Jul 19, 2014

Cancer Scares and Other Things

Cancer Scares and Other Things

About a year ago, something mildly terrifying happened.  But it started innocuously enough.

I had moved and it was about time for another visit to the lady doctor (my sisters HATE it when I use the word "lady" as a descriptor for something, so I intend to start doing it all the time), so I had to find someone new.  I didn't know the best way to go about finding a doctor (still don't), so I picked one somewhat at random.

The visit was unpleasant from the get go.  They weighed me with my shoes and winter jacket on, so that was high, they rushed me into the room and out of my clothes, and told me my blood pressure was up, but just in case they'd check it again at the end of the visit.  I settled into "survival mode" which is my way of tuning out when things are unpleasant (like long hikes, or dentist visits).

After finishing the breast exam, my doctor said, "You have a lump."

Everything froze.  For just a few moments.  Then, I snapped back from survival mode into rapt attention as I waited for her to explain to me what that meant and what I should do about it.  Instead she asked me a few questions about my period and said they'd check it again at my next visit.  No information.  Nothing.

The visit proceeded with some uncomfortable, internal scraping, and another blood pressure check.  Surprise, surprise, it had gone up.  The woman at the desk on my way out was unable to tell me how much I'd need to pay (I was uninsured at the time), but a bill would be on the way, and thus frightened, uninformed, and potentially impoverished, I went home.

And freaked out.  After a good amount of research, I found that there are a billion different kind of breast lumps, 80% of them are benign, and that my age group was not at particular risk.  Since I'd felt no real changes or discomfort, and the lump was smooth and mobile, it was unlikely to be cancer.  Still, I'd had a trip planned, and I have to admit I spent a fair amount of time sitting by the pool on the cruise ship, wondering what I would do if I had breast cancer.

When I got back, I made an appointment with a different doctor, one back home that my family recommended.  Completely different experience!  They did the exam, felt nothing of concern.  I told them the concerns of the other doctor and they felt again, stated that they wouldn't have sent me for further testing for that lump, but since someone else had recommended, I might as well.  An ultrasound, later, showed nothing.

My second gynecologist also explained about the different types of lumps, and risk factors, which reinforced what I'd learned on my own.  And I learned how to properly do the self exam, which apparently I'd been doing wrong my whole life.  You have to really get in there - lumps aren't always just sitting near the surface or under the skin.  For me, I have to press down all the way until I can feel ribs before any lumps or unevenness is even noticeable, and it is all kinds of lumpy down there.  (Note: if you do this frequently, it will get sore, and it's just because you bruised the tissue, not an imminent sign of cancer and death.)

To sum up:

Things I Learned About Breast Cancer

  • 80% of lumps are benign
  • Risk factors: age (55+), family history, alcohol use, oral contraceptives (but only while you're taking them), being overweight and/or having larger, denser breasts
  • Things that help!: exercise, breast feeding (also having kids, but not the best reason to have children)
  • There are tons of types of lumps and only one of them indicates cancer.  Things to look for: irregularly shaped, hard, and dents/dimples/redness of the skin near it.  This is the best article about lumps that I've found and this one is just the signs of breast cancer.
  • Your doctor makes a huge difference!  The first one left me panicked simply by not providing any information.  The second one was friendly, reassuring, and definitely the person I want by my side if it was to be something serious. (if you're in the DE Newark/Bear area, it's All About Women, and I absolutely recommend them.  They're hard to get on the phone but their bedside manner is the best!)
So despite the scare it all turned out well, I learned a lot of valuable things, and I found a new doctor that I like quite well.  I don't have breast cancer, or even high blood pressure, and a recent visit with the dermatologist that I don't have skin cancer either.  So I'm all set!

Real quick, since I'm doing cancer information:

Skin Things to Keep an Eye On

  1. Irregular edges on moles or freckles
  2. Multiple colors or really dark spots
  3. Changes in color or size
  4. Abnormally large moles
  5. Roughness, flakiness, patchiness - if it's doing anything gross at all, let a doctor know
I actually had a few things I wanted to ask the dermatologist about and she pretty much blew off all my concerns.  Although she was pretty insistent that I wear sunscreen more often, and I learned that the more spotty you are, the more at risk you are for various types of skin cancer.  Good to know!

Have you ever had a cancer scare?  Do you like your doctor?


  1. I have, and your doctor's manner and communication is so important!

    I'm glad yours turned out to be nothing to worry about, and that you learned some stuff in the process (and shared it here)!

  2. I hate trying to find a new doctor, so much so that I'm overdue for my check up but still don't want to find a doctor here. I'm going to have to do it soon, I can't put it off forever!


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