My Internist Said a Four-Letter Word: Lump

“Nice socks,” was the first thing she said after she introduced herself, and I loved her instantly.  I was thrilled that my new internist found a way to compliment me, even though I was hunched at the edge of the examination table, wearing only that flimsy paper “gown” and my new snappy argyle socks.

Like this, but my socks were better.

Like this, but my socks were better, and my “dress” was more flammable.

I liked that she was all-business after that, asking me all about my family medical history. I love those questions, to which I answer a long series of staccato no’s.  Heart disease? No.  The long list of cancers? No, no, no, no, no.

“Condoms,” was my unpopular answer to her question about contraception, which led to her follow-up question about whether we planned to have more kids.  Tearing up, I answered, “I don’t think so.”  I also teared up telling her about my C-sections– tears fall so easily when I wear clothes made of paper and discuss my family planning decisions with a stranger.

During the physical exam, I waited for her to give me a standing ovation upon hearing I was still nursing my son who is 22 months old.  As I braced for adulation, I missed that she was spending extra time kneading my left breast.  Maybe she didn’t hear me.  Did I say Simon’s age? Shouldn’t she gasp in admiration?

So sure she would suggest that I host a parade in my own honor, I felt physically ill when I heard what she actually said.

“I feel a lump in your left breast.”   That’s not what I had in mind—I was thinking about ticker-tape, confetti and floats; now all I could picture was a funeral procession.  My funeral procession.

I sucked in my breath and stared at the ceiling.  She didn’t just say that.  This isn’t happening.

Who should I invite to my parade? 

My husband Jeff was the one who suggested that I see his internist for a physical.  I laughed in his face when he suggested it, because it seemed like something for newly shorn 18-year olds headed to the army, not for a young mother who just had two years of constant OB/GYN appointments.

Now the same doctor who appraised my husband’s ball sac just used the “L” word when feeling my breast.

There probably won’t be a parade any time soon.

Instead of feeling the terror, I consoled myself with logistics. Who am I going to call first?  I should call Jeff, but he’s out of town and may not have cell reception.  Is it bad if I call my therapist before Jeff? 

I decided that I could get away with calling my therapist first, but only because he’s a cancer survivor.  But I decided that I could not go by Ann Taylor Loft before heading home, because I thought shopping with a lump would send the wrong message.

I am not spending what may be my last days trolling around for cabled cardigans.

I kept my panic at bay for a few minutes, but I couldn’t help myself—I started thinking about the music for my funeral and Jeff’s future on-line dating profile.  “Warm, loving widower to two adorable children.”  Who’s in a better position to draft that than I, his “gone too soon” first wife?

By the time the doctor stepped away from my lumpy body,  I was memorizing everything about the room, because what if this was the room where I first learned I was dying?  What if this was the dock from which I would embark on a long torturous journey of biopsies, oncology residents, nausea, and macrobiotic dieting?  If this was the starting point of a long descent, I wanted to remember her shoes (scuffed suede clogs), the biohazard bin (blue and to my left), and the faint whir of the computer (front and center).

“I want you to come back in 30 days, after you have a menstrual cycle, so I can check it. If it’s still there, then. . . ” she explained the next steps.

I wanted her to get it out now—biopsy it, analyze it, and get it out from under my nipple.  I thought about  the long life I plan to live—I have to teach my children table manners (and I haven’t even started), and I have to improve my Scrabble score.  I have to learn to cook and take criticism and hang drapes.

I am too busy for this lump.

The kind receptionist pretended not to notice that my hands were shaking as I handed her my insurance card.  I made my follow-up appointment after asking three times why I couldn’t come in on January 1 (national holiday, apparently).

I’m sure it’s nothing serious. Probably just a cyst. 

But even if it’s “nothing,” I am already different.  And I’ll never be the same.  And now I hate those stupid argyle socks.

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114 thoughts on “My Internist Said a Four-Letter Word: Lump

  1. Oh, that is so scary. I do not envy the anxious times you have ahead of you until they find out what it is. Try not to let it cast a pall over the holidays (so much easier said than done I’m sure). Try to think positively and I will be thinking of you and praying for you. Hugs, my sweet friend.

  2. “But I decided that I could not go by Ann Taylor Loft before heading home, because I thought shopping with a lump would send the wrong message.”

    You are amazing for writing about this incredibly scary thing with humor. Thinking about you, and sending lots of positive vibes your way.

    • Thank you. And while I thought I should NOT go to ATL, I totally did because by the time I passed it on the street, I decided that I deserved to at least check out the cabled cardigans, because you only live once. But that’s another post.

  3. Ohhh, Christie. I don’t know why, but this made me cry. I can identify with that fear and uncertainty so much. It also made me laugh because, well, you’re you, and you write things like this: “But I decided that I could not go by Ann Taylor Loft before heading home, because I thought shopping with a lump would send the wrong message.” And this: “I thought about the long life I plan to live—I have to teach my children table manners (and I haven’t even started), and I have to improve my Scrabble score. I have to learn to cook and take criticism and hang drapes.”

    I’ll be thinking about you, and praying for you to my weird version of God that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Maybe go for a second opinion? 30 days just seems like a really long time to wait. I want whatever it is out of you, too, dammit!!

  4. How terrifying. Fingers crossed everything is OK. And I would blog about this too – I wouldn’t want to, but I would anyway. It’s therapeutic to write about things and I organize my thoughts better when I know someone else may be reading them.

  5. Many, many hugs. Hopefully this is just a weird breast-feeding thing. I’m glad you wrote about this though, because I couldn’t when I had a painful lump in my right breast a week before my annual GYN visit. I didn’t tell anyone and it had stopped hurting by the time I saw her. I had already decided that it was just a swollen duct and, after palpating my breast for longer than a teenage boy, she agreed.

    But this post makes me feel like a heel for submitting my eulogy as my post this week. Maybe Flood will bounce it?

  6. Sorry, but I have to admit to giggling at the funeral music thought because OH MY GAWD I did that (do that. I DO that. Shut up.) One of my first thoughts after the doctor said, “Have you felt this lump?” was who I’d want to sing at my funeral (and who wouldn’t be allowed in and who would be in charge of this non-allowance.) Then my thoughts turned crass: “I touch my titties. I know it’s there.” I didn’t know it was there. It turned out to be a cyst, common in black women. It’s still there. I hate it when I happen upon it. I want it out; they see no reason. I had one surgically removed a few years ago though. What I will say is this: try your best, and I KNOW it’s hard, to not go down the death and suffering road. It’s hard to wait 30 days without your mind creating unrealistic scenarios. Just try not to give in. We’ll be here if/when you need us. Or better yet, go down the road of positive scenarios: just a cyst, a lump that’ll dissipate after you stop your award worthy, parade worthy, ALL THE LAUDING, GIVE CHRISTIE ALL THE MEDALS, breastfeeding. There.

  7. Felt weird to Like this post, but I did – so well-written and so poignant. I had some tricky conversations at the doctor about a year ago, for several months, and I was always taken aback at how easily they threw out the names of diseases I could have, as if they were nothing, while to me, they were stigmas, death sentences, and/or reasons to amp up into a really big anxiety attack in the parking lot. Well done on pulling the humor out of the situation, on finding the light in it. It’s hard to do – or at least it was for me. But then, there is something ultimately hilarious about crying in the one-seater bathroom of the doctors office and silently telling all the old people or pregnant women outside to suck it, you’re taking your time in the bathroom and they can just deal. 🙂

  8. I laughed while reading this in a way that made me so uncomfortable. You are so funny, always, even in the face of something so not funny.

    I will be thinking of you, sending you positive thoughts and hoping for good news to come your way in your follow ups. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Really hoping for the best for you. Hugs…

  9. AHHHH!! CRAP!!! SHIT! FART KNUCKLES!!! okay, i’m going to take it down. I’m sure it’s fine, i have a host of friends who had lumps that were calcium deposits and cysts, but yeah, that made me very nervous. good writing. scary topic. let’s do a breathing exercise and eat a little ice cream, then throw out those socks. xoxooxox

  10. Sending you positive thoughts and prayers that you will get an answer soon, that it will be okay and that you will get your parade for breast feeding that long. Scary words, but I can relate so much to how you took in every detail, and needed to write it out to process it. Funny, well written, and terrifying post. Again, praying for you. Damn those socks.

      • I wish I was there to hug you. I’ve had full body exams twice a year for the last seven years. About half of the time there’s a biopsy. A couple of times bigger samples. A couple of surgeries. The first time I cried and made myself crazy.

        But then I decided to stop. Because those waiting days are days of my life, and if I spent them crazed with worry, then I lost them, never to have them back again. If bad new was ahead, then I was ill-equipped to cope well, because I was starting from a position of weakness. If anything, I think I go out of my way during those waiting times to “Live.” Because they remind me that life is to be spent living, not dying.

  11. You are a brave woman with a blog full of supporters. We’re praying for you and please keep us updated. Everything happens for a reason, that could be why it was suggested you see your hubby’s internist this go-round. We’re praying that whatever it is, it is non-progressive and can be easily cared for. My best to you and your family.

  12. That’s a wonderfully told account of something that sounds absolutely terrifying. I love how you added humor to something so scary. It’s what we have to do to stay sane about it. Prayers are coming your way, and when the good news comes in, let’s do a blogging parade celebration. No, I’m not sure what that is exactly, but it sounds like so much fun. 🙂

  13. Wow, Christie, your story knocked the wind out of me. I’m hoping that it is indeed just a cyst and that the days between now and when you have your follow-up appointment will pass without too much anxiety. (Does it help to know that you told your story beautifully?)

  14. Hello sweet Christie. I did go through this last year at this exact same time. it was lump from breastfeeding. I had to get a biopsy and ultrasound. ANd wait a few days over Thanksgiving to find out. I have never had fear like that in my life. All I could think of was ” ok, so they catch this early and I will figure out a way to get through it” Mostly I was scared shitless and could barely function from one day to the next. I love you and praying for your boobies. Chances are that is okay.

  15. I won’t say don’t worry, because it’s impossible not to worry! But I do know about 80% of lumps turn out to be benign. That’s a nice, high number. 🙂

    Congrats on breastfeeding your little one for 22 months, by the way! I breastfed both of my daughters until they were about 20 months old, and I loved every minute.

  16. Well at least your Doctor didn’t argue with you about being “too young for menopause” then send you a letter two weeks later that said “your blood test shows you’re in menopause.” Then a few days later send you another letter that says, “Oh yeah, and we also saw something funky on your mammogram. Call us and we’ll schedule a more high-powered one to see if you’re dying.”

    I pretty much went through the same thing you did, except the dating profile for Chief. I told him he has to be a grieving widow forever or I’d haunt him. Later found out it was nothing. I’m sure you will too. 🙂

  17. Aw Christie. You know I’ve worn those socks before. The odds are TOTALLY in your favor. Still, please ping me if it’s at all helpful. My lump was cancer but I’m still here!!

    Beautifully written and obviously I can so relate. I planned my funeral many times. Yours is a very long time away too!

  18. Beautifully written as always, Christie. I loved this line – I am a puddle at the OB-GYN too: “tears fall so easily when I wear clothes made of paper and discuss my family planning decisions with a stranger.” I went through the escalating lump last year; finally test after test deciding it was benign. I send you love and strength across the miles during the horrid phase of limbo you are in. xoxo

  19. I had to have a lump on my thyroid looked at which was sticking a giant needle in it and removing fluid and checking it! Very scary, but all was ok. You will be fine! Praying for you!

  20. Man, you can tell a story! I love how you pull off serious and funny all in one breath. I’m sending you positive vibes that everything will be okay! I won’t tell you not to worry, because there is no way to stop that train, but I just pray the worry will be all for naught. Hugs to you!

  21. I tell myself you can barely breathe while you’re waiting for clearance. I can barely breathe reading your wonderfully told, painfully poignant story. I wish I were reading this in the Speakeasy and we could all gush over your beautifully-written fiction piece. Am sending you hugs, prayers and a hand to hold should this limbo nonsense become overwhelming. xoxo

  22. Yikes. Prayers to you. Should you be interested, my mom is a mammographer & “breast educator”. I’m sure she’d be happy to chat if you find yourself in need of yet another stranger with whom to discuss it.

  23. Oh Christie… I read this as soon as you posted it this morning and have been thinking about it all day. I don’t have a god to pray to, but I’m definitely sending you thoughts of health and well-being. And honestly, what an amazing post about it. As so many others have said, how amazing that you can talk about this with humor and gravitas all at the same time. When did this happen?? If it was before I saw you over the weekend, I hope you know you could have told me. But of course, if you didn’t want to, that’s totally understandable too. Definitely keep us updated! Much love.

  24. Oh wow! Hang in there! I’m hestitant about whether to add this or not but something similar happened to me when I was nursing. It turned out to be just a cyst. I know that’s not always the case and you have a right to cope with the wait on the follow up appointment however you like. But, FWIW, sometimes a lump is just a lump. This kind of news, while terrifying, may not be a worst case scenario. Keep us updated!

    • I am glad you told me. I only nurse on the right side, and the lump is on the left but the ob said it could still be a cyst. So I’m am reining in my imagination the best I can.

  25. Wowza~ beautifully written . . . scary as shit real life situation! I love and adore you and am here to support you through every moment of your journey! I commend your willingness and ability to write with amazing wit and humor about something so scary! Love you lots.

  26. It is scary and you feel changed. I read in a comment somewhere that you’ve moved up your mammogram. That’s great news because it’s difficult waiting it out. A little prayer going out for positive results in a few weeks! Stay busy. It’s the holidays so, hopefully, that’s easy to do.

  27. Good luck at the follow up. Try to remember: Odds are great it’s nothing sinister. The doc wasn’t highly alarmed, and that’s a good sign. The body goes thorough all kinds of changes post pregnancy.
    Thinking good thoughts for you.

  28. Yuck. I hate “we need more tests” moments. I hate getting calls from biopsies. I hate hearing about how we have to wait to see if it’s Stage I or Stage II. I hate having friends in Stage IV. And I hate having to buck up other friends that *in situ* is better than metastases and that diagnosis is not prognosis for death.
    I like lumps in oatmeal and pudding, though.
    Let’s hope this is lumpy oatmeal caliber. Because the 22-month breastfeeding parade is on its way.

  29. Oh, Christie! I am sending all my positive energy to you right now, girl. You are such an amazing person. The way you find the humor in everything always blows my mind. As I was tearing up reading this, I was also laughing my ass off over the breastfeeding, the drape hanging, the Scrabble scores. Laughter is the best medicine, right? Huge, huge hugs to you, sweet friend.

    P.S. I can’t leave this page without mentioning your stellar writing. This line = sheer perfection: “tears fall so easily when I wear clothes made of paper and discuss my family planning decisions with a stranger.”

  30. I was really hoping that this was a post from something in your past. A distant memory. I should comment on how beautifully you write, but what I really want to say is that I know how scary this is and that I am hoping that another post materializes about how all of the worry and fear becomes a distant memory. xo

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  32. Christie,

    Scary. It’s actually hard to spot that stuff while nursing because everything is usually too tender to check. Sending good thoughts your way that everything turns out okay.

    When it’s all over you can buy new socks. Better socks.

  33. This has happened to me before and it went away the next month. But it SCARED THE HELL OUT OF ME. My doctor made me go get a mammogram immediately to rule all the scary stuff out. You should look into doing the same just to be on the safe side. You can request it – especially since she felt a lump. Prayers your way, my friend.

  34. I can feel your pain. I nursed three babies and just a mere month after an ectopic pregnancy I had two bouts of mastitis and I’m not currently nursing. The doctor sent me off for a mamogram and I received a letter two days later that I had an abnormality. This shocking as I’m a 28 yr old married mother of three SMALL children. I swear I know the feeling all too well. All though I later called and got the results that it was a “normal” result but they sent me the abnormal letter so I’d go for an ultrasound just to make sure. I keep thinking “assholes”. I hope yours is just the changes that happen with your cycle 🙂 will be waiting to hear.

    • Thank you. I am so sorry you had to deal with all of this. I thought mastitis was bad– and it sucks– but the possibilities here seem way worse. Thanks for reaching out and letting me know I am not alone. I willl have more info on Wednesday. Here’s hoping for a nice normal test result.

  35. I was actually laughing while I read this (sorry about that…) because I was SO SURE it was going to be the beginnings of a plugged duct. Or at least somewhat nursing related. Isn’t that a possibility??? I’m always getting plugged ducts and I always have a little lump here and a little lump there. I just assume they’re nursing related. How scary. Although, I have to think it’s not a big deal if she’s having you wait a month before doing anything else. Wishing you perfect health and peace of mind.

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