Friday, May 22, 2015

A Story About my Breasts

Thursday April 31, 2015

It’s been a little less than three weeks since I first noticed the changes in my breast, and with every day it occupies more and more of my life.

I had been changing in my upstairs bathroom, and as I lifted my left arm over my head to remove my nightee, I noticed the skin underneath my breast puckering, and pulling inwards as if something was preventing it from moving. There was no lump, no other changes. Except for the frequent dull ache that had plagued me for months? Weeks?

I simply observed it for the first few days. The puckering was only noticeable in the mornings, when the natural light came in through the bathroom window. When I showered at night and the room was lit from above, I couldn’t see the puckering.

And so it became part of my morning ritual. Was it still there? Was there a lump? Was the pain increasing? Every morning I would lift my arms and examine the bottom of my breast. And every day, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, the small hole would still be there.

I made an appointment with my GP for the first morning after school went back. It was less than a week after I first noticed the change and I felt nervous and ridiculous that I was making a fuss over nothing. I waited for her to tell me it was normal, nothing to worry about. Instead she wrote a referral for both a mammogram and ultrasound, with an option of fine needle aspiration (FNA) if required.

As I walked out of the room she smiled and said ‘I look forward to hearing that the results are nothing.’

I called my nearest radiological clinic early the next day and was told the wait for be up to four weeks. Four weeks and one day to be exact. I endeavoured to put it out of my mind. To wait the course. Four weeks feels like forever.

I have told no one except my best friend who lived on the other side of the country. I didn’t want to worry people. I didn’t want to be made a fuss of if it all turned out to me nothing. I didn’t want to be thought of as a hypochondriac.

Now it is all I can think about.

I can’t tell if thinking about my breast, and what the changes could mean has made me feel things that are not there, or if the pain is actually getting worse.  But it seems constant now, far from debilitating, but sufficient for me to consider taking a paracetamol. I am constantly touching my breast, both to ease the ache and to seek any forming lumps.

A couple times I have come close to mentioning it to someone. I worry about their reaction. I feel foolish for even worrying in the first place: am I ridiculous for even thinking the word?


There are many things it could be. It could be harmless fibroids or a long defunct blocked milk duct. It could have always been like that, and it just took me 37 years to notice.

So I am waiting.

But not patiently nor peacefully. It is beginning to preoccupy my thoughts, so I called more clinics until I could find one with an earlier time slot. I will now have to drive to the very northern suburbs for my scan, but I will save myself 10 days of worry.

But possibly, I will be gaining an extra ten days of something worse.

20th May 2015
I feel a bit stupid. A time waster, not to mention the hundreds of dollars I have spent.
I have now been for not one, but two ultrasounds on my breast and both times been sent away. 

‘There’s nothing there, on your way.’

The mammogram was uncomfortable and borderline painful, but it was a small price to pay. It’s a strange thing, standing half naked in front of a stranger, being asked to manipulate your own breast, having someone touch you. ‘Hold your nipple out of the way, that’s it, now pull everything to the side.’

I was sent out to wait while the doctor looked at my mammogram results. Wrapped in a cold cotton gown, that barely stretched around me, I read trashy magazines. Then I was asked to come back for more scans. I felt even more nervous this time – had they seen something and they wanted a better look? No, sometimes the breast tissue fold over on itself, I was told, making it appear thicker than it really is. Back into the machine, a sharp corner pushed into my armpit, hand grasping the machine, angled sideways as to get as much breast into the machine as possible.

I was then sent for the ultrasound. Neither technique is 100% fallible, but when done together, anything over 1mm will be picked up. They poked and prodded and scanned and peered. Nothing. 

‘Go home,’ I was told, and I scurried away.

But still my doctor wasn’t happy. ‘I don’t know Shannon,’ she said. ‘I want to know what’s causing the puckering. I think you should get the FNA done as well.’ She glanced at my three year old on the floor, sucking on a lollypop – her reward for a flu vaccination. ‘You need to be around, you know what I mean?’

Not wanting to return to the first place, where I had been merrily sent on my way, I called a different group. No three week wait this time, I got an appointment within 24 hours. That was more like it.

The sonographer was surprised when I told her I had already been for a mammogram and ultrasound. 
‘And they didn’t find anything?’

‘No,’ I responded.

‘No lumps?’


‘And so you’re here because…?’

I’m here because my aunt had breast cancer when she was younger. I’m here because my breast looks abnormal. I’m here because I have a cautious GP with children the same age as mine and who is looking out for me.

The sonographer called the doctor in. Everyone was being very nice. They looked sympathetic and were understanding of my predicament, but they couldn’t see why I was there. Literally. With the dark shadowy rooms and overhead lighting, the doctor could not see the deep puckering which was so apparent in the sideways light of my bathroom. I felt like a fraud and that I was wasting everyone’s time.

‘If that were my breast, I’d be happy with that,’ the lady told me.

‘Without a lump or something to aim at, I don’t know where to put the needle,’ the doctor said reasonably. ‘And in the unlikely event something came back abnormal, we wouldn’t be able to do a re-test because there’s nothing to see or feel.’

I lay on the table, clutching the gown around me. I understood everything they were saying, which was basically ‘you’re fine, go home.’

It is the best possible outcome. Two of the best doctors in the state have reassured me there is nothing abnormal to see on the scans. Nothing to fear. No cancer. I should be elated and relieved, and most of me is.

Although I still don’t have an explanation for the pain or the puckering, and a small part of me is still worried, I am grateful I can move on. I am also indebted to my friend whose own story has reminded me to be breast aware, and now I share mine in the hope that maybe someone else might benefit.. 

This post is dedicated to all the women who are living with and fighting breast cancer. 
You are in my thoughts.

To everyone else: please remember to be breast aware.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Shannon, I am glad you pay attention to changes in your body, and all the tests came back negative, and nothing was found. You aren't a time waster (thought I know how it is to feel like one), and I understand the relief you feel, mixed with that touch of anxiety that says "but what if they've missed something... what if....". Two years ago they found a lump on my liver, while operating for something else. For seven weeks I had so many tests and scans trying to find what it was. I tried not to think about the worst scenario as I put my young children to bed each night, I tried not to let my stressed out husband see how anxious I was, we didn't tell family as they are too far away to be of any help, and we didn't want to worry them when it was "probably nothing". But in the back of my mind I was making lists of things I 'needed' to do, just in case. I am grateful to say that it did turn out to be nothing, and a precautionary scan earlier this year showed nothing had changed. So life goes on much like it always has, thankfully. But even now there is a part of me that is still on alert, still gets anxious when an unexpected pain crops up (especially in the abdomen or liver region). I think things like this scare us mums (and dads) at the deepest level - the thought of possibly not being around to watch and protect our kids grow up is terrifying. I am glad your daughters will have their mum around for a long time to come. Best wishes to you.


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