[Pink is primarily a color for girls. That's a nice way of attempting to persuade my male readers to stop reading at this point. There's a lot of female-related information that you might not want to know in the paragraphs below. For the rest of you, I apologize for the length of this post.]
Remember when I casually mentioned last month that I had my first mammogram?
Well, it came back abnormal. I kinda figured it might because I'd found a lump in my breast at the end of January. It took a few weeks to get an appointment with my doctor but she didn't seem overly concerned about the lump. She ordered a mammogram and it was about three weeks later before I went in for that.
The mammography tech was great. She explained things in detail and asked if I had any questions. I didn't, but I did mention the lump I could feel. She mashed around on it and like my doctor, she didn't seem too concerned either, but she did tell me that about 10% of women get called back for a second set of images. Sometimes it's because the radiologist sees something suspicious and doesn't have anything to compare it to (a baseline mammogram) and sometimes it's because they just need more information. I left that day with the feeling that I'd probably be one of the 10% that was called back. And I was.
I still wasn't super concerned. No one had really given me a reason to be fearful or in a hurry to follow-up so I scheduled that second mammogram for several weeks later at a time of the month when I'd be the least sore AND at a time of the month that my hormones would be similar to the stage they were in during the first mammo. It made sense to me at the time.
Now is a good time to mention that for as long as I can remember, I've had lumpy breasts. Sixteen years ago, a doctor in Dallas diagnosed me with fibrocystic changes. My breasts get lumpy and sore towards the end of my cycle and all of that completely disappears when my cycle starts over. The lump I'd found seemed cystic in nature to me. It would get bigger, then shrink depending on where I was in my cycle. I was optimistic.
The day of my follow-up mammogram, they called to tell me that their mammography machine was down. I ended up being rescheduled three times that week. It was a tad nerve-wracking, but mainly just annoying. I think I started to feel a tiny bit fearful when they told me that I was "high priority" as far as scheduling went because of my previous mammogram.
I ended up having an ultrasound instead of a mammogram when I finally went back in. I guess I wasn't totally surprised when the technician found SEVEN lumps--five in one breast and two in the other. Of those seven, four were definitely cysts and three were solid masses. Cysts are good; solid masses aren't so good. The radiologist came in to take a look and wanted to biopsy the largest of those three solid masses--which was the one I'd discovered at the end of January. You know why I could feel it? Because it was 2 cm in diameter. That's close to an inch and that's rather large for a breast lump.
Before I left that day, I set up the biopsy appointment and drove home. I was concerned, but not really worried. John left for Oregon within minutes of me arriving home from that appointment and I was a single parent for five days so I think I pushed any anxiousness I was feeling far, far away for the sake of my kids. I mentioned it to a handful of friends but talking about it stirred up unpleasantness for me, so I was pretty tight-lipped.
The night before the procedure (it was last Thursday) I used the world wide web to look up ultrasound-guided vacuum-assisted core biopsy. Big mistake. There are some things that should never be googled. That and 14-guage hollow core needle are two of them. It's pretty safe to say that I was freaked out. I just kept thinking of my friend, Joanne, who had endured multiple brain surgeries and telling myself that this was much more routine and much less invasive and asking God for courage!
I'll refrain from detailing the actual biopsy procedure. I made sure I had relaxing music on my iPod, put my earbuds in, closed my eyes to avoid what was playing out on the ultrasound screen, and tried (unsuccessfully) to relax. I couldn't feel anything, but the noise of the needle was freaky so obviously I didn't turn my iPod up loud enough. There was one minor complication which necessitated a second incision but thankfully they gave me more lidocaine. The worst part might have been finding out that I had to have a mammogram immediately after the biopsy to find out if the tiny marker they inserted was in the right place. They put the marker in (via the needle)(ick) in case they need to go back in later to remove the mass and/or to monitor growth. That's not alarming or anything, right?
I think the giant cloud of fear descended on me the second I walked out of that clinic. My mind went crazy with all the possible scenarios of how my life could change depending on those results. It wasn't pretty and the wait was torturous.
I tried to focus on the positive things I knew like the fact that my doctor and the mammography technician both seemed unconcerned at those initial visits and that there is no history of breast cancer on my mom's side of my family. But, I also kept running into women with bald heads--at Walmart, at the mall, and even at church--I saw four women in three days! That was tough. It also seemed a bit uncanny that I reconnected with a friend on Facebook who (unaware of what I was going through) told me that she is just emerging victoriously over her own battle with breast cancer. I wasn't sure what to think of all these crazy coincidental things (there were several more) but I was certainly paying attention. I thought of all the women I know who have survived breast cancer--including John's mom and two other friends--and I was moved by their courage and bravery.
Did I mention that the wait was torturous? I prayed. I cried. I asked friends to pray. I cried some more. I tried to let go of the fear (I had one semi-successful day out of the SIX that I had to wait) but it was just always lurking. I kept myself busy almost all weekend just to avoid the "what ifs" that surfaced in the quiet moments. I also have to mention here that I have THE BEST friends in the world.
There's so much more I want to say but this is already so long, so I'll just get to part you're probably all waiting to read--the biopsy results.
I got good news. My lump is a fibroadenoma, which is a fairly common, solid, rubbery BENIGN mass. The other two masses (which weren't biopsied) may or may not be the same thing but they are soooooo tiny that at this point, they're okay to be monitored via mammogram in six months. I'm more than okay with that. And believe me, there were MANY prayers of thanks offered up yesterday as well as tears of joy. The relief I felt yesterday was E-N-O-R-M-O-U-S.
I'm very well aware that today would be a very different day if I'd gotten different news. Sadly, not everyone facing this kind of scare walks away hearing the beautiful word benign. I think that going through all of this testing/waiting/testing/waiting has softened my heart towards women going through similar health issues. Those bald women I kept running into all weekend? I don't know exactly what they're facing or what their story is but my heart was drawn to them and I know God heard the prayers I whispered on their behalf. This whole ordeal has made me wish to be a gentler, kinder woman because there are people in pain ALL around us...almost ALL the time...who maybe just need a smile, a nod, or a stranger to look them in the eye and let them know that they've been "seen".
One more thing. I've never liked the color pink, but I was shopping earlier this week and purposefully bought a pink top. Most of you probably know that pink is the color for breast cancer awareness. My new PINK top is going to be a reminder of these past couple of months and a symbol/statement of gratitude. I'm determined to love the color pink for all the women out there who have battled and/or are currently battling breast cancer, and I bet every one of you reading this can name at least one.