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It's probably nothing ...

Posted Jun 18 2013 12:00am
"But we better make sure!"

This is what I've been hearing for the last 6 months; and as it turned out, finding out for sure proved to be a lot harder than we thought! But let's start from the beginning: You might remember me mentioning before Christmas that when I saw my doctor because of a persistant pain radiating from my arm pit toward my right breast (most likely due to a soft-tissue injury I sustained while teaching one of my fitness classes), she suggested I better have it checked out. You know: It's probably nothing, but we better make sure. So I had a mammogram, and then another, and a couple of ultrasounds, and then a lump was found. The radiologist didn't think the lump looked malignant (or was responsible for the pain, which by that point had just about resolved), but you know: We better made sure! So I had a core needle biopsy right before Christmas, and the results took forever, and when they finally came, they suggested the mass was benign (good news!) but the cellular make-up wasn't quite what they would had expected, given the type of benign tumor they thought it was, and so they were somewhat inconclusive (not good news!). I was told to come back in 6 months for a follow-up, "just to be sure" and at that point, assuming the mass hadn't grown, we knew we absolutely had nothing to worry about.

So I went back for my check-up some time in May, and - you guessed it - the tumor had grown. So then everybody was getting a little more nervous, even though it was "still probably nothing" - but it should probably be removed. "Just to be sure." So I waited 3 weeks for an appointment with a breast surgeon, who told me more of the same thing - it's probably a benign fibroadenoma, but we just won't know for sure until we take the whole thing out, and there's definitely a chance it's not a fibroadenoma and it's not benign (read: it could be cancer.) Then I waited another 10 days for the surgery, which was last Friday. I elected to have it done under local anesthesia only, because, you know, this stupid little thing had interrupted my life enough as it was and I just didn't want to worry about a huge procedure with fasting before-hand / having to go into recovery after, etc. This way, it was a just a quick, 30 minute in-and-out procedure. The down-side of it being, of course, that I laid there, wide awake, while my breast was cut open. The other, to me much bigger down-side was that I am in the middle of peak training for my biggest race yet. And now I have stitches to worry about, and exercise restrictions, and can't swim in a lake or lift any weight. Oh, and even though the lump was now out, we still didn't know what it was. That took some more waiting. 4 more days of waiting.

I was trying (more and less successfully at times) to keep this whole thing in perspective. When we first discovered the lump in December, I wasn't all that freaked out about it. Waiting for the pathology report the first time around wasn't all that much fun (especially since that took a whole week ... which included Christmas), but at that point, everybody seemed reasonably sure that it was "just" a fibroadenoma. The inconclusive pathology report wasn't what I had hoped for, but what had been biopsied had been benign, so I didn't think about it all that much during the months that followed. When I learned that the lump had grown during my repeat ultrasound, I could tell everybody was getting a little more nervous. The breast surgeon I consulted 3 weeks later still thought odds were in my favor that it was just a fibroadenoma, but she said we couldn't sure - and even though the first pathology report had technically benign, it was still entirely possible that this lump turned out to be cancer. Even though I knew all along that it was a possibility, hearing her say those words was not a reassuring feeling. (Being seen as a patient at a cancer clinic also wasn't!). All this to say: By the time my 2nd pathology report (from the fully removed lump) was due back, I had spent some time thinking about the possibility of it coming back malignant. And even though I was trying no to "go there" too much, really any time you spent thinking about the possibility that you might have cancer ... especially when you have two young children and are in the process of adding another ... spending any time at all thinking about it is really too much. I was trying to be optimistic (not terribly successfully, I'm afraid), I was trying to be realistic (with a little more success)  - and yet, the possibility didn't go away. Monday morning as I was getting ready for work, the bizarre thought all of a sudden popped into my head that this could be the day I find out I have cancer.

It wasn't.

Mercifully, early that afternoon, the phone call came with the good news. It had, after all, just been a fibroadenoma. There is no increased risked of developing breast cancer because of this relatively common benign tumor, although there is a risk of re-occurrence. And of course, because one can never know for sure, there's also the chance that I might have to go through a similar ordeal to find out for certain that a new lump would just a benign mass.

So: If you are looking for a sure way to take a few years off your life, I have a whole list of suggestions for you now! Have twins! Better yet: Have them prematurely after an extremely traumatic pregnancy! You could also try intercountry adoption, because as it turns out, that's not for the faint of heart, either! Still not enough to raise your blood pressure and make you pull your hair out? Grow a lump in your breast! And have the doctors not be sure if it's cancer or not for 6 months! That'll do it!

In all seriousness, however, what this experience mostly left me with is gratitude. It's amazing how a potential crisis like this all of a sudden gives you very clear focus of what is important to you in your life: Watching your kids grow up. Growing old with your spouse. Being healthy and well enough to enjoy your life and do your job. Such simple things that we might be tempted to take for granted. So today I am a grateful girl. Grateful for the life I have, my health, my faith, my beautiful family, my friends, my job. Grateful for living yet another day.
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