The plans I made in advance for Friday, October 19th started simply enough. Ben would be down in Austin with a bunch of his friends, celebrating his Bachelor party. While I made some dinner & brunch plans with girlfriends for Saturday/Sunday, I’d spend my Friday evening treating myself to a little self care with a “Jes Date.” I scheduled a facial and a massage and planned on ordering sushi delivery and watching Dateline (aka the perfect evening in solo). A week out from my long awaited ‘Jes Date,’ I went in for my yearly checkup at the gynecologist, who found some abnormalities and ordered me a mammogram. I kicked off my self care Friday a little early than I imagined, with an 8AM mammogram appointment that morning.
I am not going to bury the lead in this story, I found out I do not have anything cancerous, but I DO have something called Fibroadenoma. (A little more on that later). My only goal in sharing my experience is to encourage you to prioritize your health, schedule regular checkups and provide a little awareness around breast health/mammograms, both of which I sadly had limited knowledge of just a couple of weeks ago, despite the abundance of information and awareness on the topic. To anyone reading this who may have gone through something more serious, bless you and my heart goes out to you.
For my story, the point is all about awareness and what to expect should your Dr. find something, and my experience getting the tests done. I had absolutely ZERO clue going into my gyno appointment that it was possible to find lumps at ALL in the breast tissue that could be considered anything but serious. So when my gyno kept going over the same spot during my breast exam, and then recommended I call to schedule a mammogram, but “not to panic!”, naturally, I panicked. Typically my visits to the gyno or any Dr. for that matter follow the same pattern. I hope that I weigh the same or less than my last visit, my fingers are crossed that I have great numbers during my blood pressure exam. My Dentist scolds me to floss more often but otherwise ‘your teeth look great’ and I leave the appointment giving myself a little pat on the back. I pee in a cup, they swipe and swap and look and listen around. And I walk out the door with a clean bill of health. It can be hard to remember, but our health is something we are so so lucky to have. I’m using all of this as a reminder to cherish it and not take it for granted. Not all of us are so lucky.
Naturally, my nerves were on high alert the week leading up to my exam. Deep down I ‘didn’t think it was anything’, but what if it was something? I called Ben, my parents and a handful of really close friends that I really needed to talk to. This blog is probably a hint, but I am a talker. I like sharing my stories, I like asking questions, I like hearing other people’s stories. In all of those conversations over the years, I didn’t recall EVER hearing about my friends or friends of friends being ordered to get a mammogram under 40 years old except for one. (It’s another story for another day, but one of my very best and sweetest friends elected to have a double mastectomy at 25 because she has the BRCA gene. She’s one of the strongest tiniest people I know!) Once I got to talking to some of my friends, they knew so and so that had been through a similar situation. “Oh Jes, this is totally normal and happens to me every time I am breastfeeding.” “Oh yea Jes, didn’t you know that happened to XYZ two years ago?” “My mom found her breast cancer after her sister encouraged her to go in after proactively going in herself.” No. I knew none of this! Had I not been asking? Had I not been listening?
Because I was frustrated by how little I knew within my network of friends or about the topic in general, I decided I would share my experience. For that reason only, I am sharing this story. I am well aware that my experience will surely differ from the next person and for all of you I wish you a clean bill of health.
Morning of the Mammogram – What I wrote in ‘Real Time’
I’m sitting in the waiting room of the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Screening wing of the Prentice Women’s Hospital. I’ve changed into my cloth gown, which they keep in a warmer and is strangely a bit comforting. They have you swap out your clothes from the waist up for said gown. I’ve shoved my jacket, sweater and bra into a locker and realized I’m left with jeans and the knee high slouchy boots I decided to wear for the occasion. Admittedly I feel a bit silly, wearing a piece of cloth with a little string and knee highs, but how would I know I’d be keeping my shoes on? Anyway, I wore them on purpose so what’s the difference, really. I like to wear outfits that help me feel empowered on days I’m feeling a little scared or nervous, I figured today was as good a day as any. I’ve decided if I ever need to come back, I’m definitely wearing these boots or some heels. I don’t think feeling a little extra in this moment is such a bad thing.
I’m trying to get some of my thoughts down now, so I can reflect back on them either way. I’m feeling pretty confident, in my gut I don’t ‘feel sick,’ but I know it could swing either way. While I am of course pulling for a clean bill of health, if I had to face it, I hope I’d do so courageously like the women who have battled and/or conquered sickness before me. Or like the women in my life who currently are, or who have battled something in their life. I am sending them all of the loving thoughts right now, for I don’t think I’ve truly realized how scary it must be for them until this moment and I haven’t even made it out of the waiting room. I’m making a mental note to become more involved, active and supportive from this moment forward for their causes.
I’m typing this on my phone and looking out the window. The windows overlook a little park behind the MCA and offers a sliver of a view of the lake. It’s pretty, actually. I look (but don’t linger) at the women in the waiting room with me. One woman I’ve gathered isn’t there for herself, but rather either her elder sister or mom or someone she is very close to. Her face looks worried and exhausted and my heart hurts for her. The other women in my ‘pod’, or in my half of the waiting room, look like the average lady sitting next to you on the bus, or in the coffee shop or at the grocery store. Short, tall, white, black, small boobs, big boobs, young, older. No one looks like same and I don’t know what I would have expected otherwise.
Update: They call my name and bring me back to the room to get my first round of pictures done. They smash my boobs one-by-one into some sort of contraption that they literally have to crank down to get my little girls flat as a pancake. If it hurts I don’t pay attention. I’m trying to focus on answering the nurses questions about our honeymoon, and I’m trying to inconspicuously dry tears from my eyes. She’s sweet as can be, but the last thing I want to think about is comparing notes on where to eat in Maui before I know what’s going on in my body. I don’t know, maybe I’m weird and she’s just doing her job. I’m sure I’d rather that than silence! Anyway we finish the first round of pictures and she tells me ‘not to panic’ if they call me back for a second round of pictures. Apparently it’s really common, especially among young women with dense breast tissue.
She shuffles me back to my waiting pod, where she offers me coffee from their Keurig and now I’m drinking shitty coffee (sorry, Prentice) as I sit and wait for next steps. She calls me back for a second round of pictures within a few minutes, and I start panicking. Remember, she JUST told me not to panic, ha. I can’t help it. She’s giving me multiple little tissues (they are travel-sized, I actually don’t understand, Kleenex needs to donate) and I’m telling myself to pull myself together. I’m shuffled back to the waiting area, scarfing down an Rx Bar and kicking myself for forgetting my water bottle. The nurse calls me up AGAIN and brings me around to the side. She’s whispering to me that they have the pictures they need, now I’ll be called to get the ultrasound and then the radiologist will give my results. She squeezes my hands and says “congratulations” and for a split second I am beyond confused. I’m in the clear? I’m healthy? Congrats for what? Then it dawns on me she’s talking about my wedding in three weeks and I smile and sit back down.
My name is called a final time, and I go back to the room to get the ultrasound done. There’s a nurse and a student-in-training in the room. Normally I’m sensitive to that, I don’t want someone just there to observe aka the student, but at this point I don’t even care. They lube up the boobs one by one, going over and over and OVER them to get all of the images they need. The lump that my gyno found was on the right, so when the nurse keeps going over the left, I make a mental note. I stare at the clock, watch the second hand and wonder how it can possibly take this long to get images of my boobs. Also, this part is super uncomfortable. Flatten my boobs, but lying down on my back with my arm above my head, quickly going numb I’m uncomfortable with all of the pressing. I keep adding leading questions, “oh anything interesting you see? What exactly are you taking pictures of? Why so long on the left?” but the answer every time is the Dr, i.e. the radiologist will share the results with me. I give up and try to think of other things, but all I can think about is being on the flip side of the situation.
Finally, they’re done. It doesn’t take long for the Dr. to come in, who is going to read me my results. I’m anxious, I’m shaking, I am squeezing back tears as I shake her hand. She starts by saying “Good news, it’s not cancerous,” and she can all but finish her sentence before I burst out crying hysterically. Like tears rolling, air gasping crying now in front of three women I just met but who have examed my boobs through and through. She understands, shovels me tissues and once I have gained my composure, asks me if I know what “Fibroadenoma” is. Ironically, I said yes. During my bout of Googling after seeing the gyno, I did look into it, and it had sounded likely. But of course, I am no Dr. and I did not want to make any assumptions on the matter until I heard from a professional. Essentially, they did end up finding three little cysts in my left breast (ironically not my right) that they will now regularly monitor. It doesn’t mean I am more prone to it escalating than the woman next to me. But it does mean I will go back in 6 months for another mammogram, and that I will likely get them regularly for the rest of my life. Apparently they are fairly common among women 15-35. As stated on the Mayo Clinic’s website, “Fibroadenomas occur more often during your reproductive years, can become bigger during pregnancy or with use of hormone therapy, and might shrink after menopause, when hormone levels decrease.” Mine could shrink or grow or multiply, but it will be important (and very important to me) to regularly check on them.
Obviously, I am beyond relieved to have received this news. I will reiterate that I am simply sharing this as I didn’t know finding non-cancerous lumps could be common, and I had never heard the word ‘fibroadenoma.” If nothing else, I hope this encourages you to be more open about your own health journey, so we can learn from each other. And most importantly, never ever forget that we have one body to live in. Certainly we can enjoy ourselves, I love wine/pizza/cheese just as much as the next person. But let’s also sprinkle in some self love, self care, awareness and support for each other.
Cheers to your health & happiness, friends!