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Hello my fellow females,
Over the past eight months I’ve gone through some of the trials and tribulations of being a woman. I’ve been trying to process my feelings and have found that even thinking about the experience makes me deeply uncomfortable in every sense of the word. So, as a form of therapy, today I bring you the story of my lumpectomy.
It all began around Thanksgiving of last year when I first noticed a strange lump in my breast. I was in the shower conducting one of the breast self exams that your gynecologist always tells you about when I first felt it.
It was really small, like the size of a peanut. It was a confusing sensation because I couldn’t tell if it was just the normal pebbly consistency of a boob or not. However, I’ve felt my boobs hundreds of times in my life and knew I had never felt that little nugget before.
From that moment, I spent countless days and nights feeling that pebble. Feeling it grow into a marble and then into a grape. It freaked me out so much that I was constantly having an internal conversation with myself justifying that it was nothing.
When I say it freaked me out, I mean every night before I went to bed I would debate making an appointment with my OBGYN the next morning. Then come morning, my nightly anxiety would pass and I would go about my day as normal. That is until I happened to graze it putting on my bra or lay on my stomach in a weird position which would put pressure on it.
It took me until March 29th to actually go see my doctor. To save you the math, it took me four months to build up the courage to deal with it. That was four months of me not telling a soul because if I did it would become real.
Also, what you have to understand is that I was in a new city, working new jobs, trying to make a new home. Everything felt scary and new, but this would take scary and new to a whole new level.
What finally prompted me to go to the doctor was Jane the Virgin. SPOILER ALERT: Xo gets breast cancer in the latest season and we have to follow her journey from finding the lump in her breast to her lumpectomy to her ailing health while undergoing chemo.
The moment they found the lump in her breast I turned off the tv and sat in silence with all possible outcomes of this situation flashing before my eyes. I couldn’t go back and watch the rest of the season until I had my initial biopsy, but we’ll get there.
After many late night sessions on the Susan G. Komen website, I made the appointment and snuck off to the doctor. I didn't want to tell my family or my roommate because I didn't want everyone to make a big deal out of it. I asked for a half day at work and anxiously tried to get through my tasks until noon.
I remember even that morning I was debating cancelling my appointment. It’s just the anxiety part of my brain that can almost always convince me to do something to be less uncomfortable. When it comes to fight or flight, my brain is always a little bird.
The anxiety part of my brain also always tells me that I’m stupid. Which I know is stupid. I felt embarrassed about the possibility of going into the doctor, all worked up and in a huff, and them telling me it’s literally just normal breast tissue. Take it from me, ladies, it’s always better to “look stupid” than to do nothing at all.
I went in to the doctor and they took me back to my exam room where I waited. I waited and waited and waited. The entire time sweating holes through my paper gown. My doc finally came in and it took her less than 30 seconds to determine this was definitely an abnormal mass and I needed to get an ultrasound and mammogram as soon as possible.
She said this while holding both my hands in her hands and repeatedly calling me “Sweetie.” I don’t know if it was because I was young or I looked scared or I was alone but the way she was trying to console me terrified me more than the diagnosis.
I floated out of the office and back into my car where I sat and tried to perform mental calculus on what to do next. The most logical solution was to call my mom.
A little backstory, both of my grandmothers have had breast cancer. Both for various reasons that are very unlikely to cause me to have it at such a young age, but both have had it nonetheless.
It was one of those phone calls where as you sit and the dial tone rings, you feel scared and helpless and at a loss for words. Like a little kid who just lost sight of their parents in the grocery store.
My mom picked up and since I was calling in the middle of a work day one of her first questions was, “What’s wrong?”
I tried to stammer out the words, unable to keep my voice from wavering. I think all I was able to get out was, “I just went to the doctor and have a lump in my breast…” before I completely turned into a puddle.
She was quick to sponge me up, telling me the new game plan. She told me about benign lumps she and other women in my family have had. She told me not to get worked up until I have something to get worked up about and to go ahead and make the appointments.
I called to try to schedule my mammogram and ultrasound but the next available appointment was five weeks out. So five weeks I waited.
That was five weeks of forgetting about the lump and then remembering all over again. By this point I had dawned my thick skin and and told myself I wouldn’t shed another tear until the whole process was over, which was almost true.
I did scream and yell in my car about the karmic imbalance of the universe. All I’ve ever wanted to know is what terrible thing I’ve done to deserve everything that ever happens to me. My roommate and I joke that one day I’m gonna win the lottery, so here’s hoping.
I broke the news to my roommate awkwardly at the dinner table one night about a week afterwards. It’s not that I didn’t want her to know, but saying it out loud in our new apartment in San Diego was unsettling. I’m not saying the move has always been rainbows and sunshine, but it was a breath of fresh air, a new start.
Coming to the table and saying this grossly uncomfortable news felt like I was tainting the one pure and pristine thing we had going for us. It had to be done, and our table will forever have the words scorched into it.
We laughed nervously, saying we’ll take it one step at a time and that’s exactly what we did.
The day of my ultrasound and mammogram arrived, and I took another half day at work. I went alone, because I have this weird monster inside of me that likes to tackle uncomfortable situations single handedly.
I was also feeling almost down right good because I was confident this was the end of the road for this whole ordeal. I thought I was going to go into this appointment, they'd give me a clean bill of health, and it’d be like it never happened. I was wrong and this wouldn’t be the last time on this journey I would feel this crushing disappointment.
The doctors had decided that I would have the ultrasound first because they didn’t want to expose me to the radiation of a mammogram if they didn’t have to.
My nurse came back to get me. Her name was Cinnamon and she told me all about how she had a cat named Lexie. She performed the ultrasound and sent off the data to the radiologist who would look over it and come tell me the results.
I laid on the exam table in my little robe and waited and waited and waited. Finally, the radiologist came in and said that he wasn’t going to have me get a mammogram, but the lump wasn’t smooth like he wanted.
A smooth lump is a benign lump. My little grape was rough and uneven. He probably wasn’t the most gentle man to break the news that they didn’t know if it was cancerous or not. He said the word “cancer” more times than I’ll ever be comfortable to hear again.
He did, however, say if I had breast cancer I would be the youngest patient he had ever seen. And if I did have breast cancer, the survival rate is through the roof now-a-days and I’m young and hardy. So I had that going for me.
He told me the next course of action was a biopsy and to get it scheduled as soon as possible. Everything seemed to be on a “as soon as possible” schedule for me.
I was swept off into another small room where I scheduled my biopsy for the following week.
A week passed and it was time for me head back to the hospital. I arrived and they told me the procedure would last about an hour. I was the only person in the waiting room, but I still had to wait 25 minutes before I was called back.
I was taken back into the same room I had the ultrasound. I got undressed and slipped into my now familiar cloth robe. I laid on the table as the nurse performed another ultrasound to confirm the location of my lump.
She cleaned the area, marked the location, and left to grab the doctor. They both came back and talked me through the procedure. And then just like that it began.
The nurse pulled out the ultrasound machine again, because they would need to be able to see the lump the entire time. They turned the ultrasound monitor towards me and told me I could watch the whole produced if I wanted to, but I declined.
I received a series of numbing shots, some along the surface (easy peasy) and some deep into the tissue (not easy peasy). Then they stuck a hollow needle in until it bumped up against the lump. That's when the real fun began.
The doc showed me this special gun that would be used to grab the samples. It made a loud snapping sound. They said I would feel the tugging, but there wouldn’t be any pain. And they were right.
It was an uncomfortable sensation of them pulling around the hollow needle to have it lined up in the exact position they needed. Then she would feed the gun down the needle and pull the trigger. There would be another quick, tugging feeling and that sample would be complete.
In the end the doctor collected nine samples. On the last sample, I did opt to watch the process on the monitor and let’s just say I’m glad I waited until it was almost over to do so.
They told me I did great and commended me, in so many words, for not being a mess during the experience. I got all bandaged up and was sent about my merry way to wait three days to find out my cancer diagnosis. Cheers.
I still have the scar from the hollow needle and, looking at it, you’d think there wouldn’t have been any side effects, but you’d be very wrong. I was unable to use my arm for the next 24 hours, and anything that required pec strength was not happenin’.
Those three days were arguably longer than the entire five months that had passed. I got the long awaited phone call while at work and was told that I, in fact, did not have cancer. I did have a fibroadenoma which my doctor recommended I have removed in a lumpectomy.
Fibroadenomas do two things. They can stay the same size (sometimes even shrinking!) and you can live with them for the rest of your life OR they can grow and distort breast tissue. In order to monitor this process, I would need to go in for ultrasounds every six months to ensure there was no growth.
When I delivered the news to my friends and family they were all very relieved and excited and expected me to feel the same, but all I felt was overwhelming disappointment. This was the second time in this process that I thought the doctors were going to give me a clean bill of health.
For those three days, everything was black and white for me. Either I had cancer or I didn’t and it would be all over. But now I was being told I needed to go have surgery in a new city with new doctors. Sometimes you do what you don’t want to do, though. Welcome to adulthood, bitch.
A couple weeks down the road, I had an pre-op appointment with the San Diego Surgical Specialists to talk about my options. My doctor came into the room and she had strikingly blue eyeshadow which surprisingly put me at ease. Looking back, maybe that’s the point.
She walked me through the procedure and gave me pamphlets, telling me if I wanted to go through with the surgery all I had to do was call her office and set a date. My mind was already made up before I walked out the door.
I called my parents and talked to them about all the new information I had received and we all agreed it would be best to just go through with the surgery. To finally close this chapter and truly put my mind at ease.
D-Day was finally here.
The whole process was pretty nerve-wracking. My roommate drove me to the hospital in the morning and I yammered endlessly about everything trying to expel my nervous energy. We got to the hospital and went up to the waiting room to sign in.
From there, it was a whirlwind. My blue eye-shadowed surgeon was ahead of schedule so they rushed me back (roommate in tow) to get prepped.
I had to pee in a bottle to prove I wasn’t pregnant and sterilize my breast with strong smelling chemical clothes. My clothes came off and on went the familiar cloth robe, a hair net, and non-slip socks.
It all wasn’t feeling real until the IV got put in and then I knew I was in for it. The doctors and nurses were coming and going, only staying for minutes at a time. Always asking, “What is your name? What is your birthday? What are you here for?”
Then suddenly, the final nurse arrived and told me it was time. I handed my glasses over to my roommate and made the blind trek down the hallway to the operating room.
The room smelled of sterilization and was filled with five people: my anesthesiologist, my surgeon, and three nurses. I climbed on the table and they put a curtain up on my neck, blocking me from seeing the lower half of my body. Now I’m really in for it.
I wasn’t getting full general anesthesia, but supposedly it would be like wisdom teeth removal where you don't remember any of it. This wouldn't be my case.
I was asleep for the first 10 to 15 minutes and I don’t remember the surgery beginning, but when I came to I was very uncomfortably aware of what was happening. I talked with the surgeons and nurses, debating who was more handsome, The Rock or Chris Hemsworth and talking about upcoming holiday plans.
All the while I could feel every tug on my body. The surgeon told me how my tissue was denser than anticipated. This meant the lump wasn’t wanting to come out easily and the tugging intensified.
I could hear and smell the cauterization of the wound. It was at this point that the pain was becoming too much and I alerted my nurses to it. They kept telling me how they were “almost done, almost done.”
In the end, they gave me more numbing shots, which arguably was much more painful than the cauterization itself. Once the medicine kicked in I didn’t feel anything else. They sewed me up and had me clamber onto another gurney to be wheeled into the recovery room.
Once they set me up, they went to retrieve my roommate from the waiting room. I sat with my outpatient nurse as she placed cold ice packs on my chest and gave me sweet, sweet ice water. She left me with a few packs of crackers and told me she’d be back to check on me.
I sat with my eyes glued to the recovery room doors waiting for my roommate to come, wanting to tell her every detail of the surgery because if I didn’t tell her did it actually happen? Like a tall drink of ice water (lol) she appeared and everything became a little more familiar.
Since I was already awake and coherent, we only waited in the recovery room for about 20 to 30 minutes before they dismissed us. We went home and the week of recovery began.
Honestly, recovery wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Everything was sore, but a strict regime of ice, Advil and soft pillows went a long way.
By a cruel twist of fate, I came down with strep a few days after the surgery and was on antibiotics for three weeks afterwards.
Safe to say, it was a very, very, very long three weeks, but an even longer eight months. It's all over now, though, and ya girl survived, ayyyy.
Today, post recovery, I'm left trying to accept my new body. I don't mind the scar. Scars fade in time. What makes me uncomfortable is the scar tissue that has filled the hole of where the lump once was. It's still tender and large and I feel like I'm constantly aware of it.
A few months out I still feel like I'm walking on egg shells around myself. Just touching the scar gives me that skin crawling feeling like when you watch somebody get a shot on TV.
Time heals all wounds, though, right? Hopefully both physical and mental.
Yeah, so there's not much else to say. Ladies, do your self exams and don't be afraid to go to the doctor because they're there to help.
And just know on the other side of the pain and tough times, you'll come out with a new sense of pride and motivation that you didn't even know you were capable of. It's only gonna launch you into bigger and better things. You just wait.