But tonight, I'm compelled to write about a subject that's close to my heart.
Specifically, my breasts.
There are few things that can strike fear into the heart of thirty-something woman like hearing the phrase "oh, dear... what is this lump?!" uttered while one is being felt-up by a woman in a lab-coat at a gynecologist's office.
As many of you have probably guessed, I had that experience. Two months ago.
For the record, I go to Planned Parenthood. Sure, I can afford a private doctor. Heck, my health insurance would even pay for most of it. However, a time when I could not afford such a luxury is not so far behind me... and I think PP offers a valuable service to the community. So I support them.
I usually get to see the same Nurse Practitioner every time. Her name is Cindy (though I'm not sure that's the spelling she uses), and she's a nice lady. We have our differences of opinion, but I trust her, and have grown to like her.
Flash back to two months ago. "I don't like the look of this lump," she said, scowling at my left breast. "Do you feel that lump at about 11 o'clock? Do you?"
"Weeellll, I do now. How much do you not like it?" I inquired. "Well," she ruminated, "it could be a cyst, or it could be something worse. It's probably a cyst, but let's keep an eye on it. Maybe it will be better if I see you in the few days immediately following your period. I'm going on vacation next month, so let's do April."
April?! Jeez, that seems like a long time... but OK...
So I wait. Flash forward a few weeks. The lump is definitely getting bigger, isn't it? "Isn't it, Michele?"
I am a blessed woman. I live with a platonic friend with whom I feel secure enough to get feedback on the symmetry of my naked breasts.
She squinted, had me turn to the left, and turn to the right... and concurred. My once perfectly-matched set was off by a wee bit. I worried.
And I worried.
And then I worried a little bit more.
11 o'clock on the left breast, and all is swell-ing.
I didn't have to touch it to know the lump was there. I could just feel it.
All. The. Time. Now.
I have a friend here on lj whose wife succumbed to this terrible illness recently. He is amazing and brave and wholly wonderful. He didn't share too much of his story here, but I know it wasn't pretty. Things weren't pretty for a long time. However, despite all he saw, all he experienced, he offered me much hope. Still does. Many of you do as well-- and I thank you from the bottom of my nearly-Cs.
Of course, I began seeing breast cancer everywhere I went.* Someone recently linked to The Century Project, "a series of nude photographs accompanied by highly personal and moving statements by women whose lives span 100 years." I thought it was a pretty neat site, but the story about the woman who went from "I noticed a lump" to "radical mastectomy" in just three weeks snuggled into my brain and wouldn't leave.
I've always thought of women who'd had mastectomies as Amazons; revered warriors who proudly wore the scar of their most important battle.
But other women. Not me. Not yet. Please.
Despite my positive-thinking, pollyanna I-ain't-'fraid-of-nuttin' attitude, I found that I was, indeed, afraid of something. I was afraid of losing my breast by age 35. I was afraid of dating, knowing I'd have some explaining to do somewhere along the line. I was afraid of living alone with the weakness caused by chemotherapy. I was afraid of losing my life to a slow, wasting disease.
Suddenly, I was afraid of a lot of things.
Afraid again, I should say. I thought I had leukemia or lymphoma a few years ago. I saw a brilliant hematologist at the Oncology ward of a local hospital. He was convinced I had either lupus, or some form of cancer. Despite his brilliance, he never did find out what caused my illness... he couldn't even identify what illness it was. All he knew was that something was Very Not Right. Those days were scary. Very scary. But this was scarier, because the villain had a name.
I haven't been sleeping well. I did sleep well in Florida-- for some reason, I forgot all about Mister Lumpy while I was on vacation-- but otherwise, these last couple months have been increasingly difficult, sleep-wise. I woke up today... and noticed that my right breast felt a little weird.
Oh, shit. Another lump.
My appointment was at 5:30p today. I drove to the clinic, filled out some paperwork (they always make you fill out new paperwork!), and waited patiently in the waiting room while a small child ran amok waving a copy of Cat Fancy magazine. A little after 6:00p, I was called in.
"Well," said the nurse, matter-of-factly, "you have a choice. You can get the lovely paper blouse, or just lift up your sweater when the PA gets in." I opted for the latter. I waited. I hummed a pretty tune that I've never heard before. Then the PA came in. "Hi! I'm Jen! I've seen you before!"
Oh, dear. I'd waited two months to see a different woman? After I'd called earlier to make sure the "woman I usually saw" was available?
"Uhm, hi, Jen. Yeah, I remember you! Only I was... kind of expecting to see..."
"Oh, you want to see Cindy! That's OK, she's here-- I'll go get her."
Phew. Thanks, Jen, I really do appreciate that.
Cindy tells me about her vacation. Cindy feels me up. Yup, there's still a lump. Yup, it seems bigger.
She'd gone skiing and had a lovely time.
She knew I'd been worried. Asked if I'd been doing daily exams. And then told me not to.
I figure that this is when she "recommends" a sonogram and mammogram. Luckily, Michele's a radiologist, so she knows all the best breast-squishers. Not a fun thing to do, but at least it's Pain with a Purpose.**
"I felt this bump on my right breast today," I explained.
"That's great!" she exclaimed.
"Symmetry is a good thing. A very good thing. And they both feel like cysts. You're better than I am at this-- I'm not sure I'd have caught the right one; it's such a small mass. This is a good sign, and I think you'll be OK."
"Really? I don't need to schedule any tests or anything?"
I told her about the three-week sprint from lump to radical mastectomy that I'd read about. "Oh, yeah-- I've actually seen that happen. It's horrible. And in fact," she whispered conspiratorily, "I had a lump once, too. I didn't tell a soul. Not even my husband... until I made him drive me to the biopsy. I'm strong like ox, you know?"
I know. I know so well. M always calls me "strong like bull." But I'm learning to share here, and with my friends in real life, each and every day, and finding that it only makes me stronger. Consider this a big piece o' share.
Cindy is willing to bet my life that I don't have breast cancer. Not yet, in any case. I'd be less worried if she were betting her life, but I feel more secure than I've felt in many weeks. I'm breathing again.
I see her again in June.
You know, I had been wishing for bigger breasts. Visualizing them growing. That sort of thing.
Perhaps the moral of this story is "be careful what you wish for." ;)
* ~Every single thing I see looks like
** Think of it as a rather more painful Highlights magazine for adult women.
*** Music director gets five gold stars :D