I'm a huge fan of having a girls night in. While going out on the town can be fun, there's something so much nicer & cosier about being in a warm, comfortable place with your besties. We should all do it more! I've put together a list of things to help you on your way when you're planning your next girls night in- let's get inspired!
I have no idea how long I had the lump in my breast, or remember the first time I found it- but I do remember the circumstances around when I first knew that I had to do something about it. My darling nana had just passed away from breast cancer, and even though I was aware of the lump's existence prior, I refused to confront it. I couldn't NOT be aware of it, it was so big that if I even brushed my forearm over my breast I could feel it- a solid, hard mass that never failed to make me feel anxious. There was never any room for doubt, or a need to do a breast check, it was just *there*.
I finally bit the bullet and went to see my doctor. There wasn't any hiding the flicker of concern on her face, but I didn't panic- not at that point. I was only 26, and healthy as a horse ( a Shetland horse, perhaps, but a horse nonetheless), and had that fantastic feeling of invincibility. I thought, "People my age didn't get cancer, do they?!". Anyway, she told me that I needed to have a proper scan because of the lump size, location (obviously), & because of how it felt.
Choosing not to tell anyone, including my family & fiance, I duly went off for my scan. I had other things going on at that time that were taking up head space; my engagement to a guy I thought was the love of my life was on tenterhooks, & quite frankly, I was more concerned about that than my health. So when the scan showed that, yes, there was not only a lump in my breast that was over 3cm wide- but a second smaller one next to it- I felt like the ground had collapsed from underneath me. I still didn''t want to tell mum & dad. Nana had just died, & the last thing I wanted them to have to deal with was worrying about me- god knows they'd had enough opportunities to worry about me already (I was a shit of a teenager). Instead, I decided to keep quiet & wait until I knew more.
I was booked in to have a fine-needle aspiration, which I had to Google (NEVER Google anything, guys- ask your doctor these things). A needle was going to be inserted into my boob? Jesus. To be honest, it wasn't as bad as I had imagined, however, Uncomfortable, sure, but nothing to go crazy about. Given that I didn't have health insurance, everything was done through the public system; & to this day I'm shocked at how quickly it all happened. I'm still not sure if it was because of urgency, or if I was simply lucky (?!), but it all happened within weeks. Shortly afterwards, the doctors told me that they hadn't liked what they'd found, & that they needed to extract even more cell tissue using a larger needle- this process is called a core-needle biopsy. This hurt a little bit more, but I think that the amount of stress & tension probably made it worse than it was.
At this point, I finally bit the bullet & told my family what was going on. They were extremely worried, as expected, but I was still playing it fairly cool. I just didn't believe that it was happening to ME- this stuff happened to other people- none of it seemed real. It got distinctly more real when my doctor told me that while they were fairly sure that the lumps were benign, that they were concerned with the sheer size of them- & they needed to be removed via a lumpectomy. A lumpectomy is a surgical process when the lump & surrounding tissue are removed while the patient is under anaesthetic. In my case it was to be under a general anaesthetic (a first for me), & needed to happen as soon as possible.
I. Was. Terrified. The incision was to be made around my areola, & while I was told that the scar would fade (it totally did), I had no idea what my chest would end up looking like. How's that for vanity? But, it's the truth. I was also told that when lumps are removed, there is an increased chance of more growing in their place, which would lead to either further lumpectomies- or a full mastectomy (complete removal of the breast. How crazy is that? I could leave the lumps there, & risk them getting even bigger...or get them removed, & risk other baddies growing. Lose/lose, huh?! I decided to go with the lumpectomy as soon as I could be booked in.
I had to wait around a month before the surgery, and it really wasn't the best time for me. My shambles of a relationship ended 2 weeks before the operation, & I was still having to live in the same place as my ex fiance while looking for a new flat. Thankfully that time went by quite quickly, & I didn't have much time to ponder or fret over what my body was about to go through. I was also incredibly lucky to have heaps of support not just from family, friends & GP, but from the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, who were there for me constantly, offering me all the information I needed. The NZBCF does so much for women in New Zealand, & I'll never forget how much reassurance they gave me; I like to get involved with them and help out whenever I can- but more on that shortly.
I didn't get much sleep the night before the surgery as I was CRAZY nervous. Thankfully it was scheduled to take place in the morning, so I didn't have long to sit & fret. Waking up after the surgery, I was so relieved- it was over! It was only a day surgery, so after a couple of hours I was free to go home- with a bandage over the offending breast. The next couple of weeks really weren't a drama at all. I didn't have much pain- certainly nothing that ibuprofen couldn't fix- the only after effects were some swelling, and a little bruising. When it was time to get the dressings removed, I was a bit nervous about the scar. But honestly, it wasn't so bad, & nearly ten years later, it's virtually imperceptible. I'd put up a pic, but I'm not sure if everyone wants to see that...but it's certainly no big deal- & I'm healthy! Honestly, the hardest part of the process was being nervous beforehand; the actual procedure and aftermath were just fine. I've had (& did have) more painful breakups!
So why did I share all this? For a couple of reasons, actually, the first being that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You've probably seen the Pink Ribbon symbol, which is the Breast Cancer Foundation's- trademark, a symbol of hope and awareness. There are going to be fundraisers all throughout October which I'd love you guys to keep an eye out for. There's the Pink Ribbon Street Appeal (October 9th & 10th), the Pink Ribbon Star Walks in Auckland, Welly & Chch (check here for dates!), there'll be Pink Ribbon products in stores available for purchase, & so much more. The other reason I shared was to let you guys know what happened to me, how I dealt with it, & what I learnt from it. I urge you all (if you're not already) to check your breasts monthly at the least- & if you notice any changes (most women experience breast changes over their life, & according to the NZBCF nine out of ten breast lumps aren’t cancerous) go & see your doctor straight away. If I had dillydallied more than I did, I may have ended up losing my breast- at the very, very least. If you're over the age of 40, regular mammograms are the way to go...but if you're under 40, you'll have denser breast tissue, which makes it hard for mammograms to detect changes .Are you 45-69? Enrol for free mammograms with BreastScreen Aoteoroa on 0800270200. It's pretty scary that our only line of defense is to look out for it ourselves, huh? I love you guys, and want you all to be happy & healthy- so please make sure you look after yourselves by keeping aware...& if you can, please donate to the Pink Ribbon Appeal in October. You could save lives.
This post is dedicated to Helena McAlpine, who lost a long battle with breast cancer this week. While I only met her once, I was struck by what a warm, strong, & positive person she was. You can learn about Helena & her story here:
Text “Pink” to 4644 to give $3 to the Pink Ribbon Appeal and The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.
Please check out these for heaps of helpful information & advice:
For support- Call 0800BCNurse – free advice line at The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation
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