In this post, I share extracts from my diary of my experience of finding a lump in my right breast. Although it is a deeply personal account, I feel that sharing may help others feel that they are not alone in their feelings and also help others understand the process.
How I found the lump in my breast
On October 18th I find a lump in my right breast. Now I would love to say that I found it while doing a monthly check but no, that is not something that I have ever done. Instead, I was sitting at my computer working on the blog and I had an itch at the top of my chest. As I itched I realised that there was a lump under the skin. As it was so noticeable I felt that it must be new or else I would have noticed it before. For informational purposes, I am a 41-year-old white woman who is ‘clinically obese’ and has no known family history on my mother’s side. However, I do not know my biological father and the medical history of his family.
Booking a Doctors appointment
It takes me ten days to get a doctors appointment. Partly down to me being scared and partly due to an overbooked system and policy that seems intent on not letting anyone see an actual doctor anymore! In that time, even though I know that I shouldn’t, I read things on the internet about breast cancer and survival rates, symptoms, etc.
My thoughts – what if it is cancer? What would I do? I would like to think that I would stay positive and fight it to the end but what if I didn’t? What if I wasn’t strong enough and I just fell apart? What about my kids, Darren, my dogs? And then, what if I had to have my breast removed? Would I still be a woman without it? What if Darren didn’t find me attractive anymore? Can my marriage really survive more illness?
Then I remind myself to stop being such a drama queen! It is more than likely just fatty tissue or the like and I need to stop being so stupid. Is it a British thing or just a ‘me’ thing to always play everything down. Not let myself have emotions about things for fear of being called an attention seeker? As in fact, I think it is perfectly normal to think about these things when you find a lump in your breast. It is okay to be worried and scared as it is a big deal.
The doctor’s appointment
October 28th: I finally managed to get an appointment with my Doctor. I had been persistent that I wanted the doctor who I normally see as she is lovely and female. First, I had to take a phone call from the doctor so that she could then make an appointment for me to go in later that day.
In the appointment, the doctor asked me a few questions and then said could I remove all of my top half clothing and sit on the bed. It is quite an embarrassing thing to have to sit in front of a doctor topless while the doctor feels around both breasts and under the armpits to see if there are any more lumps. I am glad that I stuck to my guns and got an appointment with my preferred doctor. She made it much more relaxed by chatting away as if it was all completely normal. I think if it had been done in silence it would have been so much more awkward!
After the examination, she seemed fairly positive that it was not anything sinister but said that I would still need to go to the breast clinic up at the hospital to have some scans to be on the safe side. It was only one lump, a little bigger than a pea and it did seem to slightly move which is a good sign. She said that I would get a phone call from the clinic within two weeks. She also told me to book a blood test which was handy as I wanted my thyroid tested anyway so she added that to my blood test list.
As embarrassing as it was, I am still glad that I went as I already feel less worried having spoken to the doctor and I know that I will soon be scanned and we will know for sure. Either way, it is always better to know as if it is the worst, the earlier it is found the better chances of survival.
The hospital appointment
While waiting for the hospital appointment, I felt fairly positive as the Doctor seemed so relaxed about it all. I received a missed call but as I had given my permission for a voice mail to be left, the lady on the phone said the date and time of the appointment. She also said that a letter with all the information was on its way to me. Unfortunately, the letter arrived the evening that I came back from the hospital so I had no clue what was going to happen at the appointment.
Seeing a Doctor
November 12th: My hospital appointment. First of all, I saw a doctor. It was a lady which I was pleased about. However, she didn’t seem to know much about who I was and why I was there which was quite unsettling. She asked me the same questions that my doctor had when they filled out the referral paperwork.
Then I had to remove all of my top half clothing and put on one of those gowns that open at the front and lie on the bed. I had to have an examination like my GP had done. Although this time it was silent and as I had thought, highly awkward! She said that my right breast feels quite lumpy and it is probably just a cyst and nothing to worry about but as I am over 40 I am entitled to a mammogram to be safe.
So off I go to the next part of the hospital to have a mammogram. I felt quite relieved at this point as the impression the last doctor gave was that I was only having the mammogram as I was over 40 or else they would not have even bothered. The lady who did my mammogram was lovely. She was young and very bubbly. It is quite a strange experience. It does not hurt although maybe for someone with smaller breasts it may be more uncomfortable due to the nature of what has to be done.
So again, the top half of my clothing had to be removed and no gown this time. Stand in front of the machine. Put your boob on the shelf. Then the radiographer had to grab my boob and pull it out flat on the shelf! Then she said put your hand on your hip and stick your bum out. I thought for a minute that a camera crew were going to jump out and say I have been set up as I must have looked absolutely ridiculous! But I guess for the radiographer it is totally normal!
I had to have both breasts done. First a top to bottom scan and then a sideways scan. The machine presses down on your breasts which is why I wondered if it may be more uncomfortable for those with less to put in the machine. At the end of the scan, she said that as she is new she needed to get her superior to take a look. A second radiographer came in and looked at the images. They were whispering but I did hear one of them say, ‘yes, that does look strange. See what the doctor thinks’. This did not fill me with confidence! The second radiographer left the room and the first told me that I would need to wait in the waiting area and have an ultrasound done.
Next up ultrasound.
Once again, off comes the top half of my clothing. I do not think that my boobs have ever seen this much action before! Lay on the bed please said the nurse. Then in sweeps a male doctor (I get that we have to have male doctors at times, but some warning would have been nice!) He was lovely to be fair. Both he and the nurse were very good at chatting about random stuff to try and take my mind off what was being done. Once he had finished he said that it was not a cyst. It could be fibrous tissue or something else but the only way to tell for sure is to do a biopsy. He asked if I wanted to do it now or come back another day but I thought I may as well get it over with so agreed to have it done right away.
First, they spayed the breast with some cold spray, then injected anaesthetic serval times to make sure that the lump was numb. Finally, they inserted the needle to get some cells to send away for testing. They did an amazing job as I did not feel a thing. After it was finished the nurse was putting a lot of pressure on it as it helps to reduce bruising but it was funny, she was practically laying on me! She said not to do any heavy lifting or vigorous exercise over the next two days and to try and get some rest. If I feel any pain later to take paracetamol but not aspirin.
Back where I started
Then it was back to the first place to speak with the first doctor again. It was quite a long wait and when I was waiting, I overheard the doctor trying to book my results appointment for the 18th, then the 19th but they were fully booked. When I was asked back into the doctor’s office, she said that I need to go back in on the 22nd for my results. They have no way of knowing what it is as that is the point of the biopsy so all I can do now is wait and hope for the best.
The long wait
November 14th: I was lucky as I did not really suffer much pain from the biopsy. Just a little in the first 24 hours of having it done that was quickly relieved with paracetamol. I feel quite up and down at the moment but I am trying to stay as positive as possible and distract myself with blog work and Netflix.
November 16th: Trying to stay positive but it is such a long wait. Last night I was laying in bed and it all came crashing into my mind. The realisation that I still have a week to wait to find out what it is, I just burst into tears. The days are not too bad as I keep myself busy and keep my mind occupied but when laying in bed at night and trying to get to sleep all of those questions that you don’t say out loud start floating around your mind. What if it is cancer? What if I have to lose my breasts? Would I lose my hair? What if I lose my life?
Time is dragging
The not knowing is starting to drive me insane! I keep telling myself to stop being so melodramatic but at the same time, there are people younger than me that have lost their lives to breast cancer so it is a possibility. It certainly makes you realise how fragile human life is and how we should not be wasting our time arguing with people and limiting ourselves, trying to live up to other peoples expectations. Maybe this is a wake up call sent to me to make me realise that I have to look after myself better. I need to lose weight, do what is important to me and what makes me happy. Grab every opportunity possible and not let fear hold me back.
A lot more bruising has come out. A lovely shade of yellow!
November 20th: I am two days away from the results and my mental health has definitely declined. I am someone that has learned to manage my depression for the most part. By using a combination of medication and a lot of work on myself and my thought patterns but when something like this happens it knocks me off balance. I find it very frustrating having to wait so long as I could be making myself miserable over nothing at all or it could be the worst news that I have ever received from a doctor and it is that not knowing that is really messing with my head.
I think that knowing that the results are actually back but I am still having to wait as there were no appointments available for me to speak with a doctor is adding to my frustrations. The days seem to be dragging by and I just want to know one way or the other.
Things to take away from my experience
- Check regularly for lumps in your breasts and armpits
- If you find a lump in your breast, immediately seek medical advice. Do not let embarrassment put you off as the sooner these things are spotted the better chances of survival.
- If a friend or family member tells you they have found a lump in their breast, try not to tell them that it is probably just a cyst as I personally have found this dismissive attitude really annoying. Personally, I would rather someone say something like ‘oh no, that’s sh*t’!
- It is normal to feel very up and down. You will experience a variety of emotions.
- The NHS need more staff and money so that patients are not left needlessly waiting for important results.
Update – November 23rd 2021
Just a quick note to say that I do have breast cancer. It is stage one and early stages due to me going straight to the doctor which makes it treatable. I can not stress enough the importance of going to see your GP if you find a lump or notice unusual changes as it really makes such a difference to the outcome of Cancer.