Dear Friends, We Need To Talk About Our Boobs

I normally write about books on this site, but today I’m taking a break to talk about boobs – mine and yours. After recently undergoing a lumpectomy and talking about it with girlfriends, I was appalled at the number of my friends who not only don’t give themselves breast checks, but didn’t seem compelled to after we talked. I get it; you’re scared that if you actually check yourself, you might find something. Or you don’t know how to do it right, and you don’t want to get all bent out of shape about something that’s probably nothing.

A few years ago I found a lump and saw my doctor about it. She immediately sent me to the hospital to have it ultrasounded and they immediately wanted to biopsy it. This was all done with very little explanation of what they were looking for and what exactly was going to happen next. Not to mention I was 25, in the cancer ward and freaking out. The lump was referred to by its technical name: tumor. I appreciate that the nurses and doctors took it very seriously, but they could easily have assured me it wasn’t necessarily something to worry about, because benign lumps are very common in young women. Instead, they left me feeling in the dark and terrified.

In the end, it was a fibroadenoma, which is a common benign lump. If only I’d spoken to someone who had been through it all beforehand or the doctors had been more communicative, it might not have been so scary. Hopefully you will check your breasts regularly, and chances are you won’t go through any of this. If you do, I hope knowing a little about what to expect will help.

When I found a second lump a year later, it was slightly less scary, but we live in a breast-cancer-fearing world and any time you find something different in your breast, it’s unnerving. Bottom line is that both times, I found the lumps and saw my doctor about them, not the other way around. Both times, I was treated with caution and the lumps biopsied. It wasn’t pleasant having local anesthesia on my boob and being sore for several days afterward, but the biopsy is done through a needle and it doesn’t hurt.

Recently, I noticed one of the lumps had grown noticeably in a matter of months, and I knew I’d feel better having it checked out than sitting around and wondering. These kinds of lumps can grow, and it’s natural, but I wanted to let my doctor be the judge. Once again, my friends applauded, and some said that they also try to be vigilant and check themselves a few times a year. After all, it’s not so hard, and we know our bodies better than our doctors do. Others got squeamish, as though we were talking about having a colonoscopy or a root canal.

I’m not telling you about my experience to instill fear. After all, my lump was re-ultrasounded and didn’t look any different—just bigger. The first surgeon I met with was intense and told me to remove it, no question. I found another surgeon who was kind and patient. I was assured that it was my choice if I wanted to have a lumpectomy, and that it might become uncomfortable, but I didn’t need to panic. I could wait a few years and monitor it in the meantime. I decided to have it removed to avoid the probability of continued growth and removing it years down the road when it’s even bigger. I would have been fine either way—it was a personal decision. But I wouldn’t be in the position to make an educated decision, one that helps me sleep at night, if I hadn’t checked myself in the first place and brought what I found to the attention of my doctor.

To my friends who gave me excuses about not checking their breasts, I’m disappointed and I hope you’ll start doing this one simple thing. If you really feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, ask your doctor to show you. It’s not hard, and it could mean catching something much earlier than anyone else would. It’s scary but not as scary as being in the dark about your own health.

If you find yourself in the position of having a lumpectomy and you don’t have a friend around who can tell you what it was like, know that it truly is scarier than it is painful. Going to the hospital for anything is nerve-racking, especially surgery. My doctor chose to give me general anesthesia so I wouldn’t experience any of it, which wasn’t much different than being sedated, but saved me from any pain or memory of the experience. They gave me an IV, started with something light to relax me, and the next thing I knew, it was over.

After any kind of sedation (think wisdom teeth removal), you’re pretty out of it, and it helps to have family to take care of you. I’m recuperating now, and have been lucky to have only popped Advil for the last few days with almost no pain. The incision can get sewn up with stitches or Steri-strips. I had the latter. To be honest, I can tell the healing will take awhile, and I hope to never have surgery again. But I feel good about my decision and thankful to never have to worry about that damn lump again.

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