No, that’s not breast cancer either

It was nearly five years ago that I first felt a lump in my breast and panicked about the possibility of cancer. At that time, a quick trip to my doctor’s office laid my fears to rest. But then I found another lump; a larger one that was very different from anything I’d felt before.

(Spoiler alert: It’s not cancer.)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional nor do I have any professional health or fitness qualifications. This post is about my own personal experiences of finding a breast lump. It is meant as an informational starting point – not as medical advice. Please consult your medical team if you have any questions or concerns about your own health.

When I first found the lump, I knew it was different and I feared it was different in a bad way. It seemed to appear overnight and I don’t really know if it grew in between my first finding it and seeing the doctor. However, I also knew that lumps could come and go along with menstrual cycles so I told myself to leave it alone and wait a month. But the lump remained.

I found the lump in late February or early March. But I delayed going to the GP for various reasons. I kept forgetting to call during office hours, and the office was closed in the evenings. Eventually, I forgot about the lump. (Kind of.) I think I was trying to convince myself it was nothing. But then, I realised I couldn’t put it off any longer. So I made a day-of appointment with my GP a few days before going on holiday (late May).

Of course, I had hoped the doctor would say “Yup, normal lump, enjoy your holidays…”

Instead, he started on this sales pitch for Edinburgh’s “one-stop clinic” (the Edinburgh Breast Unit) at the Western General Hospital where all the tests are run in a single day to rule out cancer (or, for about 20% of cases, to confirm it) and about how they make appointments quite quickly.

So I asked, “Are you saying that a day at the breast unit is in my future?”… To which he replied “Yes”…

He knew I was leaving on my holidays soon, so told me he would put that in the letter to the breast unit so that an appointment could be made accordingly. The appointment letter arrived less than a week after visiting my GP with an appointment for the week after my holidays. That meant it was just shy of a calendar month from seeing my GP and attending the breast unit. (I imagine this would have been a shorter waiting period, had I not been out of the country for more than half of that time.)

I arrived at the clinic in plenty of time for my 10.15 appointment with the full knowledge that I might be in for a long and upsetting day. I was prepared for several different meetings and tests and steeled myself for a bit of bad news.

My first consultation was quite upsetting. It started with a few general questions about my health, then I was asked to remove my top for a physical exam. The exam began with me sitting on the edge of the exam table whilst the doctor looked at my breasts. This was done whilst I was sitting “normally” as well as with my arms stretched up, one at a time.

The first moment of panic I had was when I was asked if one of my breasts has always been larger than the other. (Answer: I don’t know. I didn’t even realise one was larger than the other. I mean, they are both small!)

After the visual exam, the doctor did a manual exam. She checked both breasts, my lymph nodes, and my collarbone. She had spent a bit of time examining a bit of my breast that I hadn’t spotted a lump in before asking where the lump I noticed was. Then, she made several marks on my left breast, noting the areas of concern.

By this point, I was holding back tears. I mean, one breast is larger than another and that is the same breast that the doctor has found multiple areas to be further investigated. I think it’s fair to say that I was not happy.

My next stop was the mammogram room. I had never had one before so wasn’t really sure what to expect, other than my boob being squished into a machine. This was a very awkward test, and I wonder if it would have been easier if I had larger breasts. It just seemed that my small “A”s were not easily placed in the machine.

The mammogram was also my funniest point of the day. For some reason, the ridiculousness of the machine and the entire “conveyer belt” feel to the day made me think about The Machine That Goes *Bing*. And that sent me into a bit of a giggle fit. (Similar to the one I had in the middle of my wedding ceremony!) But as you have to stay very still and hold your breath for each imaging pose, I had to work to contain myself. And it was hard because, well … *bing*!

After the mammogram, I was sent for an ultrasound to further investigate the lumps that were visible on the mammogram. There was quite a bit of stopping to examine the images before scanning my breast a bit more. And then, it was back up to see the first doctor again.

By this time, I was starting to feel a bit less concerned as the word “cysts” had been used a couple of times. And that is what the final diagnosis was: cysts. Several of them are between the “12 and 3 o’clock” position, although I can only feel the one.

There had been talk earlier in the day about further tests (biopsies), but that they would delay anything invasive until I had a new platelet count done because of my bleeding disease. (Fair enough.) But this was not to be the case as there was no need for a biopsy. (Yay!)

The diagnosis was a great relief to me because I know cysts! Between my kidneys and my liver, I am sort of an old hand at cysts. And whilst breast cysts are different, at least I know that they’re “just cysts”.

An offer was made to have the cysts drained or otherwise removed. However, I declined the offer because (1) I don’t have the time right now (gotta get that PhD done!), (2) the cysts aren’t bothering me, and (3) it seems like a silly waste of NHS money. However, I have been told I can change my mind later, should I decide that I would like to do something about them.

So, once again, I am sharing a story about not having breast cancer. Here’s hoping I never have to share a story from the other side!

And that leads me to a friendly reminder to all of my readers: Don’t forget to check your own breasts from time to time. And don’t forget to attend your mammogram appointments when the time comes. And, also, don’t delay your cervical screenings, either. (And just be the healthiest version of you that you can be!)

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