I haven’t posted in a while and I wasn’t intending on writing about this, I hadn’t really told that many people but then I thought why? Why don’t we talk about these things more. Maybe if we talked about it more it would help. I mean there should be no stigma, it’s no ones fault, it wasn’t something I did. So why keep it quiet?
A few months ago, in the early hours of a Monday morning as I rolled over to feed the tiddler I felt a lump on my breast. Or well I thought I did. I spent a few minutes trying to decide whether I did or didn’t and promptly fell back to sleep. When I woke that morning I didn’t even remember. It was the next day I remembered and I spent the next 48 hours trying to work out if I could feel it sitting up, lying down, standing? If I put my arm behind my back and twist round was it still there? Could I see it? The only thing left to check was to see if someone else could feel it. My husband thinks I am the biggest hypochondriac in the world, if I have a red raw sore throat – it looks normal to him, glands the size of golf balls – feel no different to him. So I knew he wouldn’t feel anything when I asked him. I knew he was going to tell me it was all in my head.
He could feel it.
In that moment every thing changed. You can’t help play it forward. What would happen? Would I still be able to feed tiddler? Would I be able to keep working? How would hubby cope? What would we tell the kids? What if…what if it spread? What if it couldn’t be treated? What if it didn’t work? In that moment my life went on pause.
I went to the doctor that morning again fully expecting to be told it’s nothing but she felt it and made a referral. I would have an appointment within two weeks. Two weeks came and went. Nothing. My fault. We had moved address and I forgot to update it. Called and called and called the unit. Got through after 4 days of trying. They would send me out a new appointment. Got it. Same day and time as biggies Montessori graduation. Seriously?? Rescheduled again. It was 6 weeks by the time I had my appointment and it was a lonely 6 weeks.
Of the few people I told one or two had been through it before and that helped. They were able to tell you what to expect and take the unknown out of it. But when you live away from home you are always loneliest during a crisis. No family close by, friends too far away to grab a coffee with. Of course hubby was there but remember I’m the biggest hypochondriac. He doesn’t get the worry. Plus you tell people you aren’t thinking about it. That you can only deal with what you know now. No point in worrying. You don’t talk about it.
The day of the appointment I went to the hospital by myself. I sat in the waiting room watching everyone come and go waiting for my turn. I knew one of three things would happen –
- The consultant would say it’s nothing and send me away
- I would have a mammogram and ultrasound
- All the above plus a biopsy
By now I was hoping she wouldn’t just send me away as the lump was very definitely still there and I wanted the relief the mammogram would give me. Although it’s not the most dignified experience. Your breast is compressed between two slides, pretty hard. I was told some milk might squirt out as I’m a breastfeeder and that the technician might not like it but sure it’s all natural. There is nothing natural about standing half naked in front of a stranger who draws on you then pushes, pulls and prods at your breast to squeeze it into the biggest machine you can imagine. After that the ultrasound was a breeze. And great news no need for a biopsy. Phew.
But then the consultant says that she is suspicious of the lump. Please come back in six weeks. The hoped for relief didn’t happen. In fact this was almost worse than before I had the tests. You know when you decide to buy a particular car and then everywhere you go there it is? That’s what it was like. Signs for mammograms, mum’s tragically leaving young families behind, even Ray Donovan had it! And the checking continued. I would go to the bathroom during work just to check if it was still there. In the car I would have a check. I’m sure I was becoming that weird lady who constantly stuck her hand up her top.
And then the 6 weeks had passed and again I was sitting by myself waiting to see the consultant. By this stage I convinced myself that what was going to happen would be she would say it seems ok but come back in 6 months. But she didn’t, she wanted to do a biopsy. I was so not prepared for this. They numb the area and then use a gun like when you are getting your ears pierced except it takes something out instead of putting in. 5 samples they took and each one makes a loud click. After I looked at the needle and was so glad I hadn’t before! When I was telling hubby about it he was getting more and more horrified at how they would take a biopsy from a testicle 😱 It wasn’t sore at the time just a lot of pressure but it was pretty sore after! And then there I was back waiting…
I would lie awake at night and try to make plans. The night before the results was probably my lowest. I literally could not think of one thing else. This time I was not going alone. When we were called into the room I could see a big post it on the file with talk to consultant on it and they insisted on getting my other half a chair. In that moment for that couple of minutes I thought my fears were coming true (and talking after, my husband said he thought the exact same for the first time). Benign. And no chance of changing.
Benign. What a strange word. What a nothing word. Benign.
As we walked out of the unit hubby was chatting away about going to the shops but I just wanted to go home. I was exhausted. Bone wearily exhausted. I thought I would feel this immediate massive release and joy. But all I felt was the need to sleep. I didn’t understand it. Why was I not jumping for joy?? We ‘celebrated’ that night with a glass of wine and takeaway. And then I went to bed early. And I slept. (Well as much as tiddler allows, see my other post). A dreamless, restful sleep. When I woke the next morning I felt lighter. Brighter. I realised I had been almost holding my breath for 14 weeks. My brain had been in overdrive and my body tense for 14 weeks. I hadn’t had that immediate moment of elation because my body and mind were too tired. They couldn’t process it. I had spent 14 weeks not really living. I had pressed pause on life and it just took a little while for my brain to sync up after pressing play.
And then I got to thinking about why I didn’t talk about it. Now that it was no longer happening to me. Was it the word breast? The people I did tell I said “I found I lump, you know, here.” Me. The loud and proud breastfeeding for almost 5 years mama, the whip them out anywhere to feed the baby type. I couldn’t say “I found a lump in my breast”. Why??? Society teaches us breasts are private, to be covered up (unless you wear a low cut dress, bikini, model etc), they are inextricably linked to sex so we cannot talk about them (Don’t get me started on what they are actually designed for)! Is it the same for men? Is it hard to say I found a lump in a testicle? Is it easier to say if you found a lump somewhere else??
Or is it the C word? The fact that it might be cancer? In the 14 weeks I’m not sure if either myself or my husband said it once. It’s a scary word and most people know someone who has been affected by it.
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Survival rates are 9 in 10. This depends on when it’s found. But 33% of all women do not regularly check. And here comes the point of this post. While this may seem like a self indulgent, woe is me post. The point is to say, check. Talk about it. Ask your mum, sister, aunt, best friend if she has checked. Ask your husband, brother, dad, uncle has he checked.
The people in the unit were amazing, everything was calm and quick but until I accidentally found that lump I wouldn’t have even thought of checking. I wouldn’t have know what to feel for. They explained it –
- a change in size or shape
- a lump that feels thicker
- orange peel skin
- redness or rash
- Inverted or moved nipple
- liquid leaking
- constant pain in breast or armpit
- a swelling in your armpit
Basically any change, get it checked. Don’t wait until it’s too late to unpause your life.
Check out Breastcancercare.org to learn how to check yourself.