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Breast practices: Taking control of your own health
July 22, 2013 - Erin O'Neill
You know that nagging feeling you get when something is just, well, a little off?
I had that feeling for a couple months but was apprehensive to do anything about it. No, I am not one who typically says “eh, it’ll go away.” If something hurts or itches or twitches or genuinely ruins my day, I don’t shy away from the doctor’s office. I go and have it checked out. I’m not always lucky that it is an easy — or inexpensive — fix but usually I am a little closer to relief.
Those types of ailments, though, are generally pretty mundane, annoying and nothing really to worry about. But when you have that nagging feeling, the butterflies in the stomach, it is a little harder to take that next step. At least it was for me.
*Warning: I am going to talk about breasts now. If the topic is something that makes you uncomfortable, please stop reading. This is my personal experience and it isn’t exactly something I’m comfortable talking about. But I feel it is important.
It started with a sensation like a bee sting. It pinched so badly that I took off my shirt and looked all over for that little sucker. Nothing. About a week later, the same pain in the same place in the same breast — and it itched. I conducted a breast self exam because, contrary to what some experts now say, I still think that a woman knows her own body best and knows what feels odd. And what I felt hurt to the touch, was lumpy and scared the *bleep* out of me.
Of course I jumped on Google, got on WebMD and scoured all the websites I could find. “Breast cancer doesn’t hurt” is what the majority said. Sigh of relief. “It’s just period pain”... well that wasn’t the case because it is constant and only in one breast. Panic again. “It is likely a cyst.” OK, I can deal with that. “Women who have had children after age 30 are higher risk.” Are you kidding me?
Once I had enough of freaking myself out, I decided to make an appointment to see a professional who could tell me it was all in my head or “It’s a swollen duct. Nothing to worry about. Take a pain pill.” She didn’t quite say that; however, she didn’t actually feel anything when conducting her own exam. Whew. But taking my word that it was causing pain and mental distress, my doctor scheduled me for a diagnostic mammogram with ultrasound.
I am not yet 40 years old and I have never had a mammogram before, so once again I was reading online, driving myself to a panic. I had heard about how painful it was (Note to self: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet) but, honestly, that was the least of my worries. Driving to the testing site, I couldn’t help but let my brain fill with desperate thoughts like “how would my child manage without me?” I have known far too many people who have been impacted by cancer and, while — thankfully — quite a few are survivors, some were not so lucky. Of course I let my mind go there in a moment of fear and uncertainty. And then I snapped out of it.
The mammogram procedure is simple. You undress from the waist up and slip on a robe. The technician positions your breast in different ways and a smooth plastic plate squashes your breast against the machine. The worst part for me — besides having to go without deodorant — was actually having to lean so far into the machine that the corner was digging into my ribs. But I have lived through childbirth and surgery and broken bones and things, so this was actually pretty tame comparatively. I can’t speak for other women who might be built differently and have a different tolerance for pain. But I really thought it was fine. The radiologist didn’t ask for any more films so I was off to ultrasound, which is supposed to allow a better, more diagnostic look at breasts that are dense or fibrous.
I have had ultrasounds before and, aside from being cold and kind of greasy, my experiences have always been that there was little to no pain involved. It was different for my breast ultrasound, though, where the breast was already hurting. So I grimaced a little. And held my breath a few times. Mostly I was trying to read the sonographer and the assistant. At first they were chatting about something and then there was no more chatting. The procedure lasted little more than 10 minutes and I paid close attention to all the times she went over the same painful spot and all the times she stopped to pause over an area. I didn’t speak and no one spoke to me and I didn’t ask to look at the image, although I understand she was not at liberty to discuss findings anyway.
After the testing was finished, I was sent on my way and told I would be contacted by my doctor in a few days. The drive back to work was emotional on many levels. The same nagging thoughts invaded my mind but I also had moments of positivity. No news is good news. No extra X-rays was a good thing. Silence is golden. Cancer doesn’t hurt.
Then a moment of inspiration: No matter what the outcome, it is time to try to live life and live it well and this is an opportunity for me, in my role as a journalist, to give insight and perhaps encourage other women to take steps toward controlling their own health.
I had to wait an excruciating couple of days before I got the results — everything looked normal. But the pain is still there so I don’t know that the journey is over. What I do know is I am glad I took the initiative to make a phone call and, in the end, one little decision could make all the difference.
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