My boobs are FULL of lumps. My first biopsy was at age 32 and then I had a lumpectomy at age 34. Both of those were benign fibroadenomas. After that I began to pay more attention and I got to know my various lumps. At age 37 I had a new painful lump, which was a first, but he looked fine on mammogram and ultrasound. Then, just before my 39th birthday, I accidentally found a different type of lump while soaping my pits in the shower. This one felt roundish, similar to my others, but less mobile, more stuck to his surroundings. I didn’t like that. A mammogram and ultrasound captured him and he looked as sketchy as he felt, and as a little surprise, a second irregular mass was found that looked nothing like a fibroadenoma. Neat. I named them Bob and Norman, respectively, and began an interminably long eight day wait for my biopsy appointment.
In truth, for the last 10 years, I have felt like it was only a matter of time before one of my lumps would be trouble, and thus wasn’t shocked when I received the results of the biopsy, along with a brand-new diagnosis of breast cancer. In the 1950s, my mom’s mom dealt with an abundance of breast lumps and eventually had a preventative bilateral mastectomy which was apparently the medical recommendation at the time despite the lack of malignancies or bad genetics. My mom was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma for her 60th birthday (rude), which was caught early and she chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. That was all the treatment she needed to be cured, and she just celebrated her 10-year survivorship anniversary. She and her fabulous new set of girls are doing fantastic!
Sure there was a good bit of anxiety and worry while waiting for the results. I’ve been through it before, but this go-round felt different. The lumps were different, the images were different, the look on my doctor’s face was different. Still, even though I felt with near-certainty the news would not be good, I had moments of peace. No one wants to get cancer, obviously, but I had a good run with my boobs. I was able to nurse my only child for 16 months. And while that wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns (biting, clogged ducts, waking up twice every night for a year…), I did cherish that. I have never been particularly fond of or attached to my chest otherwise. I mean, the girls are quite small yet somehow also saggy, and I have always thought that they sat too low on my chest. Sort of like the Renaissance sculptures of women that were based off male models with oddly shaped mammary organs slapped on seemingly haphazardly at the last minute. (I’m looking at you Michelangelo.) And the dormant rebel in me has always sort of wanted to shave my head so the hair loss part of treatment didn’t scare me either. The waves of panic came from the thought of metastases, the assault of chemo, the scorch of radiation, and at the most morbid, leaving my daughter without a mother. But I had immediately decided ahead of time, with the encouragement and support of my husband, that even the lowest grade cancer would be the end of my natural breasts. Before this scare, I was already understanding my Gamma’s choice to have them taken off, even without cancer. Always a background worry that a lump would go rogue.
Despite how prepared I told myself I was, it still wasn’t super fun to officially hear that Bob was, in fact, cancer. Grade 1 invasive ductal carcinoma and DCIS. (Not to brag but I have two types.) Norman turned out to be just fine. My voice wavered and my eyes misted but that passed quickly and the next two days were spent in a weird state of calm. Mere minutes after the diagnosis we played our first “cancer card” and my husband canceled a few patients and we jetted off to, wait for it, TARGET. We bought delicious holiday lattes and wandered the aisles giggling with each other about things that probably weren’t actually funny. It felt like we were in our 20s again, being silly on a date. (We truly did go on dates to Target, being the incomeless medical students that we were at the time.) I meticulously mixed and matched a whole new set of bedding. Oh, how I love you, Opalhouse and Nate-Berkus-for-Target.
But life goes on. Our daughter needed to be picked up from preschool. I reluctantly pulled the cord on the pleasant delirium and allowed myself to waft back down to reality. And the reality is that I have breast cancer. If you’re going to have breast cancer, this is one of the “good” ones. And now I’m ready for the plan. I’m usually not much of a planner, but I also despise the unknown. I’d rather be in a certifiably bad situation than in limbo. Which is maybe why I felt so jolly at Target. I had been given the answer, and while it wasn’t what I hoped, it was better than not knowing anything. So I’m super irritated that my first appointment with the surgeon isn’t for two whole weeks. Not because I think that the cancer will eat its way through me in that amount of time — because I know it won’t — but rather, I will spend this whole time trying to piece together what the plan is likely to be but I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. It is a fundamentally fruitless endeavor. Also, while I do have an MD, I am neither a breast surgeon nor an oncologist and have no formal training in either specialty. Thankfully I have been quite schooled on how to search for appropriate and reliable information and sites like www.shouldicutmyboobsoff.com do not make the cut. At the very least, I can curate a Pinterest board of badass tattoos to go on my chest-sans-cancer when the time comes, and spitball ideas for a head-shaving party if needed.