Earlier this year, I found two lumps in my left breast, and immediately I thought I had cancer. Admittedly there are lighter ways to start an article, but where’s the fun in that? I’m in my 40s, and my aunt died from breast cancer. Cancer runs in my family. It’s pretty much the only thing that runs in my family. The first thing I did was make a doctor’s appointment. Actually, the first thing I did was go crazy, but it’s hard to quantify that as an action. Not many people put it on their ‘to-do’ lists. The earliest appointment was four weeks away. The doom of waiting! But I was sure this cancer would be polite, respect healthcare protocol, and wait its turn before doing anything bad. I’m efficient and productive, so I used this time to make end-of-life plans. Amid all these plans, I also had to find a way to hide this from my mom and boyfriend.
I don’t live with my mom. I was traveling for work, so I didn’t have to tell anyone yet. In truth, I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to comfort and console my friends and family while dealing with this. Potentially having cancer is enough without answering the question ‘Are you ok?’ more times than someone who’s just decided to take up MMA fighting. What if I have to remove my left boob? How will I explain that? I’ll just get a prosthetic breast. That fixes the problem for everyone except my boyfriend. The problem with a prosthetic breast is that the breast comes off with the bra. How would I hide a missing breast when he met me with two size D cups? I mean, some things can be hidden, but breasts are kind of in your face.
The doctor’s appointment finally arrived, and I got a mammogram and an ultrasound. Immediately the radiologist looked at the images and told me it was just a simple cyst. It is not cancer. I’ve never been so happy to have a cyst in all my life. I felt like throwing a cyst party in honor of being inducted into some kind of “cysterhood”. She says that cysts in the breast can be caused by stress or hormonal imbalance. So the cyst probably loved the four weeks of waiting to find out if I would live or die. In an effort to comfort me, the radiologist informed me, “Lots of young people have them”. So what? Are people just walking around with lumps in their breasts like it is Tuesday? Just another ordinary day? I didn’t know lumpy breasts were popular. I missed that hashtag.
According to Breastcancernow.org, Breast cysts are milk glands that fill up with fluid and can develop in one or both breasts. They develop due to changes in hormone levels. Although common in women, men can also develop breast cysts. The American cancer society defines three types of cysts: A simple cyst is entirely filled with fluid and is benign. Let’s call this a friendly cyst. A complicated cyst is filled with liquid but has ‘debris’ floating in the liquid. Complicated cysts are unlikely to be cancerous, but doctors may drain the fluid for further testing. Let’s call this an annoying cyst. A complex cyst is a solid mass with a higher chance of cancer; a biopsy is usually performed for confirmation. Let’s call this a ‘get this thing the hell off of me’ cyst.
I’m experiencing stress at work, and the development of the lumps coincides with my new job. After leaving the doctor’s office, I immediately ordered an at-home women’s health test kit. Anyone can find a list of the best women’s health test kits on easytesthub.com. An at-home women’s health test kit can provide details about your hormones and clarify whether your hormones are within normal range. I ordered the test kit at Everlywell, which provides biomarkers for ten hormones and one antibody. After ordering the test online, you register the kit and Collect your sample. Sample collection includes a finger prick for blood and saliva. Both blood and saliva are mailed back to the lab in prepaid shipping. But it helps to seal them first to avoid a nasty surprise for a lab technician. Results will be available in a few days online. I was normal for a woman my age. I also visited my primary care physician and gynecologist.
So what did I learn from all of this:
- Don’t panic! Easier said than done, I know. Just because you have a lump doesn’t mean it’s cancer. In fact, according to Stony Brook Cancer Center, 80% of breast lumps are benign. As I said, lumpy breasts are popular. Benign lumps fall into three categories, Fibrocystic changes, Fibroadenomas and Papillomas. Fibrocystic changes, what I have, is a condition where the breast tissue, mammary glands, and duts overreact to changes in hormones resulting in lumps. This affects 50 to 60 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 50. Fibroadenomas are benign solid lumps of fibrous and glandular tissue. They are most common in women between 18 and 35 and account for nearly all tumors in women under 25. Papillomas are small wart-like lumps that grow near the nipple and often result in a discharge from the nipple.
- Make doctors’ appointments with your primary care physician, radiologist, and gynecologist. You need the radiologist to conduct a mammogram and ultrasound of your breasts. I recommend visiting your primary care physician and gynecologist because you want a second opinion from people who are already familiar with you and your overall health. They will both do a breast exam and look over the mammogram and ultrasound results. You will be confident with your results when all three doctors agree on a diagnosis. Think of it like the holy trinity of the all-clear.
- Get as much information as possible to advocate for yourself. Websites with helpful information about breast cysts include the American Cancer Society, Stony Book Cancer Center, Breast Cancer Now, or any hospital website. Also, the samples from the at-home test kits go to the same lab as the samples collected at the doctor’s office. As a lab scientist, I’ve tested samples from at-home test kits and samples from the doctor’s office on the same instruments using the same supplies. The at-home lab test kit results are valid if you properly collect the sample. You can confidently share the information from the at-home test kit with your doctor.
- Avoid stress as much as possible. Or at least learn to manage it better. Peace and happiness are so crucial to your overall health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress affects all body systems, including the endocrine and reproductive systems, i.e., hormones. You can manage stress by maintaining a healthy social support system, regular exercise, adequate sleep, meditation, and interacting with nature. Plus, avoiding Black Friday. After changing jobs, my stress level decreased, and the lumps decreased in size. I haven’t had any new lumps since.
- Most importantly, Grab a bucket of ice cream and avoid having sex with your partner for as long as possible so you don’t have to talk about it. Or you can talk about it; lumpy breasts might be a “thing.” Your partner might find it sexy.