Recent Scare

This is a Core Friends post, meaning not everybody gets to read it.

Recently I had a bit of a health scare. Fortunately, it was just a scare and it all turned out to be nothing. At the time, though, it was really stressful and allowed all sort of morbid thoughts to bloom in my head.

I have a lump in my right armpit. It has been there for a while—I don’t know how long. It existed only at the edges of my conciousness. It wasn’t something I looked at directly until last fall, when I confronted the fact that I had better have someone check it out. I think I denied it existed for so long because it seemed to be changeable. Sometimes it felt more pronounced than other times, but I wasn’t scientific enough to track it in any objective way. The last time I had my annual exam, I told my midwife about it. She said she couldn’t really feel/evaluate it unless it was at it’s biggest stage.

In February the stars aligned, and right before I was to get my period, I noticed the lump was larger and pretty easy to feel. I called Ruth and she had me come in that day. She felt it and decided it was worth checking out further. She made a couple of calls, and before I really knew what was happening, I was in my car driving to an ultrasound appointment in Folsom. Suddenly, I was very very scared. And nervous. I was able to catch FCL on the phone, and she talked me through it. The ultrasound tech could feel the lump with her fingers, but couldn’t see it with her fancy wand-and-computer ultrasound gizmo. Nevertheless, she took a bunch of pictures of both my right and left armpits.

Then I waited for at least a week to hear finally that the radiologist couldn’t see any lump in any of the pictures. Ruth decided to take a different tack. She called to get me in for another diagnostic test called a Fine Needle Aspiration. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I had to wait a couple more weeks for the FNA. On February 28 I met Ian at the doc’s office and had the procedure. Dr. Musicant, a pathologist with a specialty in FNAs, was nice and patient, and extremely detailed in his explanation of what the procedure would feel like, what the risks were, and exactly what he was going to do with those needles. I appreciated his thoughtfulness, but wished he would get on with it.

Then I saw the needle. It was very fine in guage, but long and it had a giant handle so it looked really wicked. I declined the proffered local anesthetic for the first puncture. He had to dig the needle around in there, to get enough sample cells. I cracked stupid jokes out of nervousness. It hurt a lot more than I expected, so I asked for that local. The next four or five poke-and-digs didn’t hurt so bad. I’m really glad that Ian was there because I just looked at his beautiful face and into his eyes the whole time. He was scared. That made me more scared.

After a while the procedure was done and I thanked Dr. Musicant for the pain. Ian and I kissed and parted ways, he back to work and I to pick up Lucas from school. I was late.

The next afternoon, I got a voice mail from Ruth. Dr. Musicant had called her to let her know that he didn’t think there was anything to worry about. Although he didn’t get a lot of cells (despite the five separate pokes), he got enough to determine that the lump is merely “ectopic breast tissue,” which means it’s breast tissue out of its normal place. It’s changeable because breast tissue changes with my hormone cycles. That’s why I was aware of it sometimes, but not aware of it at other times. Honestly, this is what I had theorized and hoped for all along. That theory allowed me to be complacent and sort of deny the issue for … well, I don’t know how long.

I called Ian right away and he was so relieved he cried! It was stunning. I had no idea that he was so worried!

So I don’t have breast cancer! And that’s fantastic news and I am extremely grateful that I don’t have the disease. But for a while there, for the month or so while I experienced and participated in these couple of tests and had various people poking and prodding and palpating me, I wondered. I entertained thoughts of what it would be like to find that I really was sick, and had to undergo all kinds of awful treatments to get better. I though about how relatively young I am, and how young women with breast cancer seem to face a tougher battle than older women with breast cancer: I think it can be rather more invasive and aggressive in young women. I thought about Lucas and Ian, and what would happen if they were to lose me. What if I died? I was really glad to have bought that fat life insurance policy last year. I started worrying about getting disability insurance as soon as possible, so that if I really was sick, I wouldn’t lose all of my income while I was being treated. I called my insurance agent, but didn’t tell her why I was feeling urgent about getting disability insurance. I thought about how I want to have another baby, but maybe I shouldn’t if I am sick.

(All this was happening while Frank was having his surgery and we were all worried about Frank having cancer. I didn’t tell everybody for many reasons, but one of them was that I didn’t want to distract people from Frank’s plight.)

Morbid thoughts are not pleasant. Encountering my fears about death seriously for the first time was challenging. I’m not just me anymore. I’m part of this family unit and we are all dependent upon each other.

Now I feel a little silly about all the fuss I caused. I feel chagrined that I worried my husband and a few of my friends for no reason. But I’m glad I know now. And even if the answer had been “you have breast cancer,” I would still be glad to know it.

4 Responses to “Recent Scare”

  • kimkimkaree
    March 15, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    I have not the words to describe how glad I am that you’re OK. I’m also glad your “life is precious” reminder wasn’t terminal. Sending you lots of love. XOXO


  • sarabellae
    March 15, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks, baby. I appreciate the love and support.

    And as I told you before, I hope no one feels slighted by my not talking about this sooner. I shared my feelings with just a couple of people at the time—just enough to keep steady on my feet yet not add to everyone’s troubles and worries. Some things ya just gotta keep under wraps a bit till ya figure them out.

    I love you all so dearly, sometimes it hurts.


  • dakini_grl
    March 15, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    It’s hard to describe the whole process, the feeling of fuss and the feeling of prevention, and that sense of connection to your family. You do it so well. I am relieved to read here, and my heart goes out to you and your family. I truly believe you did the right thing. And I think that sometimes takes courage; so often we don’t want to go to the doctor because we don’t want him to tell us something we don’t want to hear…

    I also want you to know that it never matters to me what else is going on; I always want to know how you are and what’s happening. Any time. Even if it seems out of context, even if a million other things are going on. I want to support you if I can, if you want it.

    And I guess it’s only fuss now because you aren’t at risk. It would have been prudent early detection otherwise.

    I love you so much, thank you for letting me inside to this issue.


  • sarabellae
    March 16, 2006 at 12:27 am

    Oh, honey. Thanks for your compassion and your support. I know you would be there for me no matter what. It was easier to allow the community focus to be on Frank’s dilemma, because the need seemed greater/more dire and there was action to take. For me, it was mainly a stressful month of waiting and daymares.

    I’m just glad it turned out to be nothing at all. Believe me, if the answer had been positive rather than negative, you and the rest of the crew would have been called on to pour those libations, put on your yarmulkes, say your rosaries, and lay on your healing hands. I would never choose to walk that path alone.

    I love you.


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  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

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    “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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