I’m only 26.
I’ve always felt foolish doing monthly exams of my boobs (sorry, I can’t call these breasts. That makes them sound far more substantial than they are). When I first really got into the habit, I was 23, and statistics and family history were on my side. I had no reason to suspect that anything would be wrong with my boobs. But, I did the exam anyway.
And one month, I found a small lump.
I ignored it, like all rational people would. I ignored it until my boob started leaking fluid. Not milk (trust me, these boobs have never sustained anyone), just liquid. Sometimes just a little, sometimes a lot. In my head I knew that it wasn’t okay, but I was paralyzed by fear.
It wasn’t until several months later when my then fiancé, now husband learned about the lump that I made a doctor’s appointment. And even then, it wasn’t so much a voluntary action.
My gynecologist sent me for bilateral ultrasounds (mammograms aren’t useful on people my age) and sent me to a breast specialist. The ultrasounds were negative, and we breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. My itty bitty titties were fine.
But they weren’t.
Because the breast specialist did her own ultrasounds and immediately found the problem. The lump. She didn’t know what it was, but it didn’t look like a traditional benign cyst and she said she couldn’t leave it alone in good conscience.
So we did a sterotactic biopsy, which revealed nothing of consequence (fibrocystic changes), and we relaxed a little and moved onto a 3, 6 and 12 month ultrasound follow up schedule. The 3 and 6 month appointments were gorgeously uneventful, the scar tissue wasn’t even bad, and everything looked great. We breathed another sigh of relief.
The 12 month ultrasound did not look great.
That ultrasound showed that the lump returned, and by returned, I mean returned and built a freaking colony. It was twice as big as it had been before the biopsy, and worse, it was growing very quickly- two things that you never want when you’re looking at (the inside of) boobs.
A needle biopsy would not do this time. And so this time we did a quadrantectomy.
At age 24 I had a quarter of my right breast removed.
And then I laid at home on the couch for a week, recovering and anxiously awaiting the pathology report. Because even though my doctor had the results of the biopsy on Friday, they don’t give results over the phone and my appointment wasn’t until Tuesday.
I know it’s cliché to tell you that that week was the longest of my life, but it was. When Tuesday finally came I was beside myself with worry.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the doctor came in and read the pathology report. No cancer. We (foolishly) breathed another infamous sigh of relief.
But, just after the disclosure that I didn’t have cancer came news I wasn’t prepared for. What I did have was something called atypical ductal hyperplasia. Hyperplasias are cells that are growing abnormally quickly (most cancer cells are this) and not only were my cells growing too quickly, but they were growing abnormally as well.
What is scarier is that on that day in 2008 when I found out I didn’t have cancer, I also found out that my lifetime risk of breast cancer went from totally baseline (no family history or risk factors), to 4-6 times the risk of the average woman.
On that day, we got a prescription for bilateral ultrasounds every six months “until we find something.” Not until I turn an age, but until we find cancer.
Because my breast surgeon is confident that we will someday. She believes that based on my age and how quickly my breasts screwed themselves up (so, perhaps I’m paraphrasing a bit there) that there will be cancer. That my boobs, these insignificant A-cup mole hills, will one day be malignant.
Thinking about this scares the crap out of me. But, I am not alone and I am not weak.
I can’t stop cancer, I don’t have that power. I can’t change my chances. I can’t impact what happens.
But because I was vigilant, because I performed that totally inconvenient 30 second long breast self-exam, I am prepared. I can catch it early. I can acknowledge my risk and know the signs to watch out for.
I’m only 26 and I am at high risk for breast cancer.
And I know I’m not alone.
Take those 30 sends and feel your breasts. Those 30 seconds might save your life. They might have saved mine.
Katie writes at OverflowingBrain