If you’re a close friend or coworker of mine, you know that I take preventing illness very seriously. In fact, I wear a surgical mask when people are coughing and sneezing around me on public transportation. The photo below is of me proudly wearing a surgical mask on the train two winters ago.
When it comes to surgical masks, winter isn’t the only time I don them. The following picture is of me from two summers ago. I rode the bus from Boston to New Hampshire to help my friend pack supplies for her wedding weekend in Maine. When she picked me up from the bus stop in New Hampshire, she informed me that she was sick; in response, I quickly put on a surgical mask that I had stored in my purse for emergencies like this.
These photos serve as evidence to prove how proactive I am about preventing illness and maintaining my health.
If only preventing cancer were that easy.
This past fall, I went to my annual checkup with my PCP. She did a breast exam on me, and I was fine.
The following month, I met with my OBGYN. I didn’t have an urgent need to see her. She simply had moved to another practice; therefore, I scheduled an appointment as a “new patient” with her so that she could continue to serve as my medical provider. During that appointment, she did a breast exam on me, and again I was fine.
The next month, I was lying in bed when I felt a lump in my breast. After I noticed it, I quickly sat up and began to feel the lump to get a clearer idea of its size and texture. It was larger and more palpable than anything I had felt in my breasts before. Next I compared the area around the lump to the corresponding area on my other breast. Given how recently I had seen both my PCP and OBGYN, I told myself to chill and to see how it feels the next day.
The following day it had not gone away. That is when I started to ask friends if they had ever felt a lump in their breast. One of my friends, who is a nurse, advised me to wait it out. After all, I was expecting my period so my tenderness could’ve been from that.
I couldn’t wait it out. I kept remembering my friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer around her late 20s. Within a couple days, I met with the doctor on call for urgent care in my PCP’s office. That appointment led to more appointments and tests, and that is how I found out I had breast cancer.
I have replayed the chain of events leading up to this discovery in my mind every day since I first noticed that lump in my breast.
One day, I had my PCP appointment. 26 days later, I had my OBGYN appointment. 22 days later, I felt the lump in my breast. That is 48 days total.
When I reflect on that timeline, I don’t know what else I could’ve done to find the lump sooner. Because of my age, I wasn’t old enough to have a screening mammogram.
I kept asking myself how it could’ve grown so rapidly. Then my friend, who’s a breast cancer survivor, told me that it probably had been in my body for years. It begins with one cell after all; however, it took less than one menstrual cycle for the lump to be detectable through a physical examination.
I don’t know what the lesson is here.
Whenever people ask me how I found out I had breast cancer, it has been my instinct to mention my two doctors’ appointments first to show how quickly my body changed afterward.
Although this lump was not found at either of my doctors’ appointments, I still believe that there is value to seeing your doctor(s) at least annually. That way, there’s a baseline for examining and monitoring your health.
As I write this, do I still feel disappointed and frustrated with the universe that this had not been detected earlier? Sure.
I wish that I could’ve had a screening mammogram at a younger age; however, my friend, who is pursuing a doctorate in public health, listed for me all of the reasons why earlier screening mammograms do not make sense for most women from a research standpoint.
Honestly, I don’t remember all of the reasons she listed. I appreciated her insight, but I was too pissed off about my situation to absorb all of her words in the moment.
At the end of the day, I’m grateful that I was self-aware enough to notice that something was different with my body, and that I erred on the side of caution when deciding whether or not to seek medical attention.
I followed my intuition, and I’m relieved that I did. That relief doesn’t remove my grief. That relief doesn’t stop me from replaying the chain of events in my head, but it gives me a sense that I did what I could with the resources I had. I don’t know yet if I’d call it a sense of peace, but it is a sense I’m glad I had.