It really was my fault for being so optimistic. I went to bed early, at 10pm, and didn’t even take any anti-anxiety or sleeping pills. I suffer from horrible insomnia, but I was like, “you know what? I’m not super stressed right now. I think I’m going to read for a bit and fall asleep early.” So, of course, this the exact moment when I rolled over and felt a sharp pain my chest. I went to feel the spot that hurt and I realized that I somehow had a hard, f*cking golf-ball sized mass in my breast. Out of nowhere.
This would be scary for anyone, but thanks to doing 23andMe earlier this year, I found out that I have the BRCA gene mutation. This gives me a 70% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime (and my doctor told me it’s more like 85%). It’s what Angelina Jolie has and what made her decide to get a preventative double mastectomy. I’m also predisposed to BRCA because I’m 65% Ashkenazi Jewish, which gives me a 1 in 40 chance of having it. Average people who are not Ashkenazi only have a 1 in 800 chance of BRCA. In a totally unfair twist, my mom is 99.7% Ashkenazi and does not have BRCA but was probably a carrier. In the middle of the night, this means I am 100% certain I have cancer.
I immediately began prodding at my mass and then the other breast to compare. Nope, the other one was fine, and this was definitely not normal. It’s cancer, it’s for sure cancer. So I started obsessively Googling and WebMDing breast cancer, breast lump, etc. for the entire night until my doctor’s office opened at 9am. The craziest part of it was that I took a shower maybe six hours beforehand where I washed and moisturized my entire body, and would have definitely felt an extremely painful hard mass in my chest. I mean, I wasn’t like, doing a breast exam, or really looking for anything, but this thing was huge and it hurt. I didn’t even know something like this could develop so quickly. In my panicked internet searching, everything kept saying a hard mass is a tumor and a soft mass is fine. Mine was hard, definitely hard. But then I’d roll over and try to sleep and five minutes later be like, “but IS it hard? It can’t be hard. No, it’s still hard.” I ended up with some very sore breasts (since I kept poking at them both to compare) and no answers. The complete lack of helpful information is what really freaked me out. We’re all told to check our breasts for lumps regularly, but no one tells you what to do/what happens if you find something.
I called my doctor literally at 9:01am after having not slept and I swear to God, that stupid lump got even bigger. It’s normally really hard to get into my doctor, taking at least a month to get an appointment, so I prepared what I needed to say ahead of time to convince the evil desk minion to get me in NOW. The second she answered the phone, it came out like this: “Hi-IhaveBRCA-andmydoctorsaid-it’sanemergencyifIfindsomething-andIFOUNDSOMETHING-IHAVEALUMPONMYBREAST-ANDIHAVEBRCA-INEEDTOSEEHERIMMEDIATELY”. I also had three other arguments prepared, but she just said, “Of course, come in at 11.” I guess “lump” is the magic appointment word.
I was sitting next to pregnant women for the 30 minutes as I waited to see the doctor. They were laughing and having an enthusiastic conversation about pregnancy and I wanted to tell them to shut the f*ck up because I probably have cancer, but I didn’t. I got in and the nurse asked why I was there. I actually have a slew of medical issues and I normally am able to kind of detach and find the humor in it, but this time I actually teared up when I had to explain to her that I had this massive lump. Then I apologized to her for bumming her out. She didn’t know what to say to me and left quickly.
Thankfully, my doctor is awesome, and she came in like, “What are you doing here, I just saw you and you were fine?” Referring to my May annual exam where I definitely did not have any lumps. I told her “I have a lump, I have BRCA, therefore I have cancer.” She’s very cool and never panics, which is everything you need in a doctor, so she rolled her eyes at me and said, “You don’t have cancer, let me see it.” She felt it, though, and then said, “Uh, what the F*CK is that?” To which I burst out laughing because that is not very reassuring, but it was kind of funny because I could tell she thought I was being dramatic (me? Never!) and NO, that’s a BIG-ASS lump.
She was able to do an ultrasound on my breast, and here’s what I learned. It’s full of liquid, meaning it’s likely a cyst and has a 99% chance of being noncancerous. The “hard” vs. “soft” lump debate is bullsh*t, mine is technically soft but it obviously feels hard, so that’s not a good way to do a DIY cancer diagnosis. Also, even if it is a hard mass, there’s an 80% chance that it’s still not cancer, so really the texture of it is meaningless. If you find anything weird, you need to just go to your doctor. My doctor only had an abdomen ultrasound, so she’s making me get a more in-depth ultrasound that will get in/up/around my lump to know for sure it’s a cyst and before she’ll drain it (ew and also upsetting). And my appointment isn’t until Thursday. So I’m just like, living with this weird, painful breast lump for the next week, but at least it’s probably not cancer, right?
My doctor also told me that the fact my lump was so painful and grew so quickly are signs that it isn’t cancerous. It grew so fast because it just started filling with liquid. Most cancerous tumors aren’t even painful, which is surprising and kinda scary. She couldn’t tell me why this happened or why it’s so huge. (I’m just lucky, I guess.) But apparently cysts are super common, they’re just usually way smaller and left alone. They only drain cysts when they’re massive and causing pain (like mine).
I also learned that the BRCA statistic is mostly for when you’re older. It’s still unlikely to get breast cancer at such a young age (I’m 28), but it can happen, so it’s best to be vigilant and come in for every little weird breast thing (even if you don’t have BRCA). I also asked her about my risk because I found out recently that my great-grandmother had breast cancer at 90 years old but she didn’t die from it. My doctor said that lineage that far and at that age, that’s no longer considered genetic cancer. It has to be a first or second, like your mom or your grandma, to be considered genetic. Also, at 90 years old, your body is going to break down in one way or another. So while my BRCA mutation sucks, at least breast cancer doesn’t exactly run in my family.
Finally, she told me that even if it was cancerous, most people fully recover. If it’s only in the breast, you have a 99% chance of living. This is why it’s so important to do your breast exams and check out any weird thing you find. When I first found the lump, before I appointed myself as an honorary doctor and diagnosed myself with cancer, I had a moment where I was like, “it’s probably fine, I don’t want to be over-dramatic and rush to the doctor over nothing. I probably won’t even be able to get an appointment.” But I learned that it’s so important to go for any weird thing, although you don’t need to jump to conclusions and keep yourself up at night with stress if you can help it.
If you just found a lump and are freaking out, here’s what you need to know: it’s probably nothing to worry about, if it’s painful it’s likely a cyst, hard vs. soft is meaningless, but you definitely need to see your doctor. Offices should be able to get you an emergency appointment that day, BRCA doesn’t automatically mean it’s cancer, you’ll probably need additional tests, even if it is cancer you’ll be fine, and whatever you do, do not f*cking Google it because you will not find anything reassuring. I promise you, I checked the entire internet.
Hopefully this will help you out if you’re ever in this position, and maybe some poor soul obsessively Googling breast cancer in the middle of the night will now find this article and be able to calm down. Giving yourself an MD after doing some internet research does not help anyone. And please, remember to do your breast exams, annual appointments, and mammograms if you’re at that age. Things can really change over night.
Images: Mitchell Orr / Unsplash; Giphy