About 18 months (Oct. 2013) before I was diagnosed I was having slight pain and tenderness in my left breast. I made an appointment with my OBGYN at Kaiser. He didn’t feel anything but due to my genetic profile (grandmother passing & her sister, my great-aunt, passing from BC) he sent me directly to Kaiser’s Breast Clinic. There, an RN specifically trained in breast health examined me. She didn’t feel anything either but questioned my current lifestyle. Was I doing anything different? Yes! I had just started exercising regularly again after my daughters were born 2 years earlier. She explained how the breast is connected to nerves, tissues and muscles which because of the exercise was likely causing my twinges of pain and “funny feelings”. She also brought out a model of a breast filled with saline and examples of tumors in it. She let me feel it so I would know what to look for if I were to develop a lump in the future. This was super helpful. They felt like little stones or pebbles. They were close to the surface and easy to find.
I went on my way and all was good but I kept having those funny feelings of unease. About 9 months later (Aug. 2013) I noticed a thickening inside my breast near my nipple on the same – left breast. I went back to my OBGYN and this time he felt it too. He then sent me to an MD Breast Specialist at another Kaiser Clinic in Sacramento that same day. This doctor also felt this thickening and ordered an immediate Mammogram and Ultrasound scan in their Radiology department in the same building. I was a bit shaken and unprepared. I had never researched any of these things. Should I do it? I wanted to know what was going on so I went through with it. If you’ve never had a mammogram…good for you. They suck. The whole process sucks; from changing your clothes in these weird little changing rooms to the cold, sterile feeling exam rooms. My mammogram tech was just as cold and sterile. It was horribly uncomfortable but was over in about 20 minutes. I was then sent to get an Ultrasound. This tech was much more friendly and warm. She talked to me as she did her scan and said she wasn’t seeing anything. What a relief. All these images had to be reviewed by a Radiologist. One thing I like about Kaiser is they did all these things the same day. I gratefully only had to wait about an hour for my results and discussion with the doctor. She told me they hadn’t found anything and “we don’t know what it is but you do not have cancer”. Of course, I was thrilled but this is where they dropped the ball. She sent me on my way with no follow-up appointment, no suggestions for improving breast health, no questions about diet, lifestyle, nothing.
Again I was relieved but knew something wasn’t right so I sought and found a Naturopath to help me figure it out. The Naturopath was helpful. She didn’t have specific answers but suggested I do a Breast Detox with support from herbs and supplements and reduce any stress. I did this for about 2 months and felt a lot better. The thickening went away so I stopped the supplements and didn’t make any additional follow up appointments with the Naturopath. I still had some feelings of unease but as long as I didn’t feel the physical issues I thought I was okay.
About 3 weeks before I was diagnosed I suddenly had no desire to eat meat or dairy. I had never been a milk drinker but ate cheese, ice-cream, and some dairy sauces. I had tried a vegetarian lifestyle some years before and enjoyed it but at the time most alternatives were made from soy. I knew it was important to avoid processed soy and struggled with finding enough foods to satisfy my appetite. It lasted around 9 months.
Now it felt differently and there were so many exciting alternatives available as well as endless online inspiration. I was feeling great and thrilled to be eating so clean and well. Life was good for my family; we were making plans to sell our house and were considering moving abroad. Our daughters were thriving…we were happy.
Then on Friday, May 2, 2014, my husband found a lump in my left breast. I’ll never forget it. He said, “what’s this?”. I felt it and immediately knew what it was. It felt exactly like the example the RN had shown me in October the previous year. I was no longer with Kaiser so I scheduled an appointment that following Monday with a new OBGYN. She saw me later that same day, examined me, felt the lump and sent me directly to have another mammogram and ultrasound. I still hadn’t spent any time researching these scans (MISTAKE) but I was scared now that I could actually feel a lump so, of course, I did it. I was able to talk to my doctor the next day. They did find something that looked like it could be cancer. They then scheduled a needle biopsy for the next day. Again, I didn’t research this. Not smart.
I went alone to the biopsy thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. I was wrong. Everyone was talking to me and looking at me like I had cancer. Everything was so quiet and although much warmer feeling than Kaiser, these procedures can be complicated and take some time. All the check-in attendants, nurses and even the radiologist were all very surprised I didn’t have someone with me.
I managed to get through but it was much more extensive than I anticipated. The needle used is large and has a hollow core. They insert that into your lump and aspire fluid and tissue from it. The fluid contains cells which are tested to see if they’re cancerous or not and if cancerous, what specific type of cancer is in there.
That was a few days before Mother’s Day weekend. I prayed I’d get my results before the weekend but I didn’t get the call until the Monday after Mother’s Day. My OBGYN called in the afternoon and asked that I please come in to discuss the results. Nope. I told her to tell me now. She was very reluctant but I was adamant. I knew I had it…I just wanted her to hurry up and tell me how bad it was. She finally agreed. This was May 12, 2014; one of the shittiest days on my books but also a day I look back on with gratitude.
It was the day I woke up.