A Mammogram Story (or an alien has invaded my breasts)

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve read a few blog posts from men about men’s health issues. I realize this is a difficult thing to do and every time I read one, I say a soft “way to go” to those brave people who open up their lives to the blogosphere in order to help others. Some might even say it is going public, but sometimes I wonder if this blog world is the same as the real world. But that’s probably a deep philosophical discussion for another day.

As many of you have read, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 at the very young age of 41. She is now in remission and basically kicked cancer’s ass, but it had the added “benefit” of putting me on a sort of “must watch list”. I was told that I needed to have a mammogram right away, even though I wasn’t yet 40.

I kept meaning to do it, but I managed to ignore it until something really scary happened. It’s that thing that I believe all women fear, or at least one of the things, and it’s probably why we shy away from those pesky self-exams we’re supposed to give ourselves every month. For me, it was because I felt lumpy tissue every time I managed to remember the exam and it always scared me. But then you hear that breast tissue is lumpy and strange, but you’ll know when there’s a lump.

Turns out, you do, in fact, know when there is something in your breast that doesn’t quite belong.

I was in the shower and when I felt it, I immediately dropped my hands and shook them, like they were betraying me and telling me things that weren’t true. I blinked my eyes and shook my head, denying with every part of my body what I knew I had just felt. I took a deep breath and tried again, but it was still there.

I had a lump.

I jumped out of the shower and screamed for my boyfriend and, bless his heart, when he felt around, he said he didn’t feel anything different and that everything was fine. Just make an appointment and get it checked out. He was WAY more calm than I was, and I don’t know if my sister’s news was just too fresh or if it is just that scary for everyone to find a lump, but I immediately created a future of cancer and chemo treatments and, oh shit, I’m not going to have breasts anymore!

I did, in fact, go through the doctor’s appointment and my very first mammogram. Note: The demeanor and personality of the tech actually does make a difference, so if that’s something you do, or you know someone who does it, tell them to be as personable as possible; crack jokes; find something to connect with so you can talk about it while you take pictures of someone else’s squished breasts. I know this, because at this point, and in exactly a year, I have had two mammograms.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After the first mammogram, I had an ultrasound and eventually a biopsy. They were pretty sure it was a cyst when I had the ultrasound, but it was big enough and given my family history, they decided to err on the side of caution and scheduled me for a biopsy. When it was all said and done, the biopsy needle (or whatever that contraption is) took care of the cyst and I was lump free for an entire year; until about two weeks ago when I felt another one.

It was just as scary the second time; just as hard to deal with, but maybe a little easier to believe it was nothing. Until, of course, you go to the doctor and they say things like, “it’s strange to see another one so soon” and “given your family history…” So, my doctor sent me to a breast specialist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I can tell you, just seeing that name printed on her business card scared the shit out of me.

Another mammogram and two ultrasounds later, and I have more than one cyst this time; in fact, I have multiple cysts in each breast and I got to hear the doctor say, “this type of tissue has a higher chance of cancer.” They also said the cysts were small and nothing to be concerned about, but there was one that wasn’t a “simple” cyst, so they want to watch it.

As of now, I am scheduled for a follow-up in six months. I feel a bit like an alien has invaded my body and is just terrifying enough to keep a worm in my brain that scares me, but not bad enough to be anything at all.

The one thing I know is that I need to live for today and not let this rule my thinking or my life. I can’t create futures that don’t exist and walk down a path that might look like something, but isn’t actually anything to be concerned about. At least I’m taking the necessary steps and will catch anything that might rear it’s head. For now, cancer is a part of my family history (one thing I know even more now that I’ve actually had to focus on it), but it hasn’t touched my life personally yet, or my breasts, thank God! (I just have some pesky aliens in there sometimes causing pain and sometimes making my thoughts run.)

I don’t know if this helps anyone or not, but damn did it feel good to get it out!

(Note: It is actually scary to hit publish and share this with the “world”.)