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On Finding a Breast Lump

Feb07

by

Hi Amy,

I’m 27. A few weeks ago I noticed a slightly odd lump in my very lumpy, fibrocystic breasts. I made an appointment with my GYN, and assumed that I would be told it was nothing, and possibly get to ask her some questions about trying to get pregnant. Instead, she wants me to have a breast ultrasound/mammogram. I’ll be honest, when I left the office she told me it was likely nothing and not to worry, and I wasn’t worried. But that was Friday afternoon. Now it is Monday morning, and I have spent the entire weekend obsessing about my husband remarrying after I’m going and if I want to be cremated. I haven’t told anyone but my husband about the mammogram. Adding to the stress is the fact that my father-in-law passed away less than a year ago from cancer. I can’t tell anyone until I know what I’m dealing with. I seem to remember that you have had similar issues – any words of advice? I really really really need some perspective on this.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you,
L

OBLIGATORY BLAH BLAH BLAH: THIS COLUMN DOES NOT DISPENSE MEDICAL ADVICE. ALWAYS TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR.

Also: yes. I went through something similar. I was a bit younger than you — probably around 25? Ish? I think?

Goodness. It was a terrifying, all-consuming obsession that I couldn’t escape from for what felt like months on end…and now I can’t even remember when it happened.

“It” being a breast lump that — for some reason — concerned my OB/GYN. I had fibrocystic breast disease through my teens and twenties (it went away after pregnancy/breastfeeding), so lumps were not an unusual occurrence. I had my first breast ultrasound at 18 years old to confirm that yes, the lumps were all cystic and generally came and went depending on my highly irregular menstrual cycle. I’d long learned not to panic during self-exams and my doctor always seemed confident that any lumps he felt were run-of-the-mill, temporary cysts.

Until that one. I still don’t really know why it alarmed him, why it immediately struck him as different. Sure enough, once I started paying attention to it, I realized maybe it did feel a little different, more firmer/pronounced, and it didn’t go away. I was sent for a mammogram which turned out to be completely useless due to my age, and then for an ultrasound, which revealed that the lump was kinda solid and not typical cystic-y looking.

(You can probably imagine my anxiety level at this point, going from appointment to appointment and procedure to procedure convinced that I was already riddled with cancer.)

In the end, though, it was a typical cyst that had absorbed some blood, which kept it some shrinking and made it feel strange and look solid on an ultrasound. Very, very common among us fibrocystic ladies. It needed to be aspirated and that was it. They tested the drained fluid just to be safe. NOT CANCER. After the aspiration, the lump promptly disappeared.

(Well. After the CORRECT lump was aspirated. The first guy I went to botched the procedure, aspirated the wrong lump and left me with a pocket of scar tissue I can feel to this day. I then went to a breast health center and had another aspiration. They got the “right” lump and caused zero scarring or trauma. But none of that is going to happen to you because, if you need an aspiration, you’re gonna order your doctor to refer you to someone who is not an idiot. If there’s a speciality breast center affiliated with a good local hospital near you, check it out. They probably know boobs best.)

Anyway. I don’t know if that’s what’s happening to you. I can’t know. My breasts? Are not your breasts. My story is not analogous to yours, just because there are some similar details here and there. I hope hearing it helps, but dear God, don’t let it soothe you into inaction or procrastination, okay?

Now please, go schedule a breast ultrasound. Or MRI, or whatever your doctor recommends most. I know you mentioned a mammogram, and if that is indeed what your doctor thinks is best here, follow her advice. HOWEVER, if she said either/or, or didn’t clarify which procedure you should prioritize, I would recommend you call her and have another talk about it. I don’t want to freak you out, and I’m guessing you have also Googled “mammograms before 30″ and have seen the 2012 warnings about radiation risks and general recommendations that other procedures be considered first for someone your age. (Especially since the readability of a mammogram in someone young isn’t always so hot.) Again, not trying to freak you out, just want to empower you to ask the right questions and communicate more thoroughly with your doctor. If she thinks a single mammogram will give you the best picture of what’s going on, do it, and do it quickly. Whatever this is, you want an answer as soon as possible.

And then TELL SOMEONE, if you need to, if you’re going out of your mind with worry. (Note that it is perfectly understandable to be going out of your mind with worry.) No, you don’t have to wait until you know what you’re dealing with. It’s the unknown that’s the hardest thing to deal with, and the thing you need love and support and distraction from.

I’ve been writing this column long enough to be able to tell a lot about people from a single email. Here are my guesses about you. Tell me if I’m kinda close on a couple: You don’t like to bother people, or make anyone worry or fuss over you. “Being a burden” is a big fear, either emotionally or physically, because of illness or old age or whatever. You maybe come from strong, silent type-stock who keep things to themselves and tend to put on a good front no matter what. But for you, doing that manifests as spiraling, swirly anxiety of worst-case scenarios — and it only gets worse the more you try to forcibly mash the feelings back down into your chest, where they then wreak havoc on your digestive tract.

(OH HI. BASICALLY I’VE IMAGINED YOU AS ME.)

Tell someone. Talk to someone. Let your husband see you cry. Tell him you want him to come with you to the appointment and hold your hand in the waiting room. Do not be afraid to tell your mom, a sister, a good close friend. Do not be afraid to ask for help or company. “I don’t know what I’m dealing with yet. I just know that I’m scared and can’t stop thinking about it. Can we go shopping or see a movie or can you can over for a trashy show marathon this weekend?”

Did writing this email help? (I hope so.) Keep talking and writing and feeling what you’re feeling, instead of berating yourself for being irrational. It’s okay. Then quickly get an appointment on the calendar and get it over with.

And hey! One day, many many years from now, when you also go blank on the dates of that time you had a boob scare, you can track down this column and be like, “oh, right, yeah.”

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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23 Responses to “On Finding a Breast Lump”

  1. Claire Feb 07 at 4:13 pm Reply Reply

    No advice, Amy is spot on. Just sending internet hugs. They helped me over 2 years ago when I was having my massive breakdown over whatifs. I hope they can offer you a little help now. I’ll be thinking of you. Update us if you can.

    *hugs*
    xxx

  2. Erin Feb 07 at 4:40 pm Reply Reply

    I just went through this EXACT scenario two weeks ago. I was just fine at first because lumpy breasts are common in my family. Then I had to make the appointment(s) for the mammogram and ultrasound. The woman was HORRIBLE to me on the phone. Just rude! It sent me into a tailspin and then the worry set in. I wasn’t planning on telling anyone except my husband either. Well, I confided in two close friends. One called right after I got off the phone making the appointment. She knew something was up. It felt better with a close friend knowing what was going on. I had someone that checked in on me. AND I now have followed up with a breast specialist. All is A-OKAY! Yay! I do have to sleep in a sports bra and I take an evening primrose supplement. Good luck to you…I’ll also send a gentle hug in the meantime. XX

  3. Amber Feb 07 at 4:56 pm Reply Reply

    My sister quite literally just had this same issue 2 weeks ago. She was internally flipping the eff out, and appeared cool, calm, and collected on the outside. She made the mistake of telling our mom, who proceeded to unhinge which is what caused my sister to unhinge. If your family is similar in their reactions to this type of thing, I can totally understand your hesitation to mention it to anybody. Like Amy, I encourage you to talk to your husband, or good friend b/c that will do wonders for you. My sister’s lump ended up being nothing but a cyst, and was told to lay off the 4 pots of coffee a day habit ;) Don’t panic until there is something to panic about. I’m sending you healthy boob vibes, and I hope this ends up being much ado about nothing!

  4. abby Feb 07 at 5:37 pm Reply Reply

    my heart goes out to you and I hope are able to get your mammogram soon. Like others who have commented I had something similar when I was 21. At first doctors told me not to worry at all and that it was probably a cyst. I had an ultrasound and they found out it was actually a mass and suddenly everyone seemed much more concerned which freaked me out. I needed a biopsy but they suggested just removing it because either way I would have a similar sized scar. It turned out to be a lipoma which is essentially a non-cancerous fatty tumor. I had no idea there were even such things but apparently they are fairly common. Best wishes to you and hopefully you will have a similar happy ending.

  5. Natasha Feb 07 at 5:50 pm Reply Reply

    Right there with you – literally, if you live near Seattle! Going for the tests next week. It’s my nth time, so I’m rather confident it’s nothing troublesome…. Except that you can’t rely on confidence. Right?

    Have you watched Downton Abbey? The housekeeper has a lump? She has to wait two months to find out if it is cancer… And then the prognosis is… Wait to die, apparently?!?

    Let’s be thankful we live in a time of rapid diagnosis and treatment options, for ourselves, our sisters, mothers, friends, daughters.

    It’s probably nothing. If it is something, you take it one step at a time. Like I will. You reach out. You get support. You be treated, you be loved. You fight back. You be scared. You find courage. You’re not alone.

    In life, pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. At least, according to an anonymous someone wiser than I.

    Hugs.

  6. Catherine Feb 08 at 10:30 am Reply Reply

    Hugs to you sweetheart. Please bear in mind what with late 20′s pre-pregnancy breasts being pretty perky i.e. dense and hard to squash in a mammogram machine, you might be sent for an ultrasound or MRI rather than a mammogram. Just sharing so you’re not surprised if your hospital visit isn’t what you expected and don’t start panicking that having a different type of scan means Bad News.

  7. Mary Feb 08 at 11:37 pm Reply Reply

    I needed off for the same appt 2 years ago. I ended up almost crying in front of my (male) boss. He asked if he could hug me and confided his wife just went through a horrible cancer scare. I felt better knowing I had support and someone else in my corner.

  8. Mary Feb 08 at 11:39 pm Reply Reply

    By the way, after biopsy it was nothing to worry about.

  9. Kat Feb 09 at 5:36 pm Reply Reply

    Hugs!! First, internet hugs. Second: my mom is one of those people that never says anything about anything. She has had a myriad of non-serious but kind of serious health problems (she’s still young, too – she’ll be turning 50 this summer). I tell you that to tell you this: she keeps things to herself and it DRIVES ME NUTS. I wish that she would open up, let us support her more. I would happily listen to her worries over the phone. I would absolutely attend any appointment anywhere, anytime. I would happily distract her with movies and pedicure appointments. But…she just doesn’t want that. She wants to avoid being a burden. Doesn’t want any of us to worry because it’s *almost always* nothing. As a person forced into standing by while someone I adore is scared and worried and all that, let me say this to you in my kindest internet voice: TELL SOMEONE. People love to be kind and supportive when given the chance, even if it’s just a scare. Speak up, share your worries. It’s easier, I promise.

  10. Mons Feb 09 at 9:27 pm Reply Reply

    Please tell someone, just so you are not feeling alone. I went through a similar scare a few years ago – lump in my breast that turned out to be a cyst after aspiration and the biopsy came back normal. I hope it will turned out the same way for you! I did not want to talk about it or mention it to anyone because I was embarrassed, luckily my boyfriend (now husband) was very supportive.

    Yes, others (parents, partner, friends) may be ‘needlessly’ worried for you, but on the other hand it is perfectly normal need not wanting/having to go through the wait period alone. Also, in the case the news are less than stellar (which I really hope they won’t be, and there is no reason to assume at this point they would be) it might be even more difficult to share and reach out for support.

    Good luck!

  11. Jennifer Feb 10 at 11:55 am Reply Reply

    (A little different side here, when The Worst does happen)
    I was 29 and my daughter was 10 months old, I found a lump by my collar bone.  My first thought was Grandma had lymphoma and it was in her neck, which is what got my butt to the Dr to be checked out (had some other weird things going on but no specific indicators of anything).  I absolutely second/third everyone on the try not to worry but GET IT CHECKED side.  Even if it is The Worst, you can’t fight until you know what you’re fighting against.  And fight you can.  Better to find out then wonder, even if the ‘might be’ outcome is scary as hell.
    I didn’t tell anyone but my husband, because, like you, I didn’t want to worry anyone until there was a reason to worry.  My aunt (Mom’s sister) had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and the last thing I wanted to do was sound the alarm for no reason and come off like a nervous Nelly,  That was fine – for me.  I’m the kind of person who can push it off and not worry too much until I know there is A Thing, then let people know what is going on and meet the challenge head on.  I was not obsessing over my possible death or fighting tears throughout the day.  Not everyone is that way and there is nothing wrong with needing to talk to someone and have that extra support.  That I didn’t need it doesn’t make me better or stronger, just different.  If you find yourself drowning over the what ifs, if you are constantly crying or upset or just plain freaking out, TELL SOMEONE.  We have the support of family and friends for a reason, and you should reach out if you need it.
    Two weeks later we we found out it was, in fact, Lymphoma.  While I had a few dark moments about not being able to see my daughter grow up, I was able to stay positive and told everyone I WILL BEAT THIS. Lucky for me I am stubborn enough to be right and 6 months later I was in complete remission and now 2 1/2 years later I am 7 months pregnant with our second child (even more awesome when you consider that when I was diagnosed I was told flat out that i might never be able to have any more of my own children, they just didn’t know what chemo would do to me).
    The Worst is hard and it sucks but it CAN BE BEATEN.  The earlier you are diagnosed the better, and better to be taken seriously and find out than to have your doctor assume its probably not an issue and so we’ll just not bother and be wrong.  
    Just because The Worst can happen doesn’t mean it will, but, believe me, it’s much better to know than to have the what ifs.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman Feb 10 at 12:38 pm Reply Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and advice. Very happy to hear you are in remission. :)

  12. Hillary Feb 10 at 3:16 pm Reply Reply

    I was also 27 when I found a lump. It took months before I ended up having surgery and the biopsy confirmed it was a benign fibroadenoma. From the moment when I noticed the lump and made the appt with my gyno to the moment I got the call from the breast cancer surgeon telling me the lump was benign, I was in a state of high anxiety. I also didn’t tell anyone besides my boyfriend and my mother (who revealed that she’d had a few lumps in her boobs, one of which was also surgically removed and turned out to be benign – would’ve been nice to know that before finding my own lump!). Each visit was nerve wracking waiting to find out if something was seriously wrong. I write this just to tell you that I remember feeling the way you feel and you’re not alone. This is scary stuff. Please reach out for support! I will be thinking of you and hoping that your ordeal is almost over and you are just fine. BTW, I was also sent for a mammogram, but when I arrived at the testing facility they did an ultrasound instead.

  13. Hillary Feb 10 at 3:18 pm Reply Reply

    edited to add – I did eventually tell friends, and it made a huge difference. Good luck to you!

  14. Suzy Q Feb 10 at 7:30 pm Reply Reply

    Also, while your doctor is covering all of your health bases, she is also Covering Her Ass, legally. You came to her with a definite and palpable “problem.” If she doesn’t send you for testing or DO SOMETHING about it, she is not doing her job. This is a good plan for both of you. Best of luck!

  15. Sara Feb 10 at 10:37 pm Reply Reply

    As I write this, I’m 14 treatments away from completing a year of treatment for breast cancer.  The reality is that some lumps are cancer…and cancer is scary.  Your lump probably isn’t cancer but cancer isn’t a death sentence.  People who haven’t gone through it probably don’t realize what is meant when people talk about the journey…but that’s what it is.  It makes you stronger, more appreciate, more considerate.  It gives you experiences you can share.  I’ve met beautiful people, forgiven people, I’ve really become a better person and mother.  Please share your concerns with your spouse and family, you shouldn’t go through this alone.  Please update us with your results.  As a young mother, I understand your fear…but have faith that you’ll have the strength the handle whatever life throws at you.  

    • Jennifer Feb 11 at 10:39 am Reply Reply

      This is all so very true.  I tell people I didn’t have the back luck to get cancer, I had toe good luck to beat cancer.  Staying positive was my best weapon, and you won’t believe the amount of support you will find from practically everyone you meet.

  16. Lynn Feb 11 at 11:56 am Reply Reply

    I have a similar issue, except instead of breast cancer, I worry about skin cancer. Some things turn out to be benign, some not so much, but not quite cancer yet either. Anyway. Amy is right. Talk to people, try to take your mind off it with a girl’s night or fun date with your husband. Hopefully we will all live very long lives, which inevitably means lots of health scares along the way. Creating good coping mechanisms is crucial for our sanity. Good luck!

  17. kimm Feb 11 at 5:59 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah I went through that too. Had ultrasound and high pressure mammogram, and went to have a biopsy, but. Morning of my biopsy Dr said hey, there is this great radiologist who I trust, she looked at your ultrasound and I want her to do another one herself to confirm what she thinks, that its just a lymph node that has migrated into the edge of your breast. And she did and said no biopsy necessary. So dont worry yet, I wasted a lot of anxiety that month is all I’m saying.

  18. Natasha Mar 04 at 11:23 am Reply Reply

    I’m thinking of the OP. My lump turned out to be cancer. So far Stage 2A, until the node biopsy gives more certain results. There is a long road ahead with surgery starting it off next week. I am hoping the OP fared better, and if not, has heard of and connected with the young survivors coalition.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman Mar 04 at 12:30 pm Reply Reply

      Oh, Natasha. Thinking of you and sending many many healing thoughts and wishes. Strong hugs for you.

  19. Sara Mar 06 at 10:06 am Reply Reply

    Natasha, you will get through this! I’m at the end of the journey and even though it was rough…it does end! Keep your eye on the prize, accept help, stay involved in a community rather than isolating yourself, don’t read to much information on the internet (there’s a lot of misinformation that could scare you or bring you down), open up to people and smile…the caretakers I’ve met were unbelievably kind and funny. It actually made chemo something I looked forward to. All the best

  20. Natasha Mar 17 at 9:07 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks, ladies. Treatment has started and it’s no fun. One step at a time. Some of those backwards! What a mess, all of a sudden.

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