As a nurse, I understood the importance of doing a breast self-exam and I can honestly say that I did this regularly. So imagine my surprise when I felt a lump that I claim “appeared overnight”. Two weeks before Christmas 2016, I found what I like to call, my “tiny invader”.
I told my husband and no one else. Why ruin Christmas for anyone when I am sure that its nothing but a cyst? December 29th, after a reassuring visit with my Gynecologist who also agreed that I had a cyst and even tried and failed to aspirate it with a needle, I received my first mammogram.
I was 37 years old.
I was not even due for my first mammogram for three more years! The mammogram center was beautiful! It reminded me of an upscale spa, with elegant décor and soft pink robes to wear. The techs were so kind and gentle, making sure I was comfortable and explained the process that was so new to me. Somehow, they managed to squeeze my tiny A cup breasts into the beast of the 3D ultrasound machine and honestly, it wasn’t that bad!
As I sat alone, waiting for the doctor to view my images, I felt very relaxed and peaceful because again, this was just rule out testing. The doctor came out to speak to me in the waiting room and explained that I had extremely dense breasts and it was almost impossible for a mammogram, even a 3D mammogram in which I opted for and PAID an additional fee for, to show anything. He then suggested I receive an ultrasound which would better identify my lump.
I was ushered into the next room where my life saving ultrasound was performed. I call it life-saving because it was cancer. The doctor knew immediately. The ultrasound showed a black, spikey looking oval. Everyone was quiet.
My story probably happens all of the time. Luckily, I was very thin with small breasts and was able to palpate my lump. My tumor was located at the “12:00 position” and I feel that tumors located almost on the chest wall for women with small chests would be difficult to mammogram. What would have happened if I couldn’t feel my lump?
I would have waited three more years for a baseline mammogram that wouldn’t have been able to penetrate my dense breast tissue and my stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma would have probably been something much more. I had a very aggressive grade 3 tumor.
The scenarios that I create in my mind just thinking about the possible outcomes still give me nightmares.
If anyone can learn anything from my story, I hope that it is to push for an ultrasound. I did not know anyone or anything about breast cancer. I knew to do self-exams and my education regarding the next steps stopped there. I ended up paying over $400.00 just for my out of pocket expenses for the 3D ultrasound. I am not naïve to the fact that there are many women who simply cannot afford this type of testing.
I also learned that a mammogram is not for everyone.
I am lucky that the Radiologist gave me an ultrasound on the spot. I am lucky that I didn’t wait. I am lucky that I had a successful mastectomy with reconstruction. I am lucky that I am almost finished with chemotherapy. I am doing my best to get back to what breast cancer is trying to take away from me. I will always remember when I was having my lymph node biopsy and a Radiologist whom I just met said “You found your own lump? Congratulations on saving your own life.” I am thankful for my ultrasound that found my “tiny invader.”
I am living proof of the impact that advanced screening can make.