progressed into using the term “mass”. Lump sounds much less threatening. A lump sits on the couch and doesn’t count for anything. A mass is heavy. It starts wars, does damage.

So, I did what everyone does. I googled it.

“What to expect from a mammogram.” I have heard older women bemoan them all my life. I could only think of a particularly unhelpful mammogram scene from Weeds. My search results ended in, what I can compress into, it’s pinchy.

There were also the different kinds of masses it could be. Yahoo answers was full of people who had information to offer. Is the lump a lumpy lump, or smooth? Is it moveable? (This made me imagine a barnacle anchored to my rib cage). Is it hard? Is it attached to my milk duct?

What? I accidentally found this thing while soaping up in the shower at 4:30 in the morning with a minor headache from an extra glass of wine the night before. I swear when I felt that lump that “thump thump” sound you hear on TV when the plot just turned serious echoed in my ears. I completely ignored it for that entire Saturday. My boob had become a hostile invader. I wouldn’t even look for the lump until the next day.

Lumps can be cancer, or caused by a fall that jarred your ribs. My freaking unborn twin could be worming its way out of my breast tissue. I imagined a gnarly mess of toenails and buck teeth scraping and biting its way to freedom. I would name her Madge.

I turned to Facebook, with a built in apology for those that thought I may just want to use Madge for attention. I said I am normally really private about this type of thing, but I have a few days of worrying about this lump before finding out what it might be, and I was driving myself nuts with worry.

And then Facebook exploded.

The Internet definitely brings the worst out in people. It’s a great curtain to hide behind and let loose the nastiest of demons creeping through our personalities. It also does the exact opposite. It’s easier to be the person you want to be on the Internet, and most of us want to be loving, nice and wonderful people, but we’re shy. In real life, you reach out and may be rejected. That’s so much harder face to face rather than on a screen.

I received comments and messages from so many women and men. People I knew well, and those I hadn’t seen in years. People from high school prayed for me. One friend wrote me every day with a countdown to my appointment saying, another day down!

Several people also said they thought it was great that I decided to talk about it. Why mention your crappy boss all over Facebook, but not reach out about something important, like cancer? So, here’s a blog, another way to reach out. Maybe another girl will google just like I did and it will make her feel a bit more comfortable.

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Here is what I’ve learned:

1. An extraordinary amount of women have had this exact same experience. For some, it was a cyst. Others, a benign tumor. Some women had cancer. Some very lucky women found their long lost twin. I would SO keep that in a jar on my desk.

2. CHECK YOUR BOOBS. I found my lump by accident. I will now constantly feel myself up for suspicious twin sisters trying to bore their way out of my chest.

3. You’re not allowed to wear deodorant for your mammogram. This is particularly awkward, as you and the technician get terribly close while cramming your ladies into strange and unique positions, then slamming them between two plates. All the nerves and contortions make you stink, and you’re very aware of it.

4. Yes, mammograms suck, but you’re a woman, and that means you can handle it.

5. The boobs are placed in a medieval torture device, clamped down to the point where you think you just may scream, and the you are asked to hold your breath. I found that to be the worst part. Then they do this OVER AND OVER AGAIN in increasingly difficult positions.

6. If possible, schedule your mammogram when you are not in the part of your cycle when your breasts are sensitive. Mine weren’t, so the most pain came from the skin of my neck being pulled in unnatural ways, not the actual squishing.

7. Ask the tech if you can see the pictures coming up. They can’t say anything to you about the scans, but you can see them, and I thought that helped.

8. After a mammogram, the ultrasound is like going to a spa!

9. Keep perspective when you see that mass on the screen.

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That HUMONGAZOID dark spot in the photos to the upper right is Madge. She’s only two centimeters in diameter, give or take, yet when I saw that sonogram, I wondered why I hadn’t needed to order a specialized bra to carry my twin around.

10. Talk to your friends. Chances are, you know a bunch of lumpy people. If it is cancer, people will be there to help you. They will always surprise you with how caring they are, even if they’re not you’re closest friends.

By the way, Madge was diagnosed as a Fibroadenoma. I’m having it removed tomorrow. I plan to tell people the scar is from a breast reduction. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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