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The Breast Blog – Feeling Anxious

14 Jul

The Breast Blog #3

Feeling Anxious

July 12, 2011

Okay, I confess.  In this moment I am a bit anxious.  It is getting close to 2 months now, and I still don’t have a diagnosis.

I can go for a week at a time and be as calm as can be.  And then I’ll have an appointment, or a call to make to one of the doctors, and I’ll be nervous all over again.

I am well aware that there are a number of benign conditions that could explain my three or four symptoms (abnormalities).  I am aware that there is about an 80% chance that nothing serious is wrong.  Of course, stating the obvious, that means there’s a 20% chance that I do have cancer.

To get you up to date, here are my symptoms:

  • A dark discharge was discovered coming from my left nipple.
  • An ultrasound of my left breast showed a small nodule beneath my areola.
  • A mammogram showed a “cluster of micro-calcifications” in my right breast.
  • I feel discomfort in my left breast. (Sometimes this discomfort seems to be directly proportional to how much recent abuse my breast has gone through – ie, palpation, squeezing, etc.  But other times my left breast feels warm to the touch and my bra feels uncomfortable and it just plain “doesn’t feel right.”)

During my second-to-last doctor visit, I was informed that the nodule could be any of the following:

  • A papilloma (generally benign)
  • A fibroadenoma  (benign)
  • Cancerous (gulp)

I personally have ruled out fibroadenoma as they generally occur with younger women who eat lots of fruits and veggies, get moderate exercise, and have had several births.  If they’ve been on the pill, there is a lower incidence of fibroadenoma.  I am 53 years old, eat a fair number of veggies and fruits, don’t exercise nearly enough, have born no children, and was on the pill for quite a few years. Therefore, I seem an unlikely candidate.

A papilloma is most likely.  Apparently 40-70% of pathological nipple discharge (PND) is due to a papilloma.[1]  This is a growth which appears in a breast duct and is generally benign – unless there are “certain cellular changes”[2] – ie, atypical hyperplasia, which is doctor-speak for “an accumulation of abnormal cells.”[3]   Almost every site I researched called a papilloma benign.  I had to read carefully to get to the disclaimer “certain cellular changes” part.

Once again, for most women, the chances are good that their atypical mammograms reflect a “false positive” – ie, no cancer.  “80% of all breast lumps are not cancer.”[4]  And the Mayo Clinic states:  “Generally single papillomas are thought to be an aberration and not a disease.”[5]

I am torn here.  On the one hand, I want to document how I’m feeling.  On the other hand I want to be reassuring to women who may be reading this blog.  Please know, dear women, the odds are very, very good that you have nothing to worry about.

What concerns me specifically about my situation is that in addition to the nodule in the left breast, I have these micro-calcifications in the right breast.   “Microcalcifications are quite tiny bits of calcium, and may show up in clusters, or in patterns (like circles or lines) and are associated with extra cell activity in breast tissue. Usually the extra cell growth is not cancerous, but sometimes tight clusters of microcalcifications can indicate early breast cancer.”[6]

I was told that these are benign 80% of the time.  But again, there’s that pesky 20%.

So, I have different things going on in each breast.  Each condition has about an 80% chance of being benign.  Math is not my strong suit, but I’m guessing two 20% chances of cancer is more worrisome than one 20% chance.

To tell the truth, initially I was not overly alarmed.  There seemed to be a good chance everything was benign and I hadn’t had any premonitions or anything.  However the thing that started to worry me was when I took a solitary retreat to get clear on my next course of action.  I had taken a book with me:  She Who Dreams, by Wanda Easter Burch.  In this book she documents the pain she’d been having in her breasts and the dreams which finally took her to the doctor’s and the dreams which ultimately helped guide her in her healing.  I had been reading snippets of the book when I had a sudden memory of a few dreams in recent months  in which the word “cancer” was mentioned.

The next day I spent the whole day poring over journals from the last year.  I found many marvelous dreams, several scary dreams, and thus far, two cancer dreams.  One was especially  to the point.  A woman ally turned to me and said, “How’s your cancer, Cindy?”

Uh oh.

Welcome to the Breast Blog

14 Jul

The Breast Blog #1

By Cynthia Greb

June 29, 2011

In the summer of 2009, for some quirky unknown reason, I started taking photos of my breasts.  Actually, I suspect it had something to do with being bored, needing to rebel from the constraints of my life at that time, and needing badly to exercise some creative muscles but not having the energy for any big projects.  Whatever the reason, I took my digital camera, held it away from my body at various angles, and clicked the shutter.  Now, two years later, mammograms and ultrasounds show I have some “suspicious abnormalities” in my breasts.

Being human, when I got that news I very quickly went through the possibilities of what could happen.  Worst case scenario, of course, is I could have cancer and die.  Of course that’s a thought that enters my head; I’m human and we seem to be wired that way, don’t we?  It doesn’t matter how spiritual we are or how full of faith, there seems to be an innate fear of death in our culture and I guess at some point or another, most of us have to face that fear.  But truthfully, I don’t believe that’s my fate at this time.  I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more I’m supposed to do on the planet before I go.  So I rule that option out.  I may get cancer, but I’m not going to die for a while.  I choose to have some say in this matter and I choose to believe it’s not my time.

So the next most pressing thought is, ‘Will I lose my breasts?’  For some reason, this is a more sobering thought to me.  If I’m going to be alive, I would really like to keep my breasts.  I’m rather attached to them.  (No pun intended.)  I’m fond of them.  And I know a few other people who are as well.  (You know who you are!)

So I guess this is why I began the odd hobby of photographing my breasts.  Perhaps subconsciously I knew that I would want a record of how they used to look.

Today marks the 45th day since I first discovered a suspicious dark-colored discharge from my left nipple.  Well actually, if I’m honest, it’s probably more like the 52nd day, because after I first noticed it I promptly tucked the incident back into the corners of my subconscious.  I really did NOT want to deal with that piece of information at that time.

However, I eventually got on the stick.  I realized that no, it was not my imagination, and no, it was not a one-time only phenomenon.  I immediately called my primary doctor first thing  in the morning.  Then began a rapid succession of mammograms, ultrasounds, visits to a consulting surgeon, visits to a second surgeon for another opinion, etc.  But as of yet, no biopsy.  Sadly, it seems to have to do with finances and insurance (or rather, the lack thereof.)

Here is one thing I can’t seem to forget.  How many millions of women in this country have mammograms that suggest a possible “abnormality?”  How many millions of women have to go through this maelstrom of emotions – the fear, the uncertainty, the worry, the “what ifs?”  I ask myself:  is there anything that I can do to share information, offer suggestions and insights based upon my experience, and, most of all perhaps, educate about breast cancer prevention?

The answer is yes.  I can write this blog.

And there you have it. This is the first in a series of “conversations” about the experiences, the emotions, and the many and varied things I am learning – about the medical world, about preventive healthcare, about the ebb and flow of emotions, about emotional support, and about the spiritual lessons that can come with this experience if we’re open to them.

And to those of you out there who may be worried about your own breasts, or the breasts of someone you love, or me, may I say:  Read on, folks.  There is much to learn.

For now, I am trusting that everything is happening for a reason.  I am trying to allow my feelings to surface, while not getting overly bogged down with the nonproductive ones.  I truly do know that ultimately everything will be fine, no matter what the diagnosis turns out to be.

All is well.  (And I may freak out a bit from time to time.)

Peace to you.