One of the worst things about moving is that you have to find a new… well… everything. And that includes, among many other things, new doctors.
Of course I had so many other things going on that I just kept putting it off. And that was clearly a wise choice… not making finding a doctor a priority. Obviously. *facepalm
Anywho, that’s what happened. But after the awesomeness that was my 3-month long cycle, I needed to find a local OBGYN and start getting my body back to some version of normal… whatever that means. So I did.
At my first appointment, we started going over my sorted history and all that it entailed. And then I mentioned a few other random things that were going on – just to be sure I gave him everything and go through it all while I had him there. Scheduling appointments and taking time off of work to get there can be really annoying, so why not take advantage of the time I already had, right?
This is where I get a bit descriptive, so… don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So… I have this… “thing” on the side of my right breast. I can’t call it a lump, it’s more of a mound than anything else. Too big for lump status, and isn’t only there when you feel around. How can I describe this so that you get a full understanding… so imagine acting as a bra and pulling your breast up and inward with your hand. For most people, this would not only make you nice and perky, but it’d also trim away that awful lumpy fat that likes to hang out in the bra band region below the armpit. But in my case, though there’s still plenty of bra bulge to pull out of the way… there’s a mound that just doesn’t seem to go away. length and width-wise it’s about the size of a lemon, and depth-wise it’s about 1/2″ and it sits around the lower outside quadrant… or third maybe of my right breast.
Initially I didn’t think it was anything serious, but it would get sore sometimes. Like more than muscle pain… sometimes almost a burning pain. And then it started to cause pain in the nipple and that was the worst. It huuurrrrt. So i figured that I couldn’t really pretend it wasn’t anything anymore and that I should probably see the doc. I called and they fit me in the day before Thanksgiving, which was only the next day…
Is it just me or does it end up being more concerning when they try to fit you in that quickly? Especially since it normally takes almost a month to get in with that particular doctor.
At my doctor’s appointment, I saw a doctor in the practice that I’d never seen before. I’d only heard of him, but always made appointments with my regular doctor so never really saw anyone else. He did a simple physical exam and asked a few questions about the kind of pain and when I first noticed the mound, etc etc. In the end, he told me that it was something called Costochondritis. Basically, I left with an understanding that everything was fine. It was nothing to be concerned with – apparently pain is an indicator for breast issues that it’s actually not serious. And also, he told me that if I felt pain in that area, I should try resting that arm and taking is easy. It would go away in a month or two and was typically brought on by some kind of virus, but there was no real treatment for it and it would run it’s course. Good enough for me.
Except that it never went away… not completely, anyway. For a couple of months I really took the “take it easy” prescription seriously. After it not seeming to make much of a difference, I kind’ve cut the crap. And it just became a normal thing for me. If it got really bad some days, then I’d do a little less activity than normal, but that was about it. It was along for the ride. And for some reason, although I have a pretty consistent history with naming things (all my lady parts – divas and the southern bits, my belly, one of my larger ovarian cysts, etc), this one never got a call sign of it’s own. Hmm. How am I just now realizing this?
Anywho, among trying to live life as normal I did finally look up costochondritis. Thank you Google! And it made NO sense as my diagnosis. First of all, it was no where near my sternum (umm… you alright doc?). Second, the description sounded NOTHING like what I was dealing with. I’m not doctor, but… how can they call it something so random?
Whatever. I moved on. I figured if things got worse I would check it out with my regular doc and that was the plan that I stuck with.
And then we moved.
Fast forward to finally finding a doctor with all of the other issues that started to stack up and I decided to finally mention it to the new doctor at my first appointment. And that’s when everything seemed to go into some kind of slo-mo phase.
He called in a nurse and did a simple examination. He asked a bunch of questions – was much more thorough than the appointment I’d had one year prior… almost exactly one year… to the day, come to think of it. Then he formulated a plan.
He wanted me to get a scan of the site and also go see a surgeon – they’d know more in depth information regarding the site and different tissue types, etc etc, and he just wanted to be sure. He is the kind of doctor that wants to know for sure, not just guess and then keep his fingers crossed. Oddly enough, these kinds of doctors are ridiculously hard to find. Sad, right?
So I took his plan and ran with it. I made the appointment for the scan and started setting up the appointment with the surgeon he recommended. A couple of days before the scan, I learned that I’d be getting a mammogram as well. I wasn’t thrilled, but I wanted to be thorough and was glad that we were covering the bases.
Then a couple of days before these appointments, I got a call from the surgeon’s office making sure that all of my paperwork was in order and that I’d have the scans done beforehand. As we were finishing up, she said something that seemed kind’ve out-of-the-norm and misplaced, but it completely caught me off guard and really almost stopped me in my tracks (though to be fair, my “tracks” actually translates to just sitting at my desk at work).
For some reason, and I’m not sure why she said it because, again, it seemed really out of place, but she said “By the way, we’re an oncology surgeon’s office. I’m not sure if you knew that.”
“Oh. Yes, of course. I’ll see you on Friday.”
Why… why would I be sent to an oncology surgeon?
Somehow, until this word was spoken, it’s like I wouldn’t let myself think of what the possibilities could be. I am young, after all. I know that breast cancer happens to younger people, but… it’s really rare, right? I mean… it was so quickly dismissed last year. It can’t really be anything serious…. can it?
I typically don’t let myself think of the what ifs. It’s a dangerous, downhill slope and I don’t like to even tip toe around with that game. But oh my word… it’s really not easy when the word “oncology” is suddenly part of your actual vocabulary.
Other then telling Studly, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. Not until the night before (and even then it was one person and I was still vague and fake-positive about it all). I didn’t even know what to say, really. I still wasn’t even sure what I was thinking, myself, much less how and what to voice to anyone else. And besides, it could be nothing.
It would be nothing.
There was nothing to tell because it’d all be over and done with the next day, anyway.
But… it could be something.
But it wasn’t going to be.
I’d stay positive and I’d keep myself from thinking anything other than happy, healthy thoughts.
All of the other things that had been going on in my life… all of the stressors and day-to-day junk that happened. Anything and everything that I’d been dealing with emotionally or mentally. It all just seemed so foggy. Suddenly there was this…. this thing in my life that made everything else so much dimmer in comparison.
And I found myself thinking about things in a strange way… like… if this is for real, most states mandate that you be free from any serious illness for at least one year before applying for adoption, and some illnesses meant more like 5 years. So what would that mean for our family?
It was weird. It’s interesting how things tend to play out when suddenly something much more “real-world” comes into play. The things that always seemed to happen to other people… the stuff you tell yourself you know could happen to you, when in reality you don’t really believe that… suddenly it’s knocking on your front door and you’re so unprepared to answer that you aren’t even willing to peek out the window at it, because then it would really exist… and in your world.
As things worked out, I was going to be having my ultrasound and mammo on the same morning as my appointment with the surgeon. I got up stupid early (not that I had really slept much, anyway) and went to “the place” sans deodorant, as instructed. It’s amazing how missing the littlest things can make you feel naked and out of place… when in reality, it’s EVERYthing else about you at that time that really translates into the source of your discomfort.
I sat in the waiting room of a breast imaging center and looked around. I was easily the only person under 40 in the room. There were both men and women, though sometimes it was hard to tell who was there as the patient and who was there for support. There was a range of people, some without a hint of illness and some with scarves wrapped around their hairless heads. It was difficult to be in such a mix of company in a place solely reserved for one thing.
Even the imaging specialists seemed to notice my inability to fit in. They’d make comments, very nicely of course, about how this would be pretty quick since I’m so young, or about how they were sure it was nothing. Looking back, it was pretty strange for them to be saying such things. I know they were trying to comfort me, but honestly – it seemed dismissive and made me just feel… smaller.
They decided that they would start with the sono and spare me the mammo unless the ultrasound indicated a need for it. I was grateful. Especially since I’d heard before that the smaller the divas, the more painful the mammo would be. And frankly, I am quite lacking in the diva department. At least for once it would serve me well. Take THAT Victorias Secret! *le sigh
We did the ultrasound and as sweet as the lady was, she, too, made comments about my being young and blah blah blah. I was tired of hearing it and just wanted to know what was going on, already. Enough chatting. I don’t want to make friends, here. I want to never come back to this place again if I can help it. Let’s just get this show on the road.
I smiled kindly and nodded when necessary to avoid seeming like a total punk-face. But frankly, I wasn’t really “there” and I just needed to put an end to the looming question.
They did the ultrasound and she mentioned that she needed the doctor to take a look and that he’d come back in with her to discuss the results. She seemed positive and unconcerned, but I couldn’t tell what that meant at the time… was it habit or did it really mean that things were going to be okay.
The doctor came in and seemed like he had other places to be but was trying to hide it. He told me, rather quickly, that he saw no indication of anything abnormal and that what I was dealing with wasn’t even related to my breast tissue at all. It was probably just muscular inflammation.
Awesome. An inflamed muscle that never rested. For a year. Sure. Makes sense. Why the heck not?!
I think I just wanted to believe him so badly that I didn’t question anything until I was leaving. I just wanted the wondering to be over and this was an answer. It was the answer… right?!
I went and grabbed breakfast at Chicfila and ate it in my car. My mind and heart still racing and wondering what would come next. The questions that were lingering in my mind… they were more of a whisper. It’s like I didn’t want to acknowledge them. Maybe pretending they weren’t there would make what he said more true. And maybe happy thoughts would mean a positive outcome.
Because that’s real life. Obviously.
Finally, it was time. I went in to the Surgeon’s office, checked in with a very sweet nurse, and then took my seat.
I can’t describe to you the atmosphere in the waiting room. It was decorated very cozy… not cold and full of lame cheap oil paintings like most doctor’s offices. It felt more like someone’s home.
I like that.
Sitting in the room with me was a woman who clearly was suffering or at least had suffered recently… and someone who was obviously there with her. They chatted in spanglish… back and forth from English to Spanish… but she smiled.
And I was fighting with every fiber of my being not to be a bucket of useless mess on the floor. But I wasn’t “almost crying” for me. I was so heavily weighed down by the thought of those before me.
So many people had sat in this same chair… in this same waiting room. So many in rooms just like it across the country… the world.
How many women sat in my shoes and felt the same things that I felt. The unknown. The wondering. The hoping it wasn’t them. The fight against the possibility that it could even be real… telling themselves exactly the lies I kept telling myself… fooling myself into believing that if I didn’t acknowledge it, it wouldn’t be me. I just had to be positive. Because tissue and blood would always listen to reason and optimism.
I could feel the hearts of those in my life that have gone through this ordeal and dealt with the news that I wouldn’t admit I could hear. My dear friend’s mother so many years before, and then again after years of remission. My sweet co-worker who was diagnosed as her 7-year old son and recently unemployed husband supported her for so so many months. Another coworker who only went in for testing after a fascination with genealogy research suggested that the BRCA4 gene ran in her family’s bloodline. And so many others that I knew as a friend of a friend of a friend.
How could I be so foolish as to think that I was special. That somehow it wouldn’t be me?
I was so weighed down with all of this. The empathy for all of these souls that had once been exactly where I was. Sitting at the edge of the unknown, just before a pit of solid heartache. And there were only 3 possible endings to this day.
While I completed my training to be a crisis counselor for the pregnancy clinic (something I look forward to sharing with you one day), we learned that the first thing you have to do when speaking with someone in “crisis mode” is to help them focus. So we would remind them, amidst their clouds of hurt and possibility and anger and confusion and sureness that their family would disown them or kick them out or kill them… “You have 3 options. Pregnancy never lasts forever, so you have 3 choices here – to have an abortion, to carry and parent, or to carry and place with an adoptive family.” I never once failed to see a woman breathe a deep breath of realization when we made this statement… and that’s because it would bring them back down from their spiraling roller-coaster and begin to ease them into a place of logic and reality. All of the what ifs in the world changed nothing about their being only 3 options… 3 ways out of their situation.
So I tried to do the same to myself. And I decided that there were only 3 possible outcomes to this appointment – 1) I was fine. There was nothing. Some simple explanation and treatment and wah-lah… back to life. 2) I had breast cancer. Plain as that. No way around it. or 3) We still didn’t know. I’d need more tests to determine what was going on.
No matter what happened, these were the only possibilities.
I watched as they called the woman in a beautiful head wrap and with a face wrinkled with smile-lines and crows feet at her eyes back into the doctor’s office… and I waited. I breathed deeply under the weight of all of the others that had been in my seat once, and I waited. I just waited. For what seemed like forever.
Then I was finally taken back to the doctor’s office and waited some more. After a second eternity, the doctor came in.
I liked him. He was sweet and had kind eyes. A little humor, but not too much as to seem off-putting or unconcerned. He asked me to put on the gown, opening in the front, and then came back in when I was ready. He did an exam of his own and then we discussed everything… in even more detail than my previous appointments.
It was definitely breast tissue. No doubt in his mind. And he needed to wait for the scans to be sure, but… he was confident enough to say that it was not breast cancer.
It was hard to hold back tears again as I exhaled for what felt like the first time in days.
We chatted for a bit and he asked about my family – I told him about our desire to adopt and my PCOS, etc… and he went on to tell me about his daughter who’d waited for years to have children… wanting to wait until after medical school…. and then her difficulty conceiving even with IVF. He even walked me in to his office and showed me pictures of his beautiful grandson… and then his other beautiful grandson.
“It’ll happen” he said. “It’s not easy and it never seems to be in our own timing, but… it’ll happen one way or another. Don’t you worry.”
I left still in a fog, but… a different one. I needed to cut back on… or out completely, really… caffeine because for some reason it always worked. And we’d follow up.
I still felt the weight of the ones I knew who’d had such a different outcome. And those whose days ended differently. I felt very retrospective. My mind went through all kind of variations of what would’ve happened if I’d been in any of the other scenarios I had played in my head while I waited.
But for now, this chapter had ended. I did not need to think about cancer. I didn’t need to think about my world turning upside down. And I was grateful.
These divas may be small, but they are mine and they are still here. This mound of breast tissue, as strange as it is, is not something that’s slowly killing me. And I could go back to the simple, petty worries and day-to-day annoyances. But part of me would never be the same.
I may have dealt with a lot of questions, but I knew the answer now. And for now, that was well more than enough. Life was sweet. And I felt as though I’d been given a glimpse into what really mattered… dwarfing anything else in comparison.
This was a trying time, indeed, though nothing like what it could have been… and I feel like I can’t truly put any of this into words even close to reality. For now, I’m just trying to remember what matters and keep everything in perspective.