What Not to Do When You Find a Lump in Your Breast

October is a great month to think about breast health. Most women today know that breast self exams should be done monthly. Clinical exams yearly. And mammograms annually after age 40. I do my best to get my clinical exams every year around my birthday. Each time, I deeply fear they will find something, but 100% believe they won’t. That wasn’t the case last February.

As a person with dense fibrous breasts, I’ve got lots of bumps and lumps. So at my exam, when my OB/GYN told me I had a lump. I told her I have lots of lumps. “This one’s different,” she said and showing me where to feel. “See,” she said, “It’s not symmetrical on the other side.” I explained to her the deal. Every year I come in as scheduled, and every year she tells me I’m fine. “Not this time,” she said “I’m sending you to a specialist.”

“What type of a specialist?” I asked. Did she mean the oncologist, the cancer doctor?

“A breast doctor,” she replied.

“You mean an… oncologist?” I asked. She nodded. She wrote me a referral for a diagnostic mammogram and an appointment with the specialist. It was now after 5:00 on a Friday. Here are some “Don’ts” to learn from me:

Don’t freak out. The only things you can do at this point are to get seen and get care. Grouching out at people does not help. On the next working day, I held the phone in my hands and watched the clock until 9:00 a.m. when I could schedule my mammogram. The woman on the phone asked me question after question. Finally I blurted out, “You are stressing me out. All I know is I’ve got a lump and you are stressing me out. Let me talk to someone else.” Totally uncalled for on my part. She booked my appointment for Wednesday two days later.

Don’t miss a resource around you. Upon hanging up the phone, I made a b-line for Sabrina my co-worker who has had a double mastectomy. She is a health editor and a font of wisdom. She told me not to worry, most cases are false positives. Finding a lump is only the first part, then there’s needle biopsies and excise biopsies. And each stage, there’s a great chance you’ll find out you’re clear. Whew. Plus if you’re doing your exams yearly, you probably caught anything early. Making it to Wednesday just got easier.

Don’t think you are alone. My friend and co-worker Pam has had breast cancer, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery too. She recently told a funny story. We have a very frank boss. One day Pam and our boss were talking about Pam’s surgery. Our boss looked Pam’s new additions up and down. “So that’s the size you wanted?” our boss asked. Pam about died. But it makes a funny story.

Don’t skimp on your health, Mom. So my diagnostic mammogram said all was clear. My OB/GYN insisted I see the oncologist anyway. She’d recently lost an aunt to melanoma. The oncologist did a needle biopsy which showed no cancer, but needle biopsies are not 100% accurate. “OK,” I said as the oncologist told me the results, I’d had enough worry, “Go ahead and take the lump out now anyway.” But unlike a dermatologist who takes care of slicing up your skin, burning off cancers all in one appointment, an oncologist has to schedule surgery. And even though it’s “outpatient,” it’s pretty serious.

When I went in for pre-op, they put me in a puffy dressing gown that had warm air pumping through it to keep me comfortable during surgery. Yikes. I’d take a plain old dressing gown for a few dollars off the mega health care bill. When they wheeled me into surgery, it was really hard-core too like on the TV with a viewing window, surgery lights and tons of people in the room. They don’t take lumps lightly.

When all was said and done, the lump was completely benign. Ordeal over. Peace of mind restored. But I’m no hero. The heroes are those moms, daughters and sisters whose lumps aren’t clear. The survivors. The ones who wear the pink ribbons. It’s for them we need to walk and race for the cure.

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