Lady Lumps

I’ve been holding this one in for a while.

When I first felt the lump, it really didn’t register. Denial began immediately. I have lumpy breasts. It’s nothing.

But there it was. A palpable something. A something the size of a robin’s egg. It wasn’t nothing. It was something. Something I had to get checked out.

Life has a funny way of not giving a shit about your drama. I never had time to dwell on it. There were deals going on at work. At home, we were facing high school admissions decisions for my 14-year-old daughter. One of my brothers was briefly hospitalized.

I had work to do, family to care for, blogs to write for. I didn’t have time to think about what IT might be.

Yet IT was there, waiting. In the quiet of night, when everyone was sleeping, I would feel IT. In the morning, in the shower, I would feel IT. I noticed all the sensations in, near, and around IT – discomfort, pain, irritation.

As with my babies, I began to assign feelings to IT. IT doesn’t like when I touch it like that, or that. Unlike my babies growing inside me, though, I felt no warmth or tenderness towards IT. IT was an intruder. IT didn’t belong.

During those quiet moments at night, I remembered the description of cancer in Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The cancer was described as pearls covering Lacks’ organs. I thought of pearls inside my body, a deadly bedazzling.

I thought of my kids, of their mostly-absent father who neither would nor could take care of them if I were gone.

And as always, I thought of my mother.

I wondered if we, her six children, had been her motivation for staying well as long as she did. I would get so irritated with my mother when she would say, listening to me complain about the latest babysitter,

“Hmph. I never thought anybody could take care of my kids as well as I could.”

I wondered if one day, she looked at us, all grown and independent and no longer needing her, the oldest of her children already grandparents, and said, “Good. I did my job. I did the best I could do. Now I can rest.”

My babies are 14 and 9. I can’t leave them yet. They don’t have anybody else.

I prayed a lot in those quiet moments.

I went to see my doctor. She felt IT, too. My previous mammogram was just four months ago. It was perfectly normal.

My doctor ordered me to have a repeat mammogram.

I waited for the appointment.

Then, the wait ended.

There was no history of breast cancer in my family. People in my family died of complications from the usual black folks’ diseases, heart disease and high blood pressure and diabetes. Not that having a family history was a pre-requisite to getting breast cancer.

Still. No family history. Normal mammograms. I clung to those thoughts as I stepped into the imaging room.

It hurt.

I’ve been having mammograms since age 35, annually since I turned 40. I have large, dense breasts. It has never felt great. But it has always been tolerable.

This hurt.

Because I had a specific complaint, the technician had to focus in on one spot. She tightened the plates – the vise, as I always think of it – until I winced. And then she tightened them some more.

I sucked in my breath.

“Don’t move! Don’t breathe!”

The fuck, lady! I yelled in my head. You’ve got clamps on my right tit. I can’t fucking move. If I breathe, I’ll scream.

I was a good girl. Did as I was told. I kept my swear words in my head and didn’t unleash any at the technician.

“Ok, now we want to do an ultrasound,” the technician said.

This is normal, I reminded myself. Routine. I’ve had mammograms rechecked with sonograms before. It’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything bad.

But I started feeling scared.

The ultrasound tech had me show her the area. She put the goop on the wand and began moving it across my breast. The keyboard clacked as she took measurements.

I wanted to ask, “What do you see? Do you see anything?” But I didn’t. I knew she wouldn’t tell me.

“The doctor will be in to take a look,” the technician told me.

I thought about my breasts. I’ve been pretty happy with them for most of my adult life. They are a good size. They look nice in my clothes. Even after nursing two babies and losing a bunch of weight, they don’t sag. Much.

I never thought of them as particularly sensitive. I found breast-centered foreplay mostly annoying. My motto? Keep your mouth moving south.

But recently, I discovered I how much I enjoy having them kissed. And caressed. Especially the right one, the one with the lump. If I had to lose one, I would get over it, but it would not be trivial.

I prayed some more.

The doctor came in. More goop on the wand. More sliding and probing. Then, finally:

“We don’t think it’s really anything. Probably just some fatty tissue that clumped together. It does that sometimes. But we’re going to order a biopsy, just to be sure.”

I breathed.

So now, I wait some more. The biopsy is in a couple of weeks. I’m not in the clear yet. But the news could have been much, much worse.

I said a prayer of gratitude on my way out.

Women, please continue to do your monthly breast self-examinations. If you feel anything, get it checked out.

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15 Responses to “Lady Lumps”

  1. OneChele Says:

    Oh man. I was holding my breath the whole time reading. My mother had breast cancer not once but twice and cancer runs in both sides of my family so I’ve been having regular mammograms since I turned 30 some xxx number of years ago. Last year was the first year they found something. I freaked out and started making out my will. That mammogram was the absolutely worst. I’m large chested and in no way will these things ever resemble pancakes but that’s what they try to achieve with the screens. Thankfully, it was a benign cyst.

    All of this to say I feel your pain and am praying for a clean bill of health for you. Please reach out if you need anything at all.

  2. nccuMD Says:

    Whew! The first few lines had me worried. I thought, please say she didn’t ignore it. Of course I started looking for clues in the text to see if I could determine the diagnosis. I will say this, 4 months is rapid for a malignancy to develop and makes me think it’s less likely cancer. So many people, especially black people, wait too late to get a diagnosis. I’m happy that you were able to overcome denial and seek immediate attention. Hopefully it’s benign! Ironically breast-self examination is no longer recommended by the U.S Preventative Services Task Force, but the evidence for this suggestion is weak. I’ll keep you in my prayers!

    • carolynedgar Says:

      I don’t understand why self-examination is no longer recommended. Everyone should know their own body’s “normal,” so they can get checked when something appears off to them. Plus, shoot, breasts feel good. Why not touch them? Or have your partner check them out? I plan to keep self-checking, even if it’s no longer recommended.

      • nccuMD Says:

        There’s conflict with the USPSTF recommendation and the data to support it is weak. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to recommend breast self-examination and American Cancer Society says it’s optional. The thought behind the USPSTF is women who perform BSE have higher false-positives and undergo more unnecessary testing. And you will be surprised by the number of women who have lumps discovered during the middle of…a clinical exam by their partner!

  3. Blackgirlinmaine Says:

    Prayers and good thoughts are with you. I just came from seeing a breast specialist on Thursday due to breast pain, also having had my first mammogram 2 weeks ago due to this pain. I can relate to everything you wrote. Try not to dwell on this and worry too much though I know as a mother its hard not to.

  4. Stephane Says:

    Ditto on the whew… I just went through this in january and had to have the “it” removed. But it was benign!

  5. Monna Says:

    This post had me at the edge of my chair. Twitter is funny place, I follow u on twitter, and the thought of the possibility held me with a tight grip. Glad to hear the good news. Praying for you

    I have dense breast too, and at 23 I had a scare and I remember not telling my roomate, and my family (then I had 2 cousins here in the U.S). I thought of calling my mom in Kenya, but that would have been too much stress on the poor woman several miles away from me. When I went for biospy my Dr was shocked I appeared there by myself even after she asked not do drive myself.
    The day the result came back, she called me, and I felt my heart stopped beating for a quick second. Then she said e.thing was ok. I told my boss I had to leave work just to decompress. Went for mass then straight to burger kind for a double cheese (not a meat/burger person).

  6. md_KG Says:

    Sending prayers and thoughts for a complete clean bill of health. Great that you caught it early and decided not to ignore it.

  7. Kim Says:

    Nothing but prayers for you! As a mom with an ex similar to yours, I know what you mean about raising them. I don’t know you , I just read you tweets and blog. I wish nothing but the best for you and your family. Thank you for sharing such a private manner.

  8. MyEmergence Says:

    I don’t think I inhaled or exhaled the entire time I was reading this. This feels so personal, like family. Selfishly, I’m thinking that I’m just getting to know you and to appreciate all that you’ve brought into my life (perhaps unknowingly). I’m thinking of how overjoyed I was to hear about the success of HS selection, and how amused I was when the boy began to realize your friends are hot (smile), and I realize I’m not ready to lose you or, through you, them in my life. Selfish, huh? Sorry, but perhaps that will be the impetus for you to hold on a bit longer, knowing how many people you’ve touched by your vitality, humor, insights, but mostly by your presence.

    Your experience bears witness to the wisdom of continuing monthly breast self-examinations, and I pray that women who have not engaged that practice fully will heed your story. I pray, too, that, like my mom, you find this lump to be nothing more than a call to re-engage life as fully as possible in every area.

    I will continue to hold you in the Light and to offer myself to the Universe on your behalf. Don’t forget, too, that you have a date in Greece with the moppets next year 😉

    xoxoxo

  9. PE Says:

    CE! 1. I’m piggybacking on your prayer! 2. You have such a gift. When you write I feel like I’m on a couch sitting across from you. Thank you for sharing. xoxo PE

  10. Tazzee Says:

    I was praying while reading this and will continue to pray. One of my closest friends is going through the same thing. Her biopsy is this week. Hang in there and thanks for the BSE reminder.

  11. mrseven65 Says:

    ….i echo the comments so far…but had to add an lol for “keep you mouth moving south”
    *hugs*

  12. Hidi Says:

    My first thought, “oh no”, I am happy your mammogram was positive but I will keep you in prayers for your biopsy.

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