“How did you find it?”
This is, of course, the most asked question I’ve gotten since I started sharing the news.
Well, it wasn’t during a routine mammogram. I just turned 40 this year and hadn’t scheduled my first one yet. In fact, I had just been thinking about how I should schedule a physical soon because I was a little over due when I found it.
Several weeks ago, on a Wednesday or Thursday- I noticed some soreness under my left arm- in the armpit area. I hate to even say it was “painful.” It felt like I had maybe pulled a muscle. The day before I had cleaned out our litter boxes and had hauled litter up and down the stairs and assumed I just pulled something. I didn’t think much of it.
A few days later, Edda had slept with me- and she usually sleeps on my left side in the crook of my arm. When I woke up, the area under my arm hurt a bit more and this time, I could identify the place more specifically: it was the area where my milk would engorge into when I had newborns. Yes- in my armpit.
Edda just turned 3 and a couple weeks prior to her birthday she weaned from our last little bit of breastfeeding (this happened while at Disneyland- we were too busy to nurse!). I started to wonder if I had milk trapped somewhere. So I pushed around quite a bit in my armpit and was surprised to find a pretty large lump.
This freaked me out, so since it was a Sunday- I went into urgent care to see if they could tell me what it was (read: tell me it’s just a cyst). Sure enough, the urgent care doc said “Oh yes, that is just a cyst. You’ll need to follow up with surgery to see how they want to handle it. You’ll be fine- here is a referral.” And I happily went on my way with my referral and planned to call that week.
But that week- we were busy with house inspections. House inspections you ask? Why YES! We were in the middle of buying a new home! So I kinda forgot about the cyst. Plus it stopped hurting.
The following week, I was bending over to help Edda get her shoes on- and my knee pushed into my left breast and I got a searing pain. I figured it was hormonal based on the the date- but when I reached down to massage the area, I was shocked to find a large lump. Right there.
I immediately called my GP and was lucky she had an opening that afternoon. I took my two youngest with me- armed with screens to distract them from the fact I was going to be getting felt up by my doctor- and got checked out. She ALSO said the underarm lump felt like a cyst but she wasn’t sure about the large lump in my breast. We discussed that it was possible it was some kind of mastitis or milk cysts but she couldn’t be sure and said she wanted me to get checked out ASAP. In fact- she told me she specifically wanted me to go to one of two places for the mammogram and ultrasound that can do biopsies immediately if they see anything suspect- so that I wouldn’t have to wait and make additional appointments. She herself had just been through it (her results were benign) so she told me what to expect. However she also said she’d be surprised if it was cancer- it seemed to come out of nowhere.
I was able to get in 9 days later for my tests. I went by myself because honestly- I didn’t expect the results to be scary. I expected they would take a biopsy but really just thought I had cysts.
The mammogram was a piece of cake. Even with my dense breasts it wasn’t painful at all. The ultrasound was also easy peasy. When she was done, she said she was going to check with the radiologist to see if any other images were needed and then I would get my results immediately.
A few minutes later, she returned with the radiologist. He came in and said “The bottom line is, you need a biopsy. You have a mass and an enlarged lymph node.”
Cue me shaking uncontrollably followed by crying and “But I have 4 kids. I. HAVE. FOUR. KIDS.”
I was SHOCKED. I couldn’t stop crying and kept apologizing for crying. I texted Justin and told him what was happening and that I was terrified. Meanwhile the u/s tech was preparing everything for the biopsy. She was very sweet and gave me a hug and asked if she could do anything. I asked for her to please hold my hand during the biopsies.
The biopsies were also actually really easy. The radiologist may not have had the best bedside manner, but he was excellent at this part. I was numbed in each area and then had 3 biopsies of the mass and 2 of the node- and then he placed small titanium clips on each as well for future imaging and surgeries. I was then taken for an additional mammogram with the clips visible which he said will be my “baseline.”
It was pretty clear he was positive I had cancer. Before I left, they had already made me an appointment with the oncology nurse for the following Monday to get the results. Ice packs were shoved in my bra and I was told good luck and “We have a great team who will take excellent care of you.”
I won’t lie. I spent the 1.25 hour drive home crying and screaming. I screamed “I JUST WANT TO LIVE!”
When I got home, the report had already been released to me. From what I could gather- I had about a 95% chance of having cancer. It was a long and stressful weekend- in fact that weekend of not knowing was WAY WORSE than the days after we knew. When you KNOW you can plan.
In fact, when my nurse Melanie told us that Monday morning that it was, in fact, cancer, I sighed in relief. Relief that we could now move forward. And about 15 minutes after that sigh of relief, when I told Melanie that this year had already been AWFUL I actually then started to laugh. Because HOW IS THIS MY LIFE??
OF COURSE I HAVE CANCER. IT’S 2019.
So that is how I found it.
Oh. You might be wondering who Carl is. Carl is the tumor. We named him. Actually- I asked Ellie to name it and she said Carl.
And so this is the really the story of how we met Carl. Carl is an asshole and I plan to kick Carl’s ass.