... a bit of that, August Woman's Month Guest Blog

Guest Post: It’s all about the boobs!

1 October 2008

It was a normal Wednesday… Work, clients, paperwork, homework with the kids, dinner…. A lovely day actually… That evening, after bath, I was applying body lotion, and when putting it on my breasts, I felt something strange…. A bump/lump…. WTH??? I checked, checked again, lay down on the bed, felt this way felt that way, went to the mirror, turned sideways, checked again… and yep, there it was…. a fricken bump, about the size of a large marble (a goon as we called it as kids)!!!!! I called Jacques, more like a little scream actually, “come here quickly!!!”… He hurried into the bedroom and asked what’s wrong… a spider? what???

.I looked at him, big eyes, and I think I resembled a fish… I wanted to tell him what I’d found, but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth…. I put my hand up, “wait”, I took a breath, gulped… And told him I felt something funny… Funny haha or funny strange he asked… Funny strange I replied…. I told him, “a bump” pointing at my upper right breast, I showed him the exact spot, put his fingers over it and moved them in circles, his eyes opened wide, he felt, felt again… stepped back… He looked worried…. and that’s when I burst into tears.

marietjie

How did this happen? I often checked my breasts, as per doctor’s instruction and various magazine articles… One week after my period, every month… Wait, had I checked the previous month? And the month before that?…. I tried to recall when last I’d done the self-exam. Jeez, almost 7 months had passed since I’d checked them the last time!!! How could I have forgotten? I’m usually very good at the “look after myself, thereby look after my family” thing.

I didn’t know what to do, the only thing on my mind was CANCER. Shit! What the hell do I do if I have Cancer? I’m the breadwinner, I have responsibilities, my kids are still small, I’m the MOM for goodness sake!!! I immediately called my mom, and asked her if we have a history of Breast Cancer in the family, nope, never had anyone with those issues, on either my mom or dad’s sides. Thank goodness, a small comfort at least…. I explained what I’d found and she said to call my GP first thing in the morning and make an appointment. She tried to comfort me, telling me not to worry, wait until I’d seen the doctor, and then, once I knew the facts, take whatever steps are required to “handle” the situation. Truthfully, I’d always been very good at “handling” situations. I’m a tough cookie. Stress, issues, worries, problems… Yep, I can handle anything…. Anything but the thought of losing my breast?????

I went onto the internet, BIG MISTAKE! Any idea how many articles on lumps, breast cancer, breast abnormalities etc. there are on the web??? THOUSANDS!!! After the 5th or 6th page, I freaked and turned off the computer. I felt sick to my stomach, and suddenly very tired…. I tried to watch tv, couldn’t concentrate, and around 10pm, went to bed… No sleep, nil, nothing, nada…. I kept feeling the bump, hoping it’d go away, or just feeling the texture… It wasn’t painful, but hells bells… it was THERE… It felt bigger every time I touched it! The scenarios going through my mind were not pretty, I’d seen pictures of mastectomy op’s before, and of course, my little internet visit hadn’t helped at all…. I kept thinking about what would happen to my family if I died? Shit sakes!!! I’m 37 years old, and thinking about death???? No way Jose!!! I just simply would NOT die! Well, that’s what I thought, and I prayed…. Wow did I pray… Hadn’t prayed so hard since the day my dad was killed in a car accident, and I prayed that my mom would survive…. I’d been 8 months pregnant with Danielle at the time… Yep, it took 17 years for me to talk to God with such desperation and begging, I’m sure the poor Man didn’t know how to handle a sobbing, begging, praying, sniffling ME! I just remember saying please don’t let me die, please let me raise my kids… please, please, please.

I was up, dressed and ready for the day at 6am. I waited until 8 and called my GP, explained to the receptionist what I’d found, and begged her for the earliest appointment. I think the poor woman must have heard the fear in my voice… She told me to come in immediately, and that the doctor would see me as soon as I arrived…. I drove to the doctor’s office, walked in, and was told Dr C’s waiting for me… Dr C has been our family doctor for 17 years, direct, honest, and nice! I walked into her consulting room, and the tears literally flowed… She sat me down, and we talked…. I explained what I’d found, she told me to lie on the bed, examined me, and actually took the time to check the left breast as well…. Yep, as I thought (and of course felt), there was quite a large lump in my right breast…. She told me I’d need to have a sonogram so that we can see what we’re dealing with.

Well, off to the Clinton Clinic for me. Arrived, went through, and waited, then into the little room for the sonogram… The poor radiographer could see that I was very nervous.  She completed the sonogram, both on the right breast and the left, then advised that the Doctor would be in to check, and explain the findings… The doctor arrived, had a look, and explained…. Yes, there is a rather large cyst in my right breast… along with several smaller ones… WTF? SEVERAL SMALLER ONES? And then he checked the left breast, and yep, you guessed it…. MORE!!! SHIT!!!! My mind was reeling, cysts? In BOTH breasts? How? Why? How? I had to ask the doctor to stop talking, and backtrack; I’d missed some of what he was explaining to me…. It looks like Fibrocystic Breast Disease…. OMG… DISEASE????? He told me it’s fairly common, but that the large cyst in my right breast was indeed a concern, and also two in the left breast…. He also advised that I’d need to go for a Mammogram… But But But…. I tried to argue… Mammogram to me equals Breast Cancer… He’d just called it something else??? He explained that due to the size of the large cyst, and the number of smaller ones visible, that a Mammogram was also required… He typed up his report and off I went to the Union… Filled in forms, had to wait for the Medical Aid to authorise the Mammogram… Went into the little room… and there it was… the torture device…. Yep, the vice grip of all vice grips…. The radiographer was very professional, explaining how it all works, that it “might hurt a little” etc…. Then it began… Well, “might hurt a little” was the understatement of the fricken CENTURY!!!! FRICKEN HELL!!! It felt as if my breast was being squeezed enough to pop…. A very very unpleasant experience!!! First the right, top to bottom, then side view… then the left…. I stood there, crying, not quite knowing if it was the pain of the Mammogram or the fear of the results…. Done, and report in hand, I was on my way back to Dr C….

Again, walked right in, she was waiting for me, she took the two envelopes, opened them up, started reading, and said, MMMMMM. I never thought I’d ever say this to a doctor, but I just blurted out… “what the F&ck does MMMMM mean?”…. She looked at me, and explained, all over again, about the Fibrocystic Breast Disease, the number of cysts found in both breasts, how it works… (little bubbles that fill with fluid during your period, then go away)…. Surprise surprise…. Mine did NOT go away!!! They’d taken up residence in my breasts, and seemed quite happy to stay and thrive!!! She informed that the large cyst in the right breast would need specialist attention, so I was referred to a Specialist Physician…. I was lucky enough to get an appointment for the Friday…. Oh groovy, just another sleepless night or two… Not like I wasn’t tired or anything….??? I left her rooms, feeling numb, and not quite focused…. I didn’t even bother going to work, no way could I do anything constructive with the stuff on my mind… I called Jacques and explained in a very clinical manner about the sonar, mammogram, results, referral etc… Yep, when I panic and stress about something, I treat it as if it’s happening to someone else, and does not bother me in the least…. Yeah right…. I was actually quivering inside…. Shit, I was so scared!!!

Friday morning, off to the Park Lane Clinic… One Specialist Physician appointment to nail…. A page and a half of questions (yep, I do that… write down every single thing that I think I might need to ask, and make a list, so that I can quiz the doctor, all the while, shaking like a leaf, and wishing I was one of those people who kept Prozac in the bathroom cabinet…. DAMN, felt as if I’d pop one or two very easily)… I was scared.

It was a female doctor, a Professor…. Lovely lady… She was sweet, and when she’d read the reports, told me to go into the exam room, she’d come and have a look…. She prodded, she poked, the checked, she looked… And yes, there was indeed a fairly large lump in the upper right breast (oh wow, this was NOT news to me!!!), and it would need to be removed surgically… The cysts in the left breast did not require surgery, as they were small, and their “walls” were smooth and according to the sonar and mammogram, nothing to be concerned about. She said she could operate the following day… She explained the procedure; she’d make an incision around the areola, remove the cyst, and stitch it back up…. The growth… (ugly word… cyst sounded better, cyst sounded not dangerous… like a blister… growth sounded like a foreign thing… an unwanted foreign growth in my breast… YUCK)…. I asked if it was Cancer? She said it was impossible to tell, she’d remove it and send it away for analysis…. It takes about a week for the results she said…. SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!! A week??? How the hell was I going to make it through a week….?

My head was reeling, it was so much more real to me now, knowing I’d have to go into surgery, they were going to cut my nipple off, and remove the “uninvited guest”…. I asked her about scarring, she said it would be minimal, as she’d make the incision around the areola, and would do a fine stitch to put it back together.

Surgery is nothing new to me… I’ve had three kids, two by C-Section, and I’ve had over 20 surgeries to have ovarian cysts removed… But these surgeries were on my stomach… the scars not really noticeable with all the stretch marks and c-section scars… They didn’t bother me… But DAMN….. My BREAST?????

I left her consulting rooms, went downstairs to the hospital reception, filled in forms for the procedure, got authorisation from the Medical Aid, all on Auto Pilot…. I felt numb… I think I was hoping that once I saw her, she’d tell me to take a course of antibiotics, and I’d be fine…. Now I was not so sure… I left, and called Jacques once I got in the car… The poor man was worried, I could tell, but he just said, it’d be a breeze, that I’m tough, and that we’d deal with the test results when we received them….

Next morning, arrived at the hospital at 6am, booked in, and assigned to a ward… Visited by the doctor and anaesthetist, drip inserted, and the procedure explained again, in detail…. The surgery would take no more than 45 minutes, and I could go home after 3pm…. I told Jacques he could leave, and go to work, but he’d brought the latest Clive Cussler, and waited. I went into surgery around 9am…. LOVE those little pre-med tablets they give you… WOOHOO…. Drowsy and happy was ME!…. I woke up around 11am, and expected to feel pain… I felt nothing… I immediately checked to see that I still had a breast…. Yep, it was there, bandaged, but there…. I smiled at Jacques, said something stupid like I love my boobies, and went back to sleep…. The doctor came to see me about an hour later, explained that the procedure had gone well and that the cyst (5cm round), along with some surrounding tissue, had been removed. About the size of a golf ball….. This would be sent to the lab for analysis, and she would contact me as soon as the results were back… I asked her why I felt no pain, she explained that she’d injected me with some aesthetic into the breast, which would keep me pain-free for 72 hours…. YUMMMM…. I don’t like pain, so this was good…. She talked to me about wound care etc, and that the stitches would dissolve. I had to see her on Tuesday, to remove the bandage and for her to see if all is ok.

We left just after 3…. A week, I had to wait a week? DAMN!!! Jacques tried to tell me it would be ok, but I didn’t even take it in…. I was worried… It’s a woman thing, I don’t think men understand about us and our breasts…. They’re what makes us female…. and mine was not exactly fantastic, but they weren’t awful either… I liked them, they were mine, I’d had them since I was 14, kinda became attached to them, and would very much prefer to keep them… !!!

The weekend was a quiet one…. I tried not to think about anything…. Monday came, had the checkup, she removed the bandage, and there was just a little white sticky tape on the breast, basically halfway around the areola…. Very little swelling… and she was pleased that there was no sign of infection…. I asked her whether she’d heard anything about the tests??? No, nothing yet, she would call me… she promised…. F&ck!!! Call me??? I can’t wait another four days…. I left her rooms and went back to work…. I have no idea how I functioned during the next few days…. Auto Pilot… I love Auto Pilot….

Thursday morning, 8h15am…. Phone… Dr…. NO CANCER NO CANCER NO CANCER!!!!! Oh my word, those were the best words anyone had ever said to me in my entire life!!!!!!! She explained that all was well, no problem, NO CANCER!!!…. She explained that I’d need to keep a close eye on my breasts, must do self-exams EVERY month, and have both a sonogram and mammogram every 6 months….

If I’d found the lump/cyst, when it was smaller, I could have had it drained via the needle aspiration process…. Surgery could have been avoided, and also the stress, and pain, and fear of those AWFUL 8 days….

I check my breasts EVERY month, I don’t miss a single time… NEVER…. I go for the sonar & mammogram every six months… Yes, I have Fibrocystic Breast Disease… Almost 60% of both breasts consist of little cysts… Smaller than Jelly Tots… But they’re there… and I know the feel of EVERY SINGLE ONE of them…. If they DARE grow a little bigger from one month to the next, I realise it immediately and can take the necessary steps to have them checked, and aspirated if needs be.

The scar healed nicely… well not nice, but it’s ok…. I hate it, Jacques says he doesn’t see it (sweet sweet man)…. Due to the size of the lump/cyst removed, there was quite a bit of tissue loss, and yes, it was very noticeable… About a month after the surgery, I started inserting a little silicone bubble into my bra, to ensure that the right breast looked like the left…. Evened me out a little…. Nobody ever knew… Until now… Shit, won’t be able to face half my friends after this….

marietjie 2The main reason for this note… (ok novel)…. is to stress the importance of monthly Breast Exams…. Ladies, please, check your boobies…. Gents, remind your ladies…. the 8 days of hell live in my head as if it happened yesterday…. And to think, if I’d done the exams, as I should have done, I could have avoided almost all of it….

I’m glad I went through this, in a way…. It’s made me stronger, and it’s also made me realise the importance of looking after myself…. Life sucks sometimes, but hey, mostly life’s pretty damn wonderful…. 🙂

M

I thank God every day, that it turned out to be something small and I pray, every day, that it never becomes something big…. Every day… x

You can contact Marietjie Albasini on :

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