My personal, and somewhat ugly story on how i found a lump in my breast
It was just a usual morning when I found a lump in my breast. To be honest, it was quite hard to ignore it. It felt like a metal bullet to the touch—one centimetre in diameter, solid, and round-shaped. A thing I knew for sure was never there before, and that morning, it was inside my breast. I knew my family had a history of cancer. My beloved grandmother had breast cancer (but her lust for life was strong enough for her to beat it), my mother had a fibroadenoma in her breast when I was a kid (luckily, it wasn’t too serious) and, my mum’s sister had ovarian cancer that was luckily crushed after a surgery and a series of radiation therapies.
According to American Cancer Society, a risk of breast cancer is about two times higher for women with one first-degree female relative who has been diagnosed, nearly three times higher for women with two relatives, and nearly four times higher for women with three or more relatives compared with women without a family history. Knowing all of this, it was difficult not to panic.
Well, I would say panic isn’t just the right expression to describe that feeling of consternation when you realise that there’s something wrong with you for the first time but you have no idea what it is whatsoever. There are several stages to go through before accepting the situation: shock, denial, anger, and even depression. I went through all of them.
The same morning I scheduled an appointment with a GP and went for a check. I was hoping to hear that it only appeared due to my period coming soon, but I knew that such a thing had never happened before. My GP checked this lump but wouldn’t talk much, and I could feel she was worried. She gave me two contacts of the best breast specialists in town: one of them was a lady, the other one was a guy. As the thought of my breast being checked by a male doctor made me even more uncomfortable, I decided to stick with the first option. I remember leaving the medical centre restless, thinking how one morning could change so much.
All memories of the following three months are now so blurry, but there are certain days that I won’t be able to forget. I remember going to the gym prior to an appointment with the breast specialist, as I didn’t want to act as if I was sick. Besides, I was exercising harder than ever, trying to release the stress. So, there I was, standing in a changing room two hours before I was supposed to visit a doctor, ready to go upstairs and work my ass off with my PT when I suddenly felt all itchy and flashing hot.
A psychosomatic allergy they said. I didn’t even know it was a real thing before! In just a couple of seconds, my entire body went patchy red: face, neck, chest, arms, belly, legs. I had no idea what to do. Those 10 minutes on my way back home felt like a walk of shame. It was a coincidence that I happened to wear a neon pink vest that day and it made me resemble a parrot! I was pulling the hood on my face so much that I could barely see the street. I couldn't understand what my body was doing and why it was giving me a hard time.
After undergoing an ultrasound scan and a biopsy test, my doctor was still unable to diagnose what precisely it was. Mammography was out of the question due to the restriction of performing it on women under the age of 30 in New Zealand. I was only 23 years old. Either it’s a papilloma, which is most likely a benign lesion but (there is always a ‘but’, right?) in one out of 20 cases, it indicates the beginning of cancer, or cancer, she said. It was most likely not cancer because it didn’t exactly look like it. To say that it was comforting me is to say nothing at all. I was almost sure that I would be ‘lucky enough’ to be that one particular case out of 20. Her suggestion was to come back after a couple of weeks to see if anything has changed, trying not to go nuts in the meantime.
Good for you, there is no need to wait for several weeks to know the end of the story, so here we go... My second appointment was no better, as the lump was still there! There was no point of taking another biopsy test, as it was painful (this feeling of a needle scrubbing my heart was just awful as the anaesthesia never worked with my body that well) while delivering zero results. Excision was the best thing we could’ve done so far but the price of $7000–8000 (which I didn’t have) made me reconsider. Although I was insured, there was no guarantee that they would cover surgery costs in such a case. Saving money never was my strong suit, so there I was, sitting on my bum as a twenty-something, waiting until my problems would go away and the lump would disappear, which, of course, it didn’t.
Another day I won’t forget is when I woke up with a blood stain on my t-shirt. Apparently, it is very common for papillomas and cancerous lesions to cause blood leakage, but I didn’t know that back then. It was the time when I decided to get a second opinion and made an appointment to see the male doctor suggested by my GP. As far as I know from my experience, finding the right doctor to operate on you is not easier than finding true love.
The only difference is the ticking clock that puts the pressure to find the correct doctor ASAP. I know what mistakes can cause on that level, owing to the fact that when my grandmother had one of many chemotherapy courses, she was ‘accidentally’ injected with this poison under the skin instead of into the vein. The nurse just missed it, leaving my nana with a massive wound on her arm. I was blessed to come across Dr. Burton King. From the first moment I saw him, I knew he was the one. His smile was extremely comforting as well as his professionalism, and what I really liked is that he wasn’t treating me as an ill individual. He was reasonable and that was enough. He said that the lump was an intraductal papilloma and needed to be removed. The sooner the better so we could see the histology report, he said. On the same day I visited him, I booked the first available surgery date that was in three weeks.
Four days prior to my 24th birthday, the lump was removed. I have never regretted choosing Dr King. He calmed me down, answered my silly questions like “would my boob get smaller afterwards?” or “what if I wake up in the middle of the surgery?” and held my hand until I went unconscious under general anaesthesia. General anaesthesia is something that affects you more than the operation itself. There were deep dark circles under my eyes and I looked so skinny as if I had been starving myself for days. But on the other hand, I felt excited that this thing left my body. The only thing that was keeping me from being fully happy was my histology result. Although I was stressed and scared, everything went smoother than I expected. The operation took about one hour and some extra hours for me to wake up and come to my senses. After spending eight hours in the hospital, I was finally allowed to go home.
I would say that if I can give a piece of advice based on my experience, it would be to not isolate yourself. Because I did, and it definitely didn’t help my emotional stability. Whenever I went, I felt like there was a huge elephant in the room. I just couldn't get myself to tell anyone.
Hey mum, how’s your day? Good? Oh, by the way, I’ve got a lump in my breast. Oh, I don’t know what it is but they say a surgery is the only option.
I didn’t want anyone to worry! And sure as hell, I didn’t want people to pity me. All I wanted was to be normal, to be not sick, and to not have something in my body that wasn’t supposed to be there. It wasn’t the best thing to shut down my friends either, but I figured that only some time afterwards. For a while, my boxing gloves became my best friends. I used to spend hours in the gym kicking a punching bag that represented cancer in my eyes. And I would leave the gym only when I felt breathless and my knuckles were totally smashed. Talking to a friend definitely made me saner, but I only had enough courage to do that after a couple of months. However, telling my mum two days prior to the surgery made me even more anxious. I felt the importance to tell her just in case something went wrong. At the end of the day, I was living in a foreign country miles away from her, and it was the right thing to do.
I will never forget my 24th birthday. I blew my candle wishing the results would show that the lump was benign. I was getting birthday wishes saying that I was living my dream while I was sitting in a restaurant ‘celebrating’, still stressed and more confused than ever. My picture perfect didn’t involve Instagram posts about anything that was happening during these three months. That’s why we should never judge people based on how their social lives look like. My picture was only perfect on the outside but inside I just wished that I could be normal again with no abnormalities in any way, shape, or form. When after several days, my report showed that there was no presence of malignancy, I was the happiest I've ever been.
THE SILVER LINING:
I honestly consider my case an extremely lucky one. Yes, I experienced stress, mild panic attacks, and a psychosomatic allergy. Yes, it was unpleasant to wait seven days for my biopsy test and then 10 days for a post-surgery histology report. However, I am exceptionally blessed that it was benign. By telling you my personal, sometimes ugly story I want to make at least a small difference. I want all women who are reading this article to schedule an appointment with a breast specialist and get a regular check-up. Women can also get detailed instructions from a GP on how to get regular self-checks. Enough rain checks and excuses, just do this so you are on the safer side. In the worst case scenario, an early diagnosis is way better than a 'too late' one.
I gave a lot of thought before I started writing this article and I’m not sure if I would prefer not to have this lump (if I had an option). After all, it taught me how to be more empathic and compassionate. In other words, concerned about what’s going on around myself, because now I know that it can happen to anyone.
CARING FOR YOURSELF AND SUPPORTING THE CAUSE :
Breast cancer is being diagnosed not only in women in their 40s and 50s but in young adults as well. That’s why it is vital to help support Breast Cancer Foundation by donating money if you can. If not, you can always donate blood (28% of blood donated in New Zealand goes to patients with cancer). It might save someone else’s life. A local brand I admire, Lonely Lingerie, has created special T-shirts in a collaboration with the artist Ophelia Mikkelson. All the funds from the sale of the Lonely x Ophelia Tee will go directly to the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. You can pre-order it now and make a tiny difference that is highly appreciated. And, if you visit one their stores this October, you will receive a breast care card that pretty much tells you what signs to look out for and how to self-examine yourself. Another thing you could do to help is purchasing one of the Estée Lauder Pink Ribbon products instead of your usual one. Estée Lauder has created a non-profit organisation dedicated to eradicating breast cancer by advancing the world's most promising research! Apart from raising money and funding research, The Breast Cancer Campaign is building global awareness about this disease. They aim to create a breast cancer-free world. Isn’t it what we all want?
Cover Image via Realisation Par
[Thank you Irina Sviatskaia for sharing your brave and personal story ♡]
Previously on staff at Allure Russia, Irina moved from Moscow city to New Zealand. So what does Irina do when she isn’t testing beauty products and writing reviews? Eating avos and nailing the perfect VSCO filters!