I was in the shower when I found a lump in my right breast. I felt a sharp, nauseating chill radiate throughout my body. I reacted as I do to most potential health issues — I became terrified and let that feeling take over, trying not to think about the very real lump for a few weeks. Maybe it was hormones, or some kind of fat or calcium deposit, right? Eventually, I realized that the only way to calm myself down was to talk to my doctor. She was glad I'd finally come in. After confirming that the lump was there and talking to me about the possibilities, I was given a referral for a breast specialist.
I was only 20 years old. I had never even referred to my boob as a breast; I was not old enough to have breasts. I had boobies, or tatas, or as my sister and I referred to them, ladies. Older women had breasts. Older women did breast self-exams. Older women had to see breast specialists. I was young; there was no reason for this to happen to me. After a non-stop panic attack, I went mentally numb in preparation for my next appointment, assuming the worst.
I saw the breast specialist and had an ultrasound done to examine the lump. Luckily, having strangers cup my young boob and smush down on it like a too-full suitcase was enough to distract me from the fear of the unknown.
It was again confirmed I had a lump, but this time, it felt real. My lump was written up in my doctor’s notes. “5 cm from the right nipple, an ovoid, slightly hypoechoic, well demarcated benign appearing, solid mass.” The specialist said she suspected it was a a fibroadenoma, which in the field they call “Boob Mice” for their tendency to move around within the body — I found this morbidly entertaining enough to be both calming and alarming.
She then said she didn’t believe it was cancerous, but couldn’t confirm that without a biopsy. I was presented with three options:
- Do nothing and keep an eye on things with the possibility of the lump turning cancerous
- Get a biopsy but leave the lump alone, then have to keep an eye on things with the possibility of the lump turning cancerous
- Remove the lump and get a biopsy
I chose to pop that sucker out the instant I was given the choice. I didn’t want to have to deal with something inside of my chest that would be a constant source of anxiety with the potential to turn deadly. So, one month before my 21st birthday, I went in for a lumpectomy. The day of the surgery I was a little nervous, but my mom was with me, successfully distracting me from the overwhelming urge to rip out the IV lines and bolt from the hospital like a crazed dog.
My doctor, anesthesiologist, and nurses were all incredibly nice, caring, and gentle. Each person talked me through everything they were doing so I was fully informed and not surprised. I remember being walked into the OR wrapped in warm blankets, laying down on the table, and counting down. When I woke up, I was fully dressed and in a warm bed with my mom by my side. I felt amazing in that recovery bed —physically, I was too doped-up to feel anything other than relaxed, and mentally, I was so relieved to have that lump gone. One nurse brought over ginger ale and crackers, making her an absolute saint, since I'd been fasting since the night before.
You know what’s worse than feeling anxious and awkward? Getting very sick.
I went back to work in just a few days and had very little discomfort, with a handful of questions from my coworkers. The most memorable question was “so, is there like … a chunk missing? Like, can you see a hole?” Nope, there was barely any cosmetic difference — everything looked the same way it did before I had the lump taken out. My voluptuous, pale boob was back to normal.
Later, I went back to the breast specialist to have my incision checked out. She removed the Liquid Skin, a liquid adhesive used to cover the dissolvable stitches used to close the wound and let me know I was healing well. A little while after that, I got a thank you card from my doctor and her team for trusting them with my care — they really went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable.
I’m lucky. I found the lump early on and had health insurance that afforded me the opportunity to see specialists and have the surgery. I was otherwise healthy and able to go under anesthesia, and I understand that this is not the case for everyone.
Today, I have a barely visible scar on the top of the ol’ right knocker that is easily covered by many bras and bathing suit tops. Although I’m currently fine, as a person who has had a fibroadenoma, I’m told I’m now more at risk for breast cancer than someone who has not had one. Since then, I've had a few scares, but fortunately, nothing serious.
I'm telling my story in the hope that you will also do breast self-exams. Please, check your boobs, examine your breasts, take care of the ladies. Figure out what is normal for you and your body. Stop being shy — talk to your friends and family members about breast health and breast self-exams. If something seems off, see a doctor. You know what’s worse than feeling anxious and awkward? Getting very sick. Early detection is key, so don’t be fearful of your body — take care of it. I'm certainly glad I did.
Images: Shannon Brown