I am a fairly healthy person.
Sure, I don’t eat the healthiest and I’ll be the first to admit that I have a caffeine addiction, but overall, no major or chronic health issues. Since heading off to college, I’ve only visited the doctor a few times – once for an allergic reaction to my flu shot, once for whiplash after a car accident. Overall, I felt fine and tried to remember to eat an apple once in a while.
Towards the end of last year, I realized that I’d let life and complacency push back all my doctor’s appointments. I’d moved to a new city and finding a new doctor wasn’t exactly an exciting venture. But my contact prescription was expired. I needed new glasses. I needed to go to the dentist. It was time for my birth control to be updated. I hadn’t seen a GP in a while.
I decided to knock it all out and started with my GP for a general, routine physical. I remembered to bring up a small bump I’d felt in my left breast. It had been there for years. I’d never thought much of it.
My doctor frowned a little and directed me to bring it up when I visited my gynecologist, which was my next doctor on my list. She also told me to stop skipping my annual check-ups. I toddled over to a new gynecologist (yippee) and went through the annual routine, which I’d also been skipping. My reasons made sense to me — I have the birth control implant that lasts for three years and it worked for me, so I didn’t need a new prescription. I’d been in one long-term relationship since I became sexually active and my pap smear wasn’t due yet. After discussing the details of removing my current implant for a new one, my doctor examined my bump — which she corrected to lump.
She was fairly sure it was benign, but it needed to be checked. My eyes were massive at the word benign and my palms started sweating. I had to go to a diagnostic center and get an ultrasound. I made my appointment for as soon as possible, as I’m a worrier and waited impatiently in the waiting room.
The technician found the lump immediately and did the ultrasound photo before calling in the doctor. She was brusque and down to business — I was close to tears with worry. A natural worrier, I have a tendency to escalate when presented with an unknown. And this was an unknown. It didn’t help that at the same time, my mother-in-law was losing a battle with breast cancer, its second and aggressive occurrence within her. A mother through and through, she had told me not to worry, it was probably nothing, but make sure to get it checked.
The doctor informed me that it was definitely a tumor. If she saw my jaw drop, she didn’t say anything. She went on to describe the different types of tumors — for example, a mole and even freckles are also a tumors. It’s benign, but considered a tumor. Of course, I have moles and freckles so this fun-fact sharing was not really helping. She went on to describe the next step – to determine if it is cancerous or not. I had to come back in for a biopsy.
Somehow the immediate thought in my head was that I was really burning through my sick time at work with all these doctors appointments. I shook her hand, got dressed and went to my car. As is my habit, I immediately called my mother, who was fully informed with all the goings-on and promptly burst into tears.
My mom tried to comfort me, explaining that lumps are totally normal. Hell, she had them. She got them checked, they were nothing and she moved on. It wasn’t a big deal. When I asked if she had to have any biopsied, she was quiet for a minute before saying no.
At the exact same time this was going on, my younger sister went to the doctor and not one, but three lumps were found. Hers were painful. She and I had biopsy appointments for the same week. She lived in the same town as my mom, who had accompanied her to every appointment. I went alone and despite hearing from my mom, my mother-in-law, my sister and sister-in-law and complete support from my husband, it wasn’t quite the same.
My husband and my mom worked out a schedule. He’d take the day off work and take me to my biopsy appointment. She would drive all the way down to take me to my follow-up appointment, where they’d give me the results. The day came and I was terrified. The fact that my husband brought a book and sat in the Breast Diagnostic Center waiting room with the pink wallpaper and diagrams gave me a little joy.
The procedure was easy and relatively painless after the numbing shot. I got an ice pack and left 30 minutes after arriving. After the numbing solution went away, it hurt, but except for a small scar, I was fine.
A week passed and I called the center after not hearing from them. My results were not in. I had to wait. To this day, I still have the recorded video of my mother-in-law, now too weak to get out of bed, saying hello to my husband with her visiting relatives and concluding by saying she hoped I was doing okay and waiting was the worst part, but to update her when I heard. Because we all knew too well what could happen if it was diagnosed as cancer.
A few tortuous days passed before I got the call: non-cancerous.
The stress and anxiety dissipated and I finally breathed. I had to come back in for a six-month check-up to be sure that it wouldn’t turn malignant, but the immediate stress was gone. My sister emerged with the same results.
Today, I schedule my appointments regularly. I refrain from WebMD and Google searches. I promised myself to never assume a lump or bump or freckle is fine until it is checked and cleared. I encourage everyone to do the same – don’t wait.
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