Talking about breast lumps isn’t exactly “on brand” for my blog. It’s a topic I probably would have been too prudish to talk to anyone about…until I had to.
And I did have to.
A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business having a cuddle with Liam on the sofa. We were probably watching Parenthood because we are utterly obsessed with it. He leans on me and I suddenly cry out in pain.
It felt as if someone had pinched my nipple. Hard.
After that trauma, my left breast was incredibly tender. It was soon after that I discovered the lump. I’d never felt anything alien in my boobs before and it really did feel alien. It was a hard lump sitting on the right side below my nipple.
My mind began to race. Was I imagining it? Did I have cancer? Was I going to die?
You can’t help but think like that. We’ve had really horrible luck this year and this felt like we were in for even more.
I got Liam to double check, in case I was imagining things. Nope. Definitely a lump. A big ol’ lump just there causing me anxiety. Tears were shed.
I called the doctors to see if I could get a next day appointment, as I couldn’t do the same day as we were heading up London to see Hamilton. I already knew the doctors would say no (we live in a city centre so it’s same day appointments or wait several weeks). They did say no. I had to call them again the next morning and hope there would be an appointment for me.
Phew. There was.
We seemed to be waiting an eternity in the waiting room, but I guess it was going to always feel that way. When my name was finally called, I nervously made my way to the GP’s room. I was mentally prepared to get my baps out because I was so eager to know if I should be as worried as I was.
The female doctor is friendly but a little frantic. This isn’t really her specialist area (great to hear when you walk in the room), and she’s also nervous to say anything with certainty. I take my jumper and top off – my breast was so tender that day I couldn’t face wearing a bra – and lay down on the table ready to be fondled.
The doctor warns me that her hands might be cold. Luckily they weren’t.
After spending less than a minute feeling for the lump, she finds it and tells me she thinks it might be an infection. I’m not convinced. She’s not convinced either because the infection she thinks it is usually effects women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. We both know I don’t tick either of those boxes.
At this point, as I’m pulling my top and jumper back on, I’m frustrated. I’m more scared than before I walked into the room. The doctor prescribes me antibiotics as a “safety measure”. She has to put the referral through to the local breast clinic three times before the system actually records it. I have to remind her as many times that she needs to do the prescription for the antibiotics.
I understand she’s under pressure, but I’m also angry that she hasn’t put my mind at ease. I’m angry she’s made me feel even more confused than when I walked into the room.
As I leave, I thank her. I didn’t want to. But I knew it wasn’t her fault. As I head back to the waiting room where Liam is patiently whiling away the time by playing a game on his phone, I feel desperately like heading home and curling up in a ball of tears.
The next day, a letter arrives to confirm the referral. I think about how quickly it’s all happening. That made it feel serious. That made me feel scared all over again.
I try my best to enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend. Liam is poorly with a cold and so I play nurse which is a welcome distraction. I can’t call the hospital to make an appointment until Tuesday at 8am. I’ve never wanted a Bank Holiday weekend to be over sooner before, until now.
The nearest appointment available is the following Friday. The maximum amount of time the NHS allow between referral and appointment. I am frustrated all over again – but I understand. But what a relief it was when the hospital calls me to move the appointment forward to the Monday of that week. That was the Monday of this week.
In the meantime, I’ve been using Dr Google. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s irresistible. Luckily, Doctor Google is kind and all my symptoms point towards something non-malignant. Maybe a cyst? Maybe nothing at all. It makes a welcome change to Googling the symptoms to pretty much anything else which usually results in only having a few weeks left to live.
I also have a counselling session. It’s come at the best time. I speak about my fear of being too complacent. I’m 99% sure it’s not cancer. Or am I? Probably more like 70% sure at best.
It’s Monday 4 June now, the day of the clinic appointment, and I feel OK…I think. I wake up at 6am because I’m nervous, but I’m convincing myself I have no need to be. The morning is stressful as my mum forgets her purse to pay for petrol and Liam and I start to make our way to her to rescue her. But we can’t, we don’t have time. My dad has to rescue her as we make our way to the clinic to wait to see the consultant.
When Liam and I arrive, I am asked to fill out a form. A series of questions about whether I have a family history of cancer types confuses me. I don’t know half of my family – my dad was adopted. I answer “no” to being aware of any issues. I take my seat and wait.
Mum is still on her way, but it doesn’t take long for the consultant to see me. Time to be fondled by a stranger again! Luckily, this doctor is so much better than the GP at putting my mind at ease. She is able to tell me almost straight away that she is certain the lump is benign and that I actually have a smaller lump in my other breast – who knew! The larger lump in my left breast is shaped like a jelly bean, she tells me.
She wants me to have a CT scan to be sure, and I happily agree. Liam tells me afterwards that he heard laughter coming from the room, so he was confident it was good news. It really was.
As we get moved back to the main waiting area, my Mum eventually arrives to hear the good news. I show her my form that says the doctor believes the lumps are caused by something called adenosis – an extra growth of tissue that has caused the lumps. But in my mind there is still room for doubt as we wait for the CT appointment.
In my rush of adrenaline, I had forgotten to hand in the form that the reception team need in order to put through the CT appointment, so thirty minutes later a nurse passes by and asks if I handed it in as I should have had my scan by now. Embarrassed, I go and hand it in and my Mum exclaims “Like mother, like daughter!”.
The atmosphere feels so much lighter already than the two weeks prior.
When I’m eventually called through for the CT, the male doctor is quiet at first but seems kind. I undress once again, lay on another sterilised table and have the cool liquid applied to my skin as he scans over the breast on the hunt for anything malicious.
He’s thankfully thorough, checking a few times before confirming that there is definitely no tumour or anything to be concerned with. He tells me that I am welcome to speak to the consultant again if I wish, or I can go home because he is confident with her assessment. I opt to go home. I’m confident that they are confident.
The last ounces of weight are lifted off my shoulder. I definitely don’t have breast cancer. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Ladies, please check your humps for lumps regularly. I only checked after experiencing pain, but breast cancer lumps don’t usually cause pain. CoppaFeel is a great resource for information on how to check your boobs and when. This Boob Check 101 in particular is super helpful.
Lumps do not automatically mean cancer – but you cannot be hard on yourself for worrying. It’s much more dangerous to be blasé.
If you notice anything abnormal, visit your GP. You can never be too careful. The receptionist at your GP should always book an appointment with a female doctor, and getting your tatty bojangles out to be checked is not as cringy as you might think. Your GP has seen many tatty bojangles in their lifetime, and they will see many more after yours.