On Finding a Breast Lump
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,
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.”Published February 7, 2014. Last updated September 19, 2018.