So despite my mini-rant on the pinkwashing of all kinds of stuff to sell in October, I’m all for breast cancer awareness. But I’m thinking if you’re reading this, you’re plenty aware. And surely you know that a woman over 40 needs a yearly mammogram. If your doctor finds something suspicious on a mammogram, then it’s pretty easy to know what to do. Whatever the doctor tells you. But if you’re like me, under 40 and not yet a candidate for a mammogram, or if you’re in between mammograms and find a lump, it’s a little harder to know how to proceed.
The first time I found a lump, it was under my arm, probably twelve years ago. I did what I would guess most women do. I worried, let my imagination go off the deep end, and hoped that it would just go away. After obsessing for several weeks, I made an appointment with my primary doc. Because I figured that was the thing to do. The lump was obvious, and being under my arm, I was sure I had breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes– stage 3 at the best. My doctor, on the other hand, was sure I was recovering from some sort of an infection, and that if I took some Advil, the inflamed lymph node would return to normal in four to six weeks. After a couple of weeks, I’d had no resolution, and so I made an appointment with my OB/GYN. She, too, was sure that it was nothing, but if the Advil didn’t take care of it in another four to six weeks, she gave me the name of a breast surgeon to contact at that point. As soon as I left her office, I called the surgeon. No sense waiting any longer. A couple of weeks later, at the first available appointment, I met with the surgeon. He, too, assured me that it was probably nothing, but wanted to be sure and sent me for an ultrasound. An hour or so later, I was returning to the surgeon’s office with a little black and white print out– an ultrasound pic of a glob of fat in your armpit isn’t nearly as adorable as one of a teeny little baby, by the way. Turns out, they were all right, it was nothing and I was fine, but it took a trip to a breast surgeon to know for sure.
Strangely, I’m so thankful for that experience. Last year, on that Saturday, when I first felt that lump in my left breast, I knew immediately what I needed to do. The surgeon who I’d appreciated all those years ago is no longer in the area, so I made a short list of surgeons to call Monday morning. I was fortunate to secure an appointment for the very next day, and she did an ultrasound and aspirated the cyst right in the office. I was out and on my way within a half hour. And within the week, I had a diagnosis. Waiting a few weeks and jumping through a few hoops probably wouldn’t have made a difference in my long term outcome. But because of some previous procedures, I had an appointment with my OB/GYN and a general surgeon who sometimes does breast surgeries in the following weeks, and they both indicated that they don’t always even aspirate cysts, and they certainly don’t send the fluid to pathology. I definitely made the right call. A breast surgeon is a specialist for a reason, and I can’t think of a better first call after finding a lump.