That Escalated Quickly
It was the end of July when I returned from the snow, battered and bruised, and full of snowboarding-induced muscle tension. I was particularly sore under my arms, presumably from a week of picking myself up and dusting myself off, and so I found myself regularly massaging the area. It was during one of these routine intimacies that I felt a small, pea-sized lump between my right breast and arm pit. Assuming I’d just developed a knot from my below average snowboarding, I got into it with my thumb and attempted to get on with my week. Except something was making that incredibly difficult; the all too familiar, nagging subtleties of health paranoia. And so instead, I did what anyone would do and took to google for some much needed tlc.
Fibroadenoma; a benign breast tumour that most commonly occurs in young women, and feels like a firm, smooth lump in the breast with a well-defined shape. It’s painless and moves easily when touched.
Dr. Google, you’d outdone yourself! The similarities were uncanny. With this, I found the courage to book in for a breast examination with an actual doctor with a smart brain, who made some awkward small talk whilst (wo)man-handling my ta-tas, before falling somewhat quiet as I dressed and joined her at her desk in anticipation. She typed her judgments into the computer for what felt like forever, and although I was confident in my fool-proof, non-biased self-diagnosis, there was still one small, insignificant detail that wasn’t allowing me to relax entirely…
“Any family history?” asked Doc. Family history. What does that even mean? I’d heard of it occasionally, in passing, and just presumed it was exactly that; history. A product of the time; less awareness, less research, less medical intervention. I was aware of my grandmother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, and who died only 5 years later, leaving a husband and two boys behind, one being my father. But how could the medical history of a grandmother I never knew possibly apply to my generation of health conscious, kale smoothie-drinking yogis? I’m a fit and healthy 27-year-old, who’s never had an allergic reaction, a broken bone, or even a hospital visit, so no, this does not apply to me. And yet, while uncomfortably answering “yes” to the above-mentioned question, it felt shockingly significant.
I was sent off for a “routine” ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy, where I was greeted at reception with an expression I am now all too familiar with. Often opening with a kind eye and a closed compassionate smile, followed by a concerned dip of the eyebrows. Pity. Something I’d never really encountered before, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was the first of many similar encounters to come. I was ushered through to get my nips out once again, before laying on the ultrasound table where I was massaged, squeezed and poked with a big needle. I allowed it, only because it was necessary in confirming my self-prognosis was of course correct. In fact, the word “fibroadenoma” was uttered again by the doctor herself, so by this point I was 90% sure I’d be getting the fuck on with my life in no time.
The results were in at my GP, and convinced it was nothing, my partner Jordan and I had planned to go see a movie that afternoon. I sat in the waiting room, eagerly waiting and drafting the “false alarm” text messages in my head, when we were escorted to the doctor’s office. Unfortunately, my GP from the examination was away, so we had a stand in. She informed us that only 2 from the 3 results were in, those being the ultrasound and mammogram, and that they were both suggesting the familiar fibroadenoma. However, we were notified that the biopsy will of course determine the final result, and that was due in about an hour. So, Jordan and I took a sigh of relief and went for a coffee to pass the time. Take 2: we were back in the doctor’s room, ready to hear the f bomb one last time so we could wrap this shit up and celebrate with a movie. We sat down, and that’s when I saw it; the kind eye, the closed compassionate smile, the dipped eyebrows. Well, fuck. “Unfortunately, it’s not good news…”.
My good for nothing, itty bitty titties had committed the ultimate betrayal and were housing a squatter, commonly known as breast cancer. The big C bomb! You know, that thing that only happens to other people! It was as though the words were flying uncontrollably around the room as they left the doctor’s mouth, and I refused to allow them near me. “Nope,” I thought, “not me!” Soon enough I’d need to process what I’d just heard, and that simply wasn’t an option. I looked over at Jordan, who appeared just as rattled. We squeezed each other’s hands and threw a few profanities back and forth, before the doctor decided it was an appropriate time to “get to know me” as I hadn’t seen her before. I found myself stumbling through my health history, family dynamic and whether or not we wanted children in the foreseeable future. Children? So now we can’t have children?!
I vividly remember the doctor asking more than once whether or not we’d like to go ahead with securing a specialist appointment! I’m assuming she thought we were doctor’s and could handle it ourselves from there. “Yes, book the fucking specialist appointment,” I screamed internally, while politely suggesting that the appointment please be made! The only availability was for the following morning. We begged for something sooner but to no avail. As you can imagine, when one has just been told they have cancer, a full afternoon of contemplating potential life spans is not ideal. Jordan, desperate for some form of immediate direction, pleaded for further information, to which we were given a print out on treatment options. Treatment options?! We weren’t even sure what it was that needed treating yet! After a painful silence, and with one final blow she says “perhaps you should go and be with your family today”. Bloody hell, I guess this was it then! I’d had a good run.
We left the doctors, irrelevant print out in hand and under the impression that I could no longer have children and that my days were likely numbered. Good chat. I could feel my legs buckling beneath me as Jordan pulled me toward the car. We sat for a moment in disbelief, before attempting to convince one another it would all be ok.
It was on this day that I swiftly and undeniably became the 1 in eight.