I found a lump in my breast. And I did something I never thought I’d do: I ignored it.
Instead of addressing it, I started rationalizing why I shouldn’t go to the doctor.
- I’m too young. Mammograms aren’t recommended until age 40.
- I don’t have a babysitter. The doctor’s office has a policy against bringing children if they’re not patients.
- I’m invincible. I mean, I’ve lived dangerously most of my life and I haven’t died yet, so, yeah, obviously, I’m Wonder Woman.
- I can’t afford a co-pay. It’s only $25, but I need those bucks for my daily chicken biscuits.
- My mind is playing tricks on me. I recently saw a couple of TV shows that mentioned breast cancer and they’re probably making me think I felt something when I really didn’t.
- I was scared to touch it to see if it really was a lump. Would touching spread it?
- I don’t want to look like a hypochondriac idiot. I’ve taken my baby to the doctor so many times and I swear when I leave they’re mumbling, “This lady’s so dumb she doesn’t know a common cold from a heart attack.”
I’m joking, but not really. I felt a tender lump in my breast and I surprised myself by pretending I didn’t feel it.
Then, one day I heard a radio commercial about HIV, saying that people don’t want to get tested because they’re scared to know their status. I thought to myself, How ridiculous is that? Why would someone be afraid to know if they were sick?
I was doing the exact same thing by ignoring this lump.
Listen, I know cancer is real. I have friends who’ve experienced it and I can’t go anywhere without seeing a pink ribbon or a Komen ad, so I had no excuse for being so ignorant about cancer. In that moment, I decided to make an appointment.
The doctor checked one breast…then the other…and she felt nothing unusual.
(Have you ever complained about a weird noise coming from your car, but when you get to the mechanic the car sounds brand new? Yeah, that’s how I felt.)
“I swear I felt something. Really. I’m not crazy,” I told her. She was so nice about it; she believed me and explained that the tightness, warmth, tenderness, and lumpiness were probably due to hormonal and menstrual changes. She said that cancerous lumps are usually pea-sized and not painful. She counted the visit as a free annual checkup, so I didn’t have to pay after all.
Much ado about nothing perhaps or better safe than sorry.
But that was not the most surprising part of this experience.
As I told my mom about my foolishness, she listened, then quietly said, “I’m getting a biopsy next week.”
She explained that she found a lump months ago and ignored it (!) but during her annual checkup, the doctor found something and wants to examine if it’s benign or not.
So, now we wait. No more procrastinating or pretending or rationalizing or hoping. Just waiting for the facts.
If you’ve ever been through anything similar, then you must know the “lump” it leaves in your throat and belly. The waiting and the not knowing can be dreadful or it can be enlightening.
People, I’m here to hold your hand or really to hold your arms and shake you awake. I get it. As mothers, we sell ourselves this “Be strong” nonsense that tells us to work harder, don’t cry, be selfless. Here we were — my mother and I — two educated women who were scared to go to the doctor for goodness sakes! It’s good to be optimistic and positive, but do what’s necessary to know the truth about your body. Do self-exams to get to know your breasts. Learn how they feel when you’re on and not on your period. Consider getting a 3-D mammogram annually so that the images can be compared to determine if there were changes. (My mother can barely feel the lump that the doctors found, but it appears clear as day with the 3-D image.)
Bottom line: if there’s something you can do to stay healthy, you should do it without questioning it.