You know that feeling when you’re laying in bed at 11:00 p.m. thinking…
Did I lock the door?
I probably locked the door.
Why wouldn’t I have locked the door?
I always lock the door.
I’m sure I locked the door.
Then at 11:22 p.m. you open your eyes and think…
But what if I DIDN’T lock the door?
What if men in Hamburglar suits are waiting to break in to my house and burgle my ham?
What if they’re counting on the fact I will be too tired, or too smugly thinking it’ll never happen to me, or too complacent to get up and double check the lock to confirm I’m safe?
It’s kind of the same with breast lumps.
And Cancer is the Hamburglar.
You notice something out of the norm, you wonder about it, you shush your wonderings, assuring yourself you’re fine. Then you think, what if I’m not fine?
What if Cancer is waiting to break in, counting on the fact I will be too busy, or thinking it will never happen to me, or I’ll be too scared of hearing a bad result to get myself checked out?
You can substitute the medical issue of your choice here to fit your own story, but my story over the last few months involved a suspicious lump in my breast. I feel like that is an important thing to talk about, so of course, I’m going to talk about it the way I talk about all important things – by writing a truthful, humorous anecdote with serious undertones and creating a truthful, humorous animation with serious undertones. My hope is that in sharing my story I will make someone smile and think about themselves.
If I were a more disciplined writer, I would keep you in suspense for more dramatic storytelling. But you’re my friends, and that’s mean. I don’t like to upset anybody, so I will tell you up front that…I’m FINE!!
Now you can continue to read on and enjoy the story without worrying!
I present to you my truthful-humorous-serious anecdote, “The 9 Stages Of Discovering My Breast Lump”. Followed by my truthful-humorous-serious animated short, “What’s This Lump? The Diagnostic Mammogram and Ultrasound”.
The 9 Stages Of Discovering My Breast Lump
Stage 1: What the heck is this?!
I discovered my lump while getting dressed one day. It seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t doing a self-exam. I was just putting on a shirt.
Stage 2: Incessant questioning of the definition of normal.
Once noticed, this lump could not be UNnoticed. My mind took up the habit of filling its off-minutes with questions. This is a thing, right? This isn’t normal? I don’t think this feels like the other side. Does it? Well, kind of…but this is different. I think?
Stage 3: Denial…it ain’t just a river in Egypt…it’s also an ineffective way of coping with the threat of cancer.
This lump couldn’t possibly be breast cancer. I’m 39. I’ve never even had a mammogram, because statistically I am a woman unlikely to have breast cancer.
I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my blood relations. I mean…they never had a chance to pinpoint where my mom’s cancer started before it spread…kidneys, adrenal gland, brain…nobody ever mentioned breast though…that I remember.
I’ve had a lot of weird symptoms the last six months. Unexplained fevers, swollen lymph nodes…but the other weird symptoms, sore throats, headaches, joint pain…these can have a multitude of causes, and all of my exhaustive blood tests have come back fine. It’s probably nothing. I should stop worrying.
Lumps can change at different times of the month. If it changes throughout the month, then it’s probably normal tissue changes. Nothing to worry about, right?
Three months. It pretty much feels the same all the time.
Stage 4: The Internet Lookup.
I think this is definitely a thing. What type of thing could it be? Here are a dozen things it could be…or might not be. Thank you, Internet. Okay. This lump hurts. What if your lump hurts? What does that mean? Remember, says The Web, most lumps are not cancer. But if you’re worried, you should see a doctor.
Stage 5: The Decision.
I should see a doctor. I need to get this checked out. I have my annual exam in July. I’ll ask about it then. Everybody says mammograms are painful. What if this turns out to be something bad? I mean…it probably isn’t, but what if it is? I’ve never noticed it before so it must be new…but the body changes over time. It could be new but perfectly normal. I don’t want to feel stupid getting it checked out if it’s nothing.
Stage 6: Fear and Nerves and Waiting.
Everything grew bigger in my mind as I waited for my annual exam. The day of the appointment I was a bag of nerves. As I opened my garage door, I was greeted by a bunny staring at me next to my driveway. My mom enjoyed bunnies, growing up, Bunny was one of the nicknames she called me, on more than one occasion since she passed away, a bunny has appeared in my yard when I needed support. I have no doubt appointment-day bunny staring me down was a sign sent by my mom to remind me she was still supporting me in spirit.
Stage 7: Confirmation I wasn’t nuts.
Since day one I had been asking myself, “This is a thing, right? I’m not nuts?”
My doctor did an exam. Finally my question was answered. Yep. That’s a thing.
It IS a thing! I’M NOT NUTS!
Wait. It is a thing. That means it might be a bad thing.
My doctor told me she was 90 percent sure it was fine, but she wouldn’t feel right not getting pictures of it.
Great. I’m completely on board with getting pictures of it. I might take a long time deciding I want to get something checked out, but once I do, I want it checked out thoroughly. I want to decisively know what’s up. And I want to know now.
She got me an appointment for a mammogram the next morning at 10. She wanted to get me answers as soon as possible. She told me not to worry if they wanted to do an ultrasound after the mammogram. She told me they often do that with someone like me who has dense breast tissue. She assured me there was no reason to lose sleep over it. She was firm in relaying the fact that she really didn’t want me to worry.
I worried anyway.
I mean, I was anxious to get it over with. I felt empowered that I was finally going to get an answer about this thing in my body I had been questioning for three months. In a way I was excited…but the worry-center of my brain kept getting all mathy and reminding me that a 90 percent chance the lump was not cancer still meant there was a 10 percent chance that it was.
Stage 8: Fear and Nerves and Waiting Part Two: Bigger, Badder, Anxiety-er.
If I was nervous before the doctor’s exam, you can dial that up a notch for the mammogram. I didn’t know what to expect. The unexpected makes me uncomfortable.
I survived the mammogram. Afterwards, they came to the waiting room and told me they wanted to do an ultrasound. Standard procedure, they said. “Standard procedure.” Not, “We think it looks fine, but just to be sure we want to do an ultrasound.” Just, “Standard procedure.” and a smile that tried a little to hard to be reassuring. Which, of course, I read as, “We still don’t know if it’s cancer or not, but there is definitely something there and we are trying not to scare you.”
They offered to try to get me back in later that day if it worked with my schedule. I told them I worked on campus and could walk there in five minutes. I was willing to jog and make it there in three minutes if need be, in case of a cancellation, but I didn’t mention that. I was trying to sound confident I was fine. We scheduled the ultrasound for 4:00 p.m. I made sure they had my work number.
At 1:45 my desk phone rang. It was the Women’s Center. My mouth full of bagel, I grabbed the receiver. The ultrasound technician had a cancellation. Was I interested in coming in at 2:00? YES. I WAS! I’m sure my chair was still spinning as I grabbed my purse and ran out of my cubicle.
As I race-walked to the building, my adrenaline was pumping. As I stood in front of the elevator doors, waiting for them to open, I looked perfectly calm on the outside. My mind was telling me I logically had nothing to worry about because the odds were in my favor, but inside my body was practically hyperventilating.
I knew this ultrasound was probably the last step in the process. I knew when it was over I would likely have my answers. I knew what it felt like for that answer to be the one nobody wants. As I stood in front of that elevator memories flooded in. Flashbacks of what it felt like to find out my mom had cancer. One minute everything was fine. The MRI was just a test to find out what was going on. The next minute, I was holding a telephone to my ear, listening to a doctor tell me my mom had seven tumors in her brain.
Though most of me was sure I did not have cancer, the rest of me couldn’t help remembering your entire world can change in one sentence.
Stage 9: RELIEF.
You’ll have to watch the animation for the exciting conclusion of what the ultrasound revealed. (Hey, I am still a storyteller after all). However, SPOILER ALERT: As previously stated, I’m fine. And this stage is called RELIEF. So. You know. Just sit back and relax and enjoy the three minute show!
Shannon in The Land Of…Uncertainty
What’s This Lump?
The Diagnostic Mammogram and Ultrasound
You can view the embedded video directly on YouTube here.
If you are so inclined, you can subscribe to my Maybe You Can Relate YouTube Channel here.
You might also like my previous stick figure animations.