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.
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!
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