A few years ago I wrote a blog about my journey of breastfeeding for Breastfeeding Awareness Week but this year I’ve written this to make sure that as women we check our breasts. We hear so much in the media about breast checks but how many of us actually do it. So today here is how the past few weeks have been for me and my family.
A week and a half ago my Nanna was staying with us and I woke up on a Saturday morning with a cold. I also noticed I had pain in my arm that was probably coming from my breast. I had just worked a solid three full weeks (which clearly my body isn’t used to), I was run down and when I’m run down I sometimes get a staph infection in my breast. For those of you reading this who have breastfed it feels like mastitis.
On Saturday night I took Nanna to church and came home feeling worse. I laid on the lounge and felt the pain tracking. As I tried to find the gland where the pain was coming from I was a little shocked to realise the source was a lump in my breast. I never usually get a lump with this infection.
I woke on Sunday morning and the infection had now tracked from my breast, into my shoulder and up the side of my throat. It was time for antibiotics. I went to emergency and waited.
A lovely Dr saw me and told me she didn’t believe I had a breast infection but I did have a sinus infection and I was awfully run down and I should have that lump in my breast checked asap. To be honest I thought I’d take my antibiotics for a few days and the lump would go but I had this feeling that it wasn’t that simple this time.
The next day was Monday and I was booked that afternoon for a mammogram and ultrasound. When I made the booking they asked if I was under 35, no I’m actually now 35. She clarified that 35 and over is a greater risk which is why they do a mammogram and both scans pick up different things.
Interestingly the mammogram was first and I don’t think the lump could even be seen. I went straight in for the ultrasound next. The radiographer was the same lady who had done my ultrasound in March this year after another bout of staph in my breast.
We saw the lump straight away and I said to her “So, it’s just a hormonal lump that will be reabsorbed by my body in a few weeks?”
She replied “Ah no Christine, this time it’s different.”
This time I began to worry. She went outside to compare my mammogram and the last ultrasound I had. I was told that in March there was no evidence of this lump so this was great news. Then the head radiologist came in and told me the makeup of this lump was concerning and they’d do a biopsy, right now!
When the biopsy was done I told him to be honest with me and explain what his thoughts are. This is exactly what I said to him: “John, I had cancer fifteen years ago. That time I was newly married and had no children. Now, I’m a mother to three beautiful young children and if you have any thoughts in your head that this thing is cancer, then I need to know. I need to prepare myself for all the what if’s. I cannot be shocked into hearing I have cancer on Friday. If it’s going to be cancer I’m going to be prepared and I know this goes against all the rules but so does getting cancer twice by the age of 35.”
Poor John, I felt a little sorry for him. He replied, “Christine, this lump is partially solid. It has it’s own blood flow. It is not breast tissue and should not be there. I don’t know what the results are going to be but you should be prepared for what they COULD be.”
I liked John A LOT. I’m not even sure that was his name. I thanked him for doing the most painless biopsy I’d ever experienced and I paid that really large bloody bill and I walked out that door, down the lift, to my car and I was not going to cry and I was not going to have cancer again.
So, I drove to my neighbour’s house because Rhonda was as close to my Mum that I’d get. I knocked on her door, asked for a cup of tea and then dissolved into tears and got a really big hug from the best neighbour ever.
I got home sometime later and was delighted that our neighbour across the road is actually the best breast surgeon in our region. I called his wife, I didn’t cry and asked very nicely if her wonderful husband could see me on Friday afternoon after I receive the biopsy results.
Tuesday morning at 6.30am my phone indicated a message that her husband would indeed see me on Friday as soon as I’d seen the GP for my results. Living in the country and knowing everyone in town really has it’s benefits.
Three more sleeps.
The week dragged on and I became increasingly stressed. If you ran into me that week you may have come across a crazy lady because in my head I was working out how I will tell my children that I have cancer, again! How I try NOT to worry my nine year old, who is a worrier. How I manage my brand new business with all these families relying on me. My head was a mess.
Two more sleeps.
I dropped the kids at school and decided to get a coffee, I ended up driving somewhere completely unknown and finally found my way back to coffee. The café owner is actually one of my family day care families. I walked in ordered my coffee and from behind the coffee machine she took one look at me, came out and enveloped me in a huge hug. It took everything I had not to cry. Later that day I received beautiful flowers from them and they still fill my lounge room with the scent of lillies.
One more sleep.
My beautiful friend Katrina heard through our very small grapevine that something was happening. She called me and invited me to her home. We drank tea, we walked around her amazing property and because my Nanna was with us and we didn’t want to worry her we didn’t talk about it. I nearly broke when Katrina hugged me goodbye. It was exactly what I needed. I really am so lucky to have you.
The day of the first results. Friday.
On Friday morning I took Nanna to the airport early and as I was saying goodbye to her at security she burst into tears. She even told me that she knew I was lying and there was something wrong. Old people are too intuitive. I got home and walked around our property. I realised I wasn’t wearing my butterfly Charlize necklace as I’d taken it off earlier in the week for the scans. I put it back on then wandered around outside. A butterfly followed me.
At 2.45pm my lovely GP told us that he was delighted to say that the lump was benign. They were actually surprised as it looked pretty nasty so he was glad I was heading straight to see the breast surgeon.
The surgeon also confirmed the biopsy pathology stated it was benign but he was concerned about the frequency of my recurrent infections in my breast, as was I. We talked at length about removing the lump or watching it for a while. My final question to him made the decision clear for me, I said “Dr, when the biopsy on my thyroid was done I was told the result and then I had surgery to remove it. Only after the surgery was done did the final pathology diagnose cancer. So, my question today is, this biopsy on my breast says benign, is it really benign or if you remove it, is it likely it could be cancer.”
I actually didn’t need his answer after I saw the look on his face, even though I listened to his answer. It was decided my surgery would be on Monday to remove it.
At 8.30am I was told to come to the hospital where a piece of wire would be inserted into my breast under a local anaesthetic so the surgeon could clearly identify the lump during the surgery. My lump could no longer be felt by me and although could be found on ultrasound had shrunk since the biopsy.
Let’s just say the whole wire in the breast is a very unpleasant experience and having a very nice man and lady shove and pull my breast in all sorts of unusual directions was a bit unfair considering I was fasting and couldn’t even have a coffee. So it was taped in place and then I hoped I wasn’t too far down the surgery list in case the local wore off.
Finally, at 1.30pm I went into surgery. I was so close to asking him to slip some C cup chicken fillets in my breasts whilst he was in there but I kind of didn’t feel that brave. The procedure went well, although longer than anticipated.
I was sent home with a huge patch over my breast and told to rest and recover.
Today is Wednesday 3rd August, I still have no idea what my breast looks like as it is fully covered and the patch isn’t allowed to come off until tomorrow. The night before the surgery I had a long hot shower and I may have cried silent tears. I looked down at my breasts and I told them I was proud of them. Some women aren’t as lucky as I was and can’t feed their babies. My breasts let me express from them for months and then shove a tiny screaming baby onto them to rip them into shape. They fed my three beautiful babies. They fed through too many bouts of mastitis. They made them all that adorable fat looking cherubs. My babies all loved my breasts. They drew comfort from them, they drew nutrition from them, they drew immunity from them and for my last baby she drew sleep from only them. They were my saviour with her. I wanted my breasts to know that they served their purpose and they served it well and I was so thankful for what they provided for my family.
Tonight my phone rang. It was my surgeon/amazing neighbour.
He told me that it was good news. The results showed the lump was benign. However …. Why is there always a bloody however!!
However, it seems that there were some abnormal cells. Those cells can cause cancer. There is no evidence of cancer in my breast. There was a large amount of infection in my breast which they removed which is why the surgery was longer than planned.
Tonight, I took one very long deep breath after that phone call. I turned around, burst into tears and hugged my wonderfully supportive husband.
The one thing I’ll take from tonight’s call is this, I asked if I should continue to have six monthly ultrasounds, he said to me “Christine, you found that lump. We didn’t. Self-breast examination is the best way to find these things. Well done.”
So ladies, every month check those breasts. Get to know them as well as your husband or partner does. Learn when they change according to your cycle, learn to notice if they do change and most importantly get it checked and trust your instinct.
Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Week!