I’ve always had a lot of cysts in my breasts (or at least I first became aware of them 20 years ago... partially “courtesy”of a Denver General doctor who literally yelled at me for being worried about it. Note he didn’t find the lump, and that I specifically said I was checking to make sure it wasn’t worse than a cyst, he simply yelled “You’re too young to get breast cancer!”, like I was a complete moron for getting a lump checked out just like I’d always been taught to), so feeling lumps and even painful lumps in my breasts is nothing unusual for me.
Lately, though, there’s been a large lump (and I have had huge cysts, so this particular one seemed new and unusual) hanging out of the bottom of my left breast that has an effect of making me feel nauseous every time I touch it. What to do? Go to my women’s care specialist, of course, I was due for my annual anyway.
My appointment was on Friday. She had trouble with the breast exam because I was so tender. If you know anything about me, you know I handle pain well and it means something if I’m reduced to being squirmy during an exam. Though that statement should be countered with my impulse to resist being touched. I can be a difficult person. However, she did manage to at least note that I have a hard mass in my left breast that is different from my usual cysts. And she said I need to get a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound ASAP.
I had been blowing off my mammograms because they can cause cancer, and because I always need to get ultrasounds afterward anyway due to “dense” breasts, but I finally stopped complaining that I would rather only get an ultrasound.
Hard mass. Hard mass. Not a cyst.
From that moment onward I no longer needed to touch any unsual lumps in my breast to become nauseous. All I needed to do was think about it. Which I pretty strongly didn’t want to do.
I stopped off for blood tests on the way home (thyroid related... tough stick problems as usual, needles in my right arm, right hand, and left arm before I coughed up a slow trickle of blood... my veins seriously hate needles after all they’ve been through, especially with hemochromatosis, and getting simple blood tests never fails to make me look like a junkie). Managed to stay focused on my bike without crashing. Tweeted about the breast lump, basically saying “hard mass found in one of my breasts, the fun just never seems to end for me”, made my appointment for a Monday morning mammogram and ultrasound, and then systematically altered my perception of reality into a sort of in the moment tunnel vision that didn’t include thinking about breast lumps.
Except occasionally, because I couldn’t help it, like when I decided not to skip the 10-22 Occupy Denver rally despite knowing I would be very broken physically by the end of the day (also needed to bring up to 4 teenage girls to the Botanic Gardens corn maze, we had promised to do so a long time in advance) because I quite possibly didn’t have the time to be flaking off on being supportive of political activism. Besides, I needed to bring my daughter there so she could experience it (she enjoyed it quite a bit).
I managed to focus on rallies and corn mazes and being exhausted, and on clearing everything off my camcorder and making back-ups, and on tweeting pictures from the rally... until Sunday night when a call from one of the people I had previously arranged plans with snapped me out of it. I’d been doing such an excellent job of keeping busy and not thinking that I didn’t even realise why I was being called until I was asked if I was coming. And then it was explained what I was supposed to be coming to. Then I thought about everything in a panic... I wanted to dash over late, but I needed to take a shower and try to figure out how to be tired so I could sleep before the early morning tests. I said I couldn’t go.
Obviously I could’ve explained the situation instead of sounding like a blow-off jack-ass, but I still didn’t feel up for talking about it and I had very specifically been avoiding worrying people. In one of my brief moments of thought I’d decided to not tell anyone in my family, excepting Bruce who would be taking me to the tests, or any close friends, because I didn’t want anyone to worry. I wanted to hope I could simply give people relieved news afterward. Even if every time I thought about it my brain went down “oh my god what if it’s cancer” lane, but, then, that’s exactly why I didn’t want to tell anyone. Their brains probably would have done the same.
Some people will no doubt gripe at me about that choice when they read this. Keep in mind that there was only one weekend between the discovery and the tests, though. Now that I have a longer wait ahead of me, I am fessing up. I did finally ask Bruce to call the people I flaked on, and explain why we were being blow-offs, while I was in the shower. I also emailed an explanation and apology to everyone involved. One of my many quirks is that if a thought nauseates me, sometimes I can’t voice it out loud but I can write about it. Like I am right now. It’s exactly the same if I am, say, in deep shock about something.
I needn’t have worried about trying to get some sleep before the tests. I had a good, solid, back-achy, toss and turn. Eventually I gave up and got up early so I could take both sedatives and pain killers (all of the legal pill variety) before getting my poor tender breasts mushed and tortured. Then I sat here looking at Twitter and feeling rather plastered against my desk chair. Not because of the pills, but because I was feeling a bit paralytic about getting up and facing reality.
The tests were at the same building where I 1. go to the cancer center 2. get MRIs of my brain and spine (a terrible phobic experience for me) 3. recently underwent skin cancer removal and reconstructive surgery 4. also got a colonoscopy and 2 endoscopies with a lot of biopsies this year. That’s amongst other unpleasant visits.
I commented to Bruce upon walking in: “You know, I never seem to be happy about coming to this building and it happens way too often”.
I was sane in the waiting room, but my right leg was bouncing up and down like a Chinese hopping zombie (cryptic reference to a Kyonshi portrayal in one strange Hong Kong film). In the secondary waiting room, the one where I sat alone after putting my gown on, I opted for using yoga to remain calm. Not exercise yoga, simply striking the posture for centering myself then regulating my breathing and drifting inward. That worked great while I was doing it... and then I started smelling like a mass of sweaty terror pheremones during the mammogram. Ah well. The technician said I was doing great, and I didn’t need any retakes.
So I resumed my yoga centering while I awaited the ultrasound. That was a longer wait, because a doctor needs to look at the images first to see if any more need to be taken (in case pain or terror caused me to accidentally breathe or move or something).
Eventually it was time for the ultrasound. I have seen my cysts via ultrasound plenty of times, so I knew immediately when something looked different. There was a cyst, but right under it and attached to it was something different. In these situations you need to word your questions carefully, because ultrasound technicians are not allowed to provide details (in this case they can say “that looks like a cyst... and that doesn’t”). I carefully got a confirmation that something uncystlike was in there. Something, indeed, different.
While I was alone waiting for a doctor to look at the images and then come check me out more, I felt some tears roll down my cheeks. This made me feel a little paranoid (yeah, ok, obviously I was already paranoid and terrified and freely admitting it to all technicians, knowing perfectly well that they’re used to it, this was an entirely different matter) so I wiped the tears away and composed myself.
Not long ago I saw an osteopath who generally struck me as deranged. One time he ranted at me quite temperamentally about some woman who had been crying when she came in for her appointment. He snappishly asked me “You don’t just sit there crying about pain, DO YOU?”. Uh, no, I generally don’t... but, geeze, “fuck you, asshole” seems about the right response. Sometimes people who are generally calm have their pent-up emotion release melt-down when they go in to deal with a problem. Needless to say I very quickly stopped seeing that jerk.
So, back to the present. The doctor came in and ultrasounded my left breast again. The different mass I saw by a large cyst turned out to be... something. It could be gloop, it could be a growth from the cyst. They need to aspirate the cyst to see what happens. Unfortunately there was also a completely different hard mass that I hadn’t realised was a separate one. That one is not connected to a cyst (it’s an independent mass), and it needs to be biopsied.
I nervously asked if they use any kind of anesthesia while doing the aspirations and biopsies. Yes, so you only need to feel the needles injecting the anesthesia. Well, there is that anyway. He jovially pointed out that the tattoo on my chest must’ve involved some needles. I said I was 17 and a lot braver when I got it.
Reality: I didn’t want to explain how I creeped my own self out about needles in my breasts. When I was 21 I wrote a story called “So Fragile is the Psyche” that included a scene with lots of needles in breasts. I wrote the story because erotic horror authors were heckling me to join them, and I basically said “Ok, but you’ll regret it when you see what sex looks like in my brain”. Yep, I think everyone regretted it, heh. My favourite reaction to the story has always been artist Gordon Klock saying “that story feels like being trapped in a closet and beaten with wire hangers for eternity”. And, by the way, I would like to get that story republished. I was dissatisfied with its original publishing and never promoted it.
Word to the wise: be careful about writing trauma torture stories when you are young. They might come back to haunt you during medical procedures later in life! That story kept popping into my head every time I thought about the possibility of needles in my breast from Friday onward. And it still is. Obviously.
A couple of years ago my women’s care doctor wanted me to have a large cyst in my left breast aspirated so the fluid could be tested to make sure nothing bad was going on. I wimped out and never did it. Watch me kick myself.
I asked for a quick ultrasound look at my right breast as well (they did mammogram both of them) to make sure it was only cysts on that side. Yep, my right breast is behaving so far. Thank you, right breast. Much appreciated!
The doctor said everything could be benign. He didn’t say everything looks most likely benign, but “could be” is better than “Oh yeah, that’s definitely cancer!”. It’s also not the same as the last time I was there and the doctor said “You don’t have cancer, if that’s what you’re worried about”. I am going to hope for the best, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my moments of being pale, shaky, and downright scared.
Currently I’m waiting for the nurse to call to set up these procedures. I don’t know how long it will take. And after it happens, I don’t know how long the results will take. Hopefully not the usual one+ week. Finding out my facial carcinoma really was a carcinoma took about 10 days. Be assured that I will be looking pretty old and haggard if it takes 2 weeks to find out whether or not everything is benign. And, if everything is benign, whether or not I still need some level of lumpectomy anyway.
When I left the breast center I meandered down the hall to the cancer center and told one of the front desk people (the one who has been there for many years and knows me... therefore she knows I’m only a hemochromatosis patient) about everything and asked if I should have my oncologist added to the list of doctors to send the results too. I hadn’t done so before because I just wanted to skirt the fear and hope for the best. She said I needed to put him on the list, even if everything turned out to be benign. So I meandered back, and had him tacked on as doctor recipient #3.
And now I’m waiting. I admit that I cried a little after coming home, but only a little. Mostly I notified the 4 people who were aware of this about the current status, messed around on Twitter (messed around = doing political, environmental, and media-related things), cropped and posted another photo (the cute “1st grade rules of government” one), and then wrote this to process my thoughts and feelings. Now I get to html it, after resting my achy back for a bit.
I suppose if nothing else I’m pretty good at just carrying on with life, for as long as I can. Things to do, you know. I’ve always been pretty driven. But, hey, I won’t lie. Under that driven exterior is a pretty shaky and scared person. Hopefully it’ll be okay.
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