two fridays ago i went to the doctor. i don’t have a regular doctor in memphis yet, largely because i just got insurance on may 1 (finally – what a relief). so i figured it was time for the always-lovely “well woman” exam and basic check up to make sure all my i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed. after an interruption for my doctor to perform an emergency C-section (no joke), i got checked out. to break the TMI bubble for you all: my left breast has been bothering me. it feels weird, it is sore, and i have pain in the armpit. my aunt had breast cancer and because my mom was adopted we have no clue what has gone on in her blood relations. it pays to be cautious, right? well, my doctor felt something, enough of a something to schedule me an appointment (for this morning) with a breast specialist in her same building.
so this morning i show up at the breast clinic panicking myself into a tizzy. the reality of all of the possibilities came thumping down on me as i saw posters for susan g. komen, a dog statue covered in breast cancer ribbons, and diagrams for what lumps can look and feel like. i literally got dizzy from fright. i was the youngest person in the waiting room by approximately 35 years. the optimist in me just knew that all of the other women were thinking to themselves, “oh look at that poor young girl, to be taken from us so young, poor young thing, she has no idea what’s about to happen.”
finally they took me back and performed your normal breast exam, except it was done in a way i’ve never had it done. i was taught (at my ALL-WOMEN’S COLLEGE, for christssake) to use the tips of my fingers, pressing in circular motions with varying pressures, and moving all the way around the breast. apparently, WRONG. you’re supposed to do this flat-handed, with the pads of your fingers, and press in sweeping motions from top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right, right to left, and do so laying down with your arm above your head. she also taught me to do this standing and looking in the mirror, because any cancerous lumps will often cause puckering and pulling that is visible. please, ask your doctor about this and make sure you’re doing it right yourself. as it was done, the RN said brightly, “oh! you have a lump here, feel that?” i think i died right then of sheer panic. i did feel it when she showed me how, and it was the size of a quarter. she went to get the doctor to perform an ultrasound as i continued dying of fright.
the doctor came in, had me lay down for the ultrasound, and located the lump that the RN had felt. she showed me the dark spot on the screen and said, “ah, this is what she felt. this right here is just a pocket of fat. totally normal.” i could have cried with relief. so many women don’t get to hear that n-word when they go to that clinic. my aunt, my godmother, and millions of other women have had to deal with the opposite finding – i realize how lucky i am to hear what i heard today. and as i left with my new breast exam knowledge and a pamphlet of what’s normal to find during them, i realized that i probably know dozens of women that already knew this stuff, knew the better technique to examine themselves, but because of some weird societal phobia no one talks about their boobs in public. not even in private among either women. and that’s bullshit. so much could probably be prevented. if women would just share their knowledge outside of the doctor’s office and get over their squirminess about bringing up the topic, we would become a more powerful group of people, armed with information and skills to keep us more aware of ourselves and any changes that occur. 80% of lumps found in self-exams are benign and relatively normal, but it’s the other 20% that can get us.
click here for learning how to perform a breast self examination. my doctor used the “sweeping method.”