lovely lady lumps


ow that the transplant is over and Eric's condition is stable/in remission, I've been trying to take better care of myself. Exercising, eating right, and getting to know my new doctors here in Maryland have been pretty high on the priority list--but recently, during this process, I had a brief encounter with the old fear and dread that marked the early days of Eric's relapse.

I have had localized non-cyclical breast pain for well over a year now. The pain is not intense, and sort of comes and goes as it pleases without following any sort of pattern--and it always occurs on the far left side of my left breast and up into my underarm. But, oh, the tenderness that comes with it. Sometimes it is so bad that I can't do so much as hold a book to my chest on that side.

I first told a doctor about the problem over a year ago during my annual exam. She switched me to a low-dose version of the pill and told me to come back in three months if there was no change. A month passed, and then Eric relapsed. I wish I could say that I had a better excuse for not following up with my own health concerns, but the honest truth is that I forgot about taking care of it--I was spending hours at the hospital with Eric's doctors, how was I going to find the time to go to a different doc for myself?

Despite weight fluctuation, diet changes, different types of the pill (and then none at all after we found out that Eric would probably be sterile from the transplant), the pain persisted. So, I finally told my new doctor about it during an appointment last month. She dutifully trotted out the same old advice ("Don't eat chocolate or drink caffeine," and "Wear a really good bra"), but gave me a clinical exam nonetheless. She paused when she reached the area in question and said, "Hm. That feels funny. I'll order a sonogram..."

Meanwhile, I'm laying on the table in the most indelicate of positions, thinking, "WHAT!?! What do you mean, 'That feels funny?!?' WTF, woman!!"

Fast-forward to Tuesday morning. I left for the sonogram appt, running late as usual. I was really nervous. I hadn't told Eric anything about what was going on (he thought that I had an early meeting at work)--I didn't want to make him upset if it turned out to be nothing. And I soon found out that sitting through multiple tests and screenings with a loved one does nothing to prepare you for actually going through one yourself.

Once back in the dimly lit radiology room, I laid on the table, feeling like the science-project-of-the-week about to be dissected. The first tech came in, a woman about my age. She smeared the warm goop over my chest (it occurred to me that the scenario could possibly be a starting scene for a lesbian porno) and screened me with the wand. She found nothing. I was beginning to relax.

Then, the senior tech came in "just to take a peek." She began screening the offending area, when IT showed up on the screen. A large mass, large enough that she had to take 2 still-shots of it to capture the entire thing. She took at least 20 pictures of it, large and starkly white compared the grey image of the rest of my tissue, and shaped like a cocoon. The fear came back instantly--the look on the tech's face told me that this was NOT a normal thing to find. I managed to ask her if the thing on the screen was a cyst, and she responded, "No, definitely not...I have to get the doctor."

It took about 20 minutes to get a consult from the doctor. I was laying on the table, lights turned low, alone in the room with the stills of the mass staring at me on the screen. Trying to be brave, I tore off a part of my paper "modesty gown" and used it to wipe my eyes. I really didn't want the tech, or anyone else, to know just how freaked out I was.

All at once, the second tech and the doctor rushed in. "Nothing to worry about," said Doc, "I just see a mass of fatty tissue. Be more careful of how much chocolate and caffeine you intake, and take tylenol for the pain. Any questions?" At this point, my emotions were so high that I could barely squeak out "Yes" or "No" in response to his questions.

I left the clinic feeling reassured and somewhat triumphant, but now that I have had a few days to think about what happened, I wish that I would have asked some questions. Eric and I try to eat organics whenever we can, as well as cook most of our own food--including dressings, soups, etc. We don't eat a lot of mass-produced, preserved foods, and almost never have candy or soda in the house. I do enjoy coffee, but only drink 4-5 cups a week--and even that is a fairly recent development, as I drink it mainly to have something warm in my hands on a cold winter morning. For all of these reasons, I really don't think that the pain is diet-related. And finally, why, dear doctor, does that thing in the pictures look so different from all of the other fatty tissue in my breast?

I don't want to come across as a bitchy hypochondriac. Ever since Eric's relapse, I find myself swinging more and more towards that extreme: suddenly, every cough of his is a potential lung metastasis, every dry patch on his skin potential Graft-Versus-Host-Disease. But I'm sort of concerned that the doctor in radiology really didn't take that close of a look at my sonogram.

When does being an advocate for one's health cross the line into being a hypochondriac?

posted by amanda @ 1:04 AM


At 2/09/2006 08:16:00 AM, Anonymous Lisa said...

You have every right to be concerned, and to get another opinion. You also have the right to call that doctor back with a list of questions now that the shock of seeing a mass of any kind on the screen has worn off. Let them know family history. If you still are uncomfortable with the answers you get, ask for more options. You are a fighter and always have been. Take care of yourself. Love you, Aunt Lisa

At 2/09/2006 01:35:00 PM, Blogger magnetbabe said...

I'm so glad everything is okay. The recent addition of coffee to your diet could have aggravated your condition, but I'm not a doctor so I don't know. Some people just get stuff like that, but I know what you mean. Since my friend with ALL that I wrote you about earlier was diagnosed everyone in our circle has been much more serious about seeing doctors when the slightest thing is wrong.

I feel like I should let you know that my good friend whose ALL and subsequent GvHD initially got me reading your blog passed away about a week and a half ago. I wanted to tell you that your writing and the resources you provide has helped me understand ALL and GvHD much better than before. You are really doing a wonderful job and even though Randy is gone I will continue to visit your site.

At 2/09/2006 05:13:00 PM, Blogger Jeannette said...

I know that telling you that 8 out of 10 lumps are benign will mean nothing. Afterall, you have been through all the stats first hand with your hubby and your gram. Cancerous masses typically have irregular borders (jaggedy edges and little tentacles). A smooth cocoon, even if a funny shape, is likely okay).

I have two suggestions. First, take your films for a second opinion. Second, if you want more, ask for a simple (and mostly painless) fine needle aspiration (FNA). It is a simple, non-costly procedure that might give you more peace of mind.

After I was done with chemo and my mastectomies and was starting to feel good and getting my life back, I was at the doctor with everything. I had nearly every test known to medicine because I was sure there was something else. I was lucky that everything was normal. It is completely normal behavior. Completely. Doctors understand this and most of them appreciate your dilligence. I finally realized that the stress and worry of not knowing, is worse on our bodies than taking the time and getting the answer.

And truthfully, if it causes you discomfort (physical or mental), ask for it to be removed. It is a simple procedure (same day) done under local anesthesia that you will recover from quickly (I was back to work the next day).

Hugs to you, Amanda. It gets better....day by day...

At 2/09/2006 08:47:00 PM, Blogger Jackie said...

I agree with everyone, keep asking and getting it checked out until you are satisfied.
My brother-in-law had cancer in his armpit, and for about 5 years after, every year, around the same time as he was diagnosed, he would think he felt something, and would go to the doctor.
It's completely normal, and understandable.

Good luck! We are all rooting for you!

At 2/09/2006 10:55:00 PM, Blogger Sandy said...

I'm sorry for this added stress. (Although I did want to say YAY for the Target job!!)

I agree with the others. First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a 2nd opinion, even it's just for peace of mind.

I've not come as close to cancer as you have, yet I do have a family history of breast cancer - an aunt on either side plus with cervical cancer. About 8 years ago the midwife doing my annual exam found a lump in one breast. She ordered an ultrasound. As it turned out, it was merely a cyst. A large cyst, but just a cyst. In my follow-up exam, my doctor gave me a few things to look for. This lump of mine was smooth and it moved. Both characteristics indicated it was most likely a cyst or other benign entity.

Really, I'm not trying to belittle your concerns. Just the opposite. I know that fear and I can only imagine how intesified that fear is after your husband's cancer.

Good luck!

At 2/09/2006 11:27:00 PM, Blogger Being Made said...

I so very much relate.

I went through the lump scenario a few months ago myself. And it's so hard... to not think every little thing is something terrible.

And I have a terrible fear that doctor's are just going to think I'm a hypochondriac. Not helped any by the fact that the doc's that I've seen in the last two years have both had a tendency to do the 'head shaking at neurotic woman' bit. (And you may know this with your job, but I gotta tell you getting a new doctor with military facilities is a pain!).

I didn't mean to ramble on... But me too... It's scary and I don't like it.

At 2/10/2006 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Hope said...

Boy do I hear you. I would get a second opinion or at least a fine needle biopsy. Peace of mind is priceless.

I was at my doc's last week to see him about some recurring pelvic pain. I innocently asked him if he had the results of my yearly squishfest, as I call the mammogram. I never worry about it, it is just something I do because my mom had breast cancer at 33 and again at 51. He told me not to worry about it because he only remembered abnormal mammo results. Then he stopped and thought and said "I think your results are sitting on my desk." He came back and told me they were abnormal. I left his office with not only that news but with a ultrasound requisition to rule out ovarian Cancer (said that right on the form). I was more than a little freaked.

I had both tests this week and have no results yet. But I can say that seeing my abnormal mammo up on the screen so they could position me to get a better look this time filled me with instant dread. I looked at the large white, irregular and tentacle shaped image on my breast and thought to myself, "this is the enemy I have to fight." I have no idea if it was a normal mass or not but it scared the crap out of me to see it on the screen.

At 2/10/2006 10:41:00 PM, Blogger mipmup said...

hey there,
i've had some issues in that department, too and the docs/techs always tell me that pain is "good." it's usually bad when something does not hurt. glad it turned out ok.

hang in there! (and nothing wrong with being a hypochondriac, especially after your experiences!)


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