From “oh, that feels different” to “Let’s get that checked”

A friend of mine at work was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year*. She chose to be very open with her work colleagues about it, and made us all promise to go home and do our monthly breast exams. Pay it forward, she said.

That was January. Despite the promise, I didn’t get around to the breast exam until mid-May, spurred by the site of my friend with no hair in mid-chemo treatment. In the shower one morning I felt something in my left breast that was different. I didn’t panic – I’d had two previous biopsies both of which were fibroids. I have lumpy breasts. I get mammograms every year because I have lumpy breasts and had two previous biopsies, so they like to keep a close watch.

So, a lump was not a knee-jerk cause for panic for me. I almost  didn’t go to the doctor, but I’d promised, so I went. He said “yes, it’s definitely worth checking out” in that calm way doctors do. A diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound was ordered.

Diagnostic mammograms are not your regular annual mammo. They are far more detailed, far more thorough. I’ve been getting mammograms for years, but I’d never had one like this set. Who knew that mammogram machine could do 360 degree images – it rotates around your breast squeezed between those paddles. And, once they’d done multiple sets on the left breast, they then included the right one – just to be thorough. Some little prickling of fear started to grow deep inside my brain – this was unusual. But, my last biopsy was more than 10 years ago, so there’s been lots of advances in diagnostic techniques since then, so I ignored it.

Then they did the ultrasound. Same thing – they covered every inch of the left breast, and the left armpit. Then they did the same thing on the right side. Then they came back and did the left again for good measure.

Somewhere in the hidden halls of the clinic, a radiologist sat examining the scans, determining the need for a biopsy based on what they saw. It was this hidden expert who kept asking for more scans, and who, in the end, ordered a <needle core biopsy> for further diagnostic accuracy.

Still not a cause for full fledged panic. My concern level rose, though. I was repeatedly told to keep in mind that up to 90% of all biopsies are negative. My previous two had been, I was hoping the pattern would hold. But, that little voice in the back of my brain kept pushing – this lump didn’t feel like the previous ones. It didn’t hurt, and that was a good thing. But it felt different.

My needle core biopsy was scheduled for a week later. Great – I had time to commit that greatest of internet sins: health research.

*She had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, and chose a lumpectomy. Her treatment included chemotherapy and radiation.

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