This post is an important reminder for all of the wonderful women in my life.
A couple of days before leaving for Hawaii, I had my yearly physical. I never thought much of having one. I rarely get sick and I always feel really healthy. So I had time stand still when the doctor was examining my right breast and said that she felt something. Just like that, my heart and the suspect breast dropped through the examination table and the cold floor below, into a gaping hole.
I tried to focus on the doctor’s questions. No, there was no history of breast cancer in my family, but my sister had had a scare with a cyst about a year ago. The doctor then said something about the lump in my breast not being hard, but kind of squishy, which is characteristic of a cyst. She wanted me to make an appointment before my vacation, so I could have an ultrasound as soon as I returned.
She also asked if I do monthly breast exams. I had to sheepishly answer, no. I felt really ridiculous. Here I exercise regularly, eat healthy, and proactively deal with physical hiccups as soon as they surface, yet I don’t do breast self-exams. Crazy. How long had the lump been there? I had no clue. Foolish.
I chose denial (or maybe it chose me) for the next two weeks and I had a fantastic vacation. I lost only a few hours sleep when I woke up one night and I thought of all of the horrible things breast cancer would mean. During those tedious hours, I played out lots of awful scenarios. However, I also got re-acquainted with the well of determination in me. I would fight! And I even tried to think of a perk: a wig could be cool. But overall, I was really sad to think one of my girls may be sick and may have to be lopped off.
One day, Paul and I were driving around Kauai listening to crazy funny surfer radio when next thing we knew, these dudes were talking to a doctor who had called in about (duhn duhn duhn) – BREAST CANCER. Talk about a crazy coincidence. What the doctor said was really interesting. In the U.S., from the age of 40 upwards, women are encouraged to get yearly mammograms. However, each mammogram increases their risk of cancer by 1% because it exposes their delicate tissue to radiation. I panicked upon hearing that because when I had called for my ultrasound appointment, the receptionist informed me that she was going to automatically schedule me for a diagnostic mammogram, which my doctor hadn’t even mentioned.
I returned from vacation and had a few days before my appointment. I got in touch with Michelle whom I can always count on for sound medical advice. She concurred that the radiation from yearly mammograms isn’t good, and encouraged me to clarify that I wanted an ultrasound first and then a mammogram only if necessary. She also told me about breast MRIs, which give no radiation. I called the breast health centre and explained my concern about radiation. I said I was interested in progressive diagnosis – ultrasound, breast MRI, and then mammogram. The receptionist noted all of that but suggested I speak with the technician during my appointment.
The fateful day arrived. I felt emotionally—and physically—weak. As luck would have it, I had had food poisoning just the day before. I was grateful for calm Paul who stayed with me through the hospital check-in and all of that. Since I was going to be tested for upwards of two hours, I sent him back to work. Little did I know they were going to tell me the results immediately after!
Well, they did. My story ends happily this time. I only had to have an ultrasound. I had a few cysts. Relief. I truly felt the weight of my good luck when I was leaving and saw a woman crying in the waiting room. My heart got all twisted up.
All you lovely ladies out there, please learn from my scare. Do your breast self-exams monthly. And be sure to understand the procedures and tests you’re sent for.