I haven't been feeling well.
Those who know me know that I never feel quite right, as I am one of those people who is constantly in and out of doctor's offices and labs and whatnot- I'm pretty sure there is a framed picture of me at the pharmacy with a "Customer of the Century" plaque fashioned underneath.
So when I started feeling sick over the past couple of weeks I simply attributed it to that, as well as some side effects of stress. You see, I've had a rough few months.
Without getting into too much detail, this past summer was one of strange and unexpected transition for me. Back in June, my then-boyfriend and I were about to sign the lease of our first apartment together (and I mean just about to- we were getting ready to head over to meet our landlord), when he told me that the night before he had bought a house. Just like that, "I bought a house". Now to most people, this sounds like a romantic gesture of grand proportion- almost movie worthy. But to me, I was blindsided. This was a house that I did not ask for, expect, or want. But I felt like showing anything but gratitude would be selfish and horrible so I acted how I thought everyone would want me to act.
The papers were signed in August, and with the flourish of a pen, my entire future was decided for me.
Someone else had chosen where I would live, where I would work, where my future children would grow up and go to school; not to mention how much money I would spend each month on a mortgage. I felt trapped and angry and sad and stupid that I had let it happen.
We moved in and one month to the day later I moved out. It was a scary break-up and the only advice I can give is that if you ever have a little voice in your head screaming, "get out, get out, GET OUT!", you should get out.
So I grabbed what I could and started my life over. I never fully dealt with the trauma that came with the whole situation, so when my body started rebelling against me recently, I chalked it up to a very delayed reaction of "that fuckin sucked, and everything is finally catching up to me".
Then I found the lump.
I was on my couch, watching TV and wondering why I was scrunched up in the corner while my 18 pound dog was sprawled out, living the life. My right breast had been sore for a few days but that day it was actually painful, like it was being stabbed with a dull knife. I started rubbing it, hoping to ease the pain, when I felt a large, hard bump on the lower right side.
"Hormones," I told myself, "I'm probably just about to get my period or something". Over the next couple of days the pain intensified to the point where even a loose fitting shirt grazing against my chest sent waves of agony through my body. I started noticing other things happening that I knew weren't quite right, so that Monday morning I called the doctor.
My plan was to just set up an annual visit with my GYN, as I was due for one anyway. But when I mentioned to the woman on the phone that there was also something in my boob that I wanted to get checked out, her tone changed.
"Is it a lump?" she asked.
I didn't want to use that word because it's scary and I'm only 30 and 30 year olds aren't supposed to have lumps. But I was sure that the receptionist wouldn't agree with this skewed logic, so I said yes, it was a lump.
"I'm going to have the emergency nurse call you back".
I thanked her and hung up and headed to work, not quite sure how everything had gotten so real and terrifying in a five minute phone conversation.
Once at work, I told my boss that I was expecting a very important call from the doctor and I needed to have my phone out. After four agonizing hours and two rounds of phone tag, I was finally talking to the nurse as I paced back and forth in the basement, trying to keep my voice low so the cooks on their break in the next room couldn't hear me.
I explained the size, sensation, and location of the lump and then the following conversation occurred:
"Have you been extremely fatigued lately?"
"Hot flashes followed by chills?"
"Redness or a rash around the area?"
One by one, the nurse listed every strange thing that I had been experiencing, like she had Magic School Bus'ed herself and had been living in my body for the past week. By the sixth or seventh 'yes', she stopped me.
"We need you to come in right away", she said, as she began listing the different times and locations they had available. I explained to her that the next day- Valentine's Day- I had a double shift at work and would not be able to make an appointment until Wednesday.
"You realize this is serious, right?" she asked, sounding annoyed. I apologized and made the first available appointment for Wednesday.
The next day at work I spent ten hours being angry and scared and jealous of all the couples coming in who were in love and not worrying about whether or not their lives were completely about to change.
I was frustrated that I was being a miserable bitch towards my co-workers and I couldn't tell them why. But mostly I was pissed off and sickened by this thing that was in me- this unwanted foreign object that was so painful that it was all I could concentrate on.
The next day I went to the hospital for my checkup. My regular GYN- whom I absolutely adore- was not available so I was a little nervous to go through this with someone new who didn't know my body or history. Luckily, she was awesome. Like, where-have-you-been-all-my-post-pubescent-life awesome.
She started feeling around and immediately felt the lump. When she checked my left breast she hit a spot that made me wince.
"There is a lump in your left breast as well."
I felt my entire being slip out of my body to go hide in the corner where it was safe.
She asked me the same questions the nurse on the phone had asked me. I also told her about my hair loss. As I have mentioned in previous entries, I've been experiencing this for a couple of years now, but I have recently found some actual bald spots that have alarmed me, and my eyebrows are now falling out so much that I look like the girls back in 8th grade- where we all plucked them to within an inch of their lives. There have been many mornings where I wake up and go to the mirror, only to find small eyebrow hairs scattered down my cheeks.
Next my doctor did a pap because hey, why not. These always make me nervous because I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome which heightens your risk of cervical cancer. Most times my paps came back showing pre-cancerous cells (which actually happens to more women than you would think) and I'm ordered to go get a colposcopy which are the absolute worst things I have ever, ever experienced.
During the exam she found something else that wasn't quite right to which she ordered 6 rounds- one per week- of a very simple but slightly painful procedure that would kill the cells of yet another unwanted object. She also wrote up scripts for an ultrasound and blood work to try and figure out what the hell was going on.
I went home, completely wiped out, and called to schedule the ultrasound. My choices were the next morning or in one month. I went with the following morning.
Driving to a cancer center alone is scary. Sitting in a waiting room full of women who are about to be told either good news or bad news is scary. Seeing the women who have already been told bad news and are filling out paperwork before their surgery, while their husbands sit beside them with all of the color drained out of their faces, is scary. Having your name called, being handed a scratchy, cold gown, and being sent to a smaller waiting room of women who are shaking and fighting back tears is downright terrifying.
I was called back relatively quickly to the ultrasound room. I laid down, opened up my gown, and put one arm above my head as the technician spread goo across my chest and pressed down with the wand. First one boob, then the other. Every time she went over one of the lumps I closed my eyes and tried not to yell out in pain. Way too often she would stop, screenshot the image, and type something. Then she said I was done, but she needed to go talk to the doctor.
While she was gone, I cried. I cried because I was afraid and I cried because I was sick of all of this. I have had numerous ultrasounds performed on my uterus and cervix because of the PCOS, as well as the conclusion that I will probably have trouble getting pregnant. I laid there and cried because out of all the ultrasounds I've had, not one of them has been to see a little baby in my belly. I cried because if these results came back as cancerous, would the resulting treatments leave me completely infertile? I cried because all I have ever wanted is to be a mom, and bit by bit my own body was taking that away from me.
The technician returned and told me she didn't see anything that constituted me having to immediately worry. That there were definitely lumps there but that they were probably just cysts, although she still wanted me to get the blood work because my other symptoms continued to be suspicious. Then she left.
I didn't really know what to do at that point. So that was it? Everything was ok? But why did my chest still hurt, why did it feel like there was a golf ball weighing one of them down? Was I supposed to just live like this?
I was relieved and confused as I drove straight to work. I walked in and cried and didn't answer anybody when they asked if I was ok.
A couple of days later I got a letter in the mail from the lab with the official results of the ultrasound: Benign- Non Cancerous. A part of me was frustrated that every physical and mental thing that I had been going through for the past week was summed up in just three words; albeit, three beautiful words, but words that almost made me feel crazy for thinking anything was wrong.
That Monday I went for blood work that also came back normal. Again, relief and frustration duked it out as I was left wondering, then what the fuck is wrong with me? Why am I still feeling so sick?
On Friday I left work a little early to get Round 2 of the six week treatment. I'm responding very well to that but I told my doctor that I was still feeling sick and my breasts were still in pain. The only time I wear a bra now is at work and it is pure hell from beginning to end.
She told me that if things weren't better by the next time she saw me, we would run more tests. And that was that.
These two weeks have dragged me through emotions and feelings I didn't even know I had. I know that I am supremely lucky- at the end of the day, I came out of this with the best case scenario. I am still in pain and more tired physically and mentally that I could ever even begin to describe, but only time will tell what happens from here on out.
The only thing that has gotten me through all of this has been the unyielding support of my boyfriend. This spectacular man who has stayed strong for me, let me cry, taken me to appointments, and been the definition of a teammate. This man who became my best friend the moment I met him over a year ago, this man who I fell in love with before I was supposed to, this man who has let me not only into his own heart, but the hearts of his children as well. This man who, when I showed up at his door the night I left 'The House', wrapped me in his arms- no questions asked- and hasn't let go since.
I guess what I hope people take out of this very long winded (sorry) story is to trust your body. If something doesn't feel right, trust your gut. Even it it's scary. The only reason I called the doctor when I did is because I had my boyfriend feel the area I was concerned about and when he also felt something, he made me promise to call the doctor first thing the following morning. He also promised me that he would take me to whatever appointments I wanted or needed him at, and that he would be there with me every step of the way. It provided the comfort and determination I needed, and that I will continue to need as I am not stopping until I figure out what is wrong. I don't care how many doctors I go to, how many needles are poked into me, or how many things are cut out of me and biopsied. I know it sounds cheesy, but I refuse to give up. I can only hope that if anyone reading this is going through something similar, my account will reassure them that it is ok to be scared, it is ok to have questions, and it is ok to push until you get the answers that you not only want, but deserve.