I am sitting in the waiting room of the Breast Center at Albany Medical.
My body is pressed firmly against the back of the chair. My arms are straight down beside me. My elbows are locked. My hands are grasping the sides of the seat cushion. My finger nails are scratching. My legs are shaking.
Jeff sits beside me and rubs my back, as I try to breathe in, out, in, out, in…
My name is called.
I walk into what looks like a clothing store fitting room. I remove my shirt and my bra, and wrap a medical robe around me.
I exit the ‘fitting room’, and enter a room full of women. Women who are sitting, waiting, and wearing similar robes. They are much older, and flash sympathetic smiles in my direction. They think, she is too young to be here. Or, maybe that’s only in my head.
I sit. I wait. I stare at the wall. My feet are tapping, as I breathe in, out, in, out, in…
My name is called.
I stand, my arms wrapped around my stomach to keep my robe closed.
I enter the exam room. The door closes.
At an annual check-up in May 2007, my OBGYN found a lump in my right breast. “That’s a cyst,” he said very seriously, and handed me a referral to have a mammogram and ultrasound done. That afternoon, while shopping with a friend for an upcoming beach trip, I couldn’t bear to try anything on. I didn’t want to take off my shirt. I didn’t want to think about it at all.
A week later, I had an ultrasound done, and the technician determined that it was a false alarm. There was nothing there. Relieved, I moved on and forgot about it.
In February 2010, while doing a self-exam in my shower, I felt the lump again. This time it was more noticeable. It had always hurt to touch, but this time it felt bigger and hurt more. So, I made an appointment with a different doctor. I got another referral for a mammogram and ultrasound, and cried the rest of the night.
My boyfriend,Jeff, took me to my 8 a.m. appointment at The Breast Center in St. Peter’s hospital in Albany. Unlike my appointment in 2007, where the doctors decided that a mammogram was unnecessary, the mammogram was the first test I walked into that day. Wearing a paper robe, and sitting vulnerably in waiting room with women 20 to 30 years older than me, I wondered what they were thinking. Were they asking themselves “why is this 20-something year old girl here to get a mammogram?” I had no idea what to expect. Thinking back now, I remember my mother telling me in 2007 that mammograms were supposed to hurt, but I wasn’t thinking about it then.
My name was called.
I walked into the room, and took off my robe. The woman explained that she was going to squeeze my breast between two plates and that it might be uncomfortable. That was an understatement. The pain was unbearable. Not only am I an A-cup, but my right breast hurts all the time without having two plates squeezing it together. I started to freak out. I have anxiety problems, and I suddenly felt light-headed, and couldn’t breathe. The plates were the only thing holding me up, and I said to the lady, “I think I’m going to pass out.” Next thing I knew, I was sitting in a chair with my head between my legs. Then, a nurse came in and took my blood pressure. When I finally calmed down from my panic attack, I went on with the test. The nurse handed me a cup of water and told me to eat something as soon as I was done with my tests.
After the mammogram, I was sent back to the waiting room. My ultrasound was up next. When my name was called, I stood up, crossed my fingers behind my back, and walked into the exam room.
“There is something there but I can’t say anything for sure,” the technician said. She left the room with my results, and came back what seemed like a half hour later. In reality, it was only 10 minutes. But 10 minutes is a long time to wait when you’re expecting the worst. She came back and told me there was an abnormality in my breast, and that nine times out of 10, it’s benign (non-cancerous) tumor.
With that news,an appointment with a breast surgeon, and no appetite whatsoever, I left the hospital with Jeff and went to a cafe for brunch. The week between that appointment and my appointment with the breast surgeon dragged. Scared beyond belief, I walked into that appointment fully expecting the worst. “I have breast cancer,” I thought, even though the ultra-sound technician told me it probably wasn’t the case.
The breast surgeon walked in with a nurse and they both stood over me examining my breast. It took him ten minutes before he admitted that he couldn’t find the lump. He left the room to check my films from the ultrasound. I was topless and vulnerable when he walked back into the room with not only the nurse, but another doctor. “We’re pretty sure its a fibroadenoma,” he said. “It has all the characteristics of one.”
A fibroadenoma is a benign, noncancerous tumor, that is firm, movable, rubbery, and painless, he explained. Painless, I asked? Turns out the pain I was experiencing was something completely different. Even if he removed the tumor, I would still experience breast pain, he said. The cause? Non-cyclic Mastalgia, breast pain and tenderness that occurs in women because of hormones. (Note- I’ve since read that a fibroadenoma may, in fact, cause this pain- but doctor knows best, right?).
The doctor gave me a few options. I could have a biopsy done, or I could wait six months to see if the tumor changed in size (as they often do). I chose the latter, and my follow-up ultra-sound and breast surgeon appointment is scheduled for the end of August. I left the doctor that day relieved, but not without doubt. Although fibroadenomas are noncancerous, having one slightly increases the risk that I may develop breast cancer.
I am still healing from a running injury, but I want to run the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October. It’s more important to me than anything. I just hope my ankle is healed by then. I’m a newbie runner and have never done any races before.
I’ve only told a handful of people my story and only briefly referenced it on my blog. I never wanted people to feel bad for me or think I was not a healthy person. I am the last person any of my friends or family would have expected this to happen to. But, then I realized that something like this could happen to anyone, and there’s no reason to feel ashamed.
I am strong. I am beautiful. Things will be OK. I know it.
Thank you for reading <3