Friday, October 10, 2014

This is what breast cancer feels like

Yes, there are symptoms for breast cancer.  Though each cancer is unique and shows in different ways.  Not all are found with a lump you can feel, not all show on a mammogram, one type will even have a red rash on the skin which no one thinks of cancer when seen.

I had several of the "main" symptoms of breast cancer.  Number one being a mass.  However I stupidly ignored that lump.  One reason?  The mass I felt (and could actually see) had popped up about three months or so AFTER my mammogram.  My mammogram which showed the lump was in  March of 2010.  The previous year, 2009, there was no lump on the film.  Surely something serious would have shown a year before?  Or so I told myself.

Another reason I ignored the mass?  I'd had about 5 biopsies over 15 years due to family history.  I had grown numb to lumps.  Had them, been there, done that.  Though looking back it felt very different that the other perfectly round, mobile lumps which had been removed.  This was a mass, a heavy tumor in my chest that would not move if you pushed with all your might.

A third reason I ignored the lump?  It was symmetrical in my right to my left.  I'd had a liquid filled cyst on my left upper breast for years.  The doctor would drain when it bothered me.  Otherwise it was not dangerous.  I'd always read that if you had symmetrical lumps-one breast to the other-generally it wasn't cancerous.  However, I did find later that most breast cancer begins in the right upper breast.

One should never ignore any symptom and never feel safe because you only have one.  I realize I knew in my heart it was cancer.  The lump in my left upper breast was "smushy" and would roll when mashed.  The right mass was solid.  It felt to me it had a "root" or something like that. And it grew fast.  Very fast.  One month no evidence on the mammogram film.  In just a few it was almost four inches and growing.  

I remember lying in bed about two months or so before my mammogram that would forever change my body and life and feeling the lump.  I'd tell Chris to feel.  He'd say no, I'm not touching it.  Perhaps I was in denial.  Perhaps I was putting to much trust into things I'd read in pamphlets.  Never linking all the things going on in my body.  

My symptoms were:

*Fever.  Common in some cancer but not all.  I ran low grade fevers for months with no thought it could be related to cancer.  It had become a running joke between Chris and I.  I’d have him feel my head and he’d reply your warm or nope, your cold as a cucumber.  When Chris said I didn’t have a fever I’d say “no, that’s not what your supposed to say.  What are you supposed to say?”  Chris would say, “your burning up.  Do you want me to take you to the emergency room?”  We still have that joke.

When I was doing my blood work a week before my mastectomy the pre-admittance nurse took my temperature.  She asked after reading the temp if I had drank a cup of coffee which I replied no.  The nurse said they'd not do surgery if I had a fever the next week.  I panicked.  How was I supposed to get rid of a fever being caused by something that needed to come out of my body??

*Lump.  I described the lump above.  One other thing about my lump: you could actually SEE it.  In the following weeks of the mammogram during the poking and prodding appointments before the breast was gone the doctors would look me in the eye and say in a condescending tone, "do you know you can see it?"  YES!  I told them YES I could see it.......  I’m not an idiot though they were fast making me feel so.

*Skin puckering or dimpling.  When you bend over your breast will likely pucker or dimple around the area of the lump if it's cancerous.  Mine did but I'd only recently noticed before the fateful day.

I did not have any visual changes to the skin or nipple.  Please be aware that one type of deadly breast cancer will sometimes have changes in your skin-some say an area will look like an orange peel.  However I did have change in size and shape.  That was due to the fact that the tumor was growing at the top of my breast thus making it larger and a different shape.  

*Fatigue.  I'd been tired that year.  Of course with me that is nothing new. I have always been low energy and love naps.  However fatigue is different than my laziness.  And looking back I can see that.

So there.  Those were my main symptoms.  I realize so much now that breast cancer is more than a mammogram-in more ways than one-for good and for bad but I’ll not delve into the new controversies surrounding the usefulness of mammograms.  Not in this post.  

The last thing I did with my symptoms?  The very last? The one last service my breasts could do for me and others. The one that many did not want to participate in when I told them to.  Feel my lump.  I’d have those I love feel my lump.  And I’d look at them and say, “This is what breast cancer feels like”.

In room for the night following my