Are you concerned about a lump you found in your breast that hurts to touch? My entire breast cancer story starts with a small lump I found that was a bit painful when pressed.
I never in a million years thought I would be someone who got cancer in my 30’s. There are days when I STILL can’t believe this is my story. Breast cancer takes such a physical and emotional toll on you. It is a journey that entails SO much more than I ever knew.
Throughout this process, I found comfort in reading blogs by other young breast cancer survivors. I hope that sharing my story touches you in a positive way too!
In this post, I will walk you through my postpartum breast cancer diagnosis. I will discuss finding my lump, having a double mastectomy, fighting through chemo, and receiving radiation therapy.
- Does breast cancer hurt?
- 3D Mammogram and Ultrasound
- Can a radiologist diagnose breast cancer?
- Breast Tumor Biopsy
- Pathology Report
- Bilateral Mastectomy
- Chemo and Hair Loss
- Radiation Therapy
- Breast Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders
Does breast cancer hurt?
Two months after I had my second daughter, I found a lump in my left breast. Initially, I noticed it because it hurt when I held her against me. I chalked it up to being just a clogged milk duct until I finally made an appointment with my obgyn.
When I met with my doctor, she set my mind at ease by telling me that cancer doesn’t typically hurt like my lump did. She also said it felt perfectly round and moved easily, both of which were good signs it was just a cyst.
Even though she wasn’t alarmed by any of these characteristics, my obgyn scheduled an ultrasound and a mammogram to be on the safe side.
To this day, I am so thankful for her handling the situation in such a proactive way. Since being diagnosed, I’ve heard so many stories of doctors blowing off a breast lump because the patient or tumor didn’t match the norm.
3D Mammogram & Ultrasound
On September 7, 2018 I went in for my very first mammogram. I remember being terrified the machine would smash my boobs and hurt them. It actually wasn’t painful at all. I’m a huge baby with doctors and pain, but I remember thinking I could handle mammograms from here on out.
Little did I know, this would be the only mammogram I would ever have. After my mammogram, I went into a separate room for the ultrasound. The ultrasound tech took images of my breast and then asked me to wait in the room while the radiologist read the results.
A few minutes later, she came back asking to take more images. In hindsight I probably should have been alarmed by this, but I didn’t know any better. She let me know again that the radiologist would be in shortly to discuss the results.
Can a radiologist diagnose breast cancer?
A few moments later the radiologist came into the room and kind of bluntly, kind of apologetically informed me that I had breast cancer. “No!!!!…..Really???” was my immediate response. I asked him what the chances were of it just being a cyst.
He replied emphatically that it was not a cyst. I immediately thought of my two girls and started sobbing. Then I thought of myself and how this could have happened. How did I have breast cancer? I was 36 years old. I had a five year old and a new baby at home.
All of my grandparents were still alive and well. Cancer didn’t run in my family at all. I wasn’t overweight. For the most part, I ate healthy and tried to buy natural products for my skin.
How was this even possible?
I decided that the radiologist had no clue what he was talking about. I mean, how could he determine the lump was cancerous just by looking at a picture?!
Unfortunately, he could….and he did. I researched this a lot when I was first diagnosed, and one of the studies I found showed that radiologists can recognize cancer within seconds of seeing it on a scan.
This article from the American Cancer Society explains the things the radiologist looks for. They use a rating scale known as BIRADS to classify the tumor. My radiologist classified mine as BIRADS 5, which meant he was around 95% certain it was cancerous.
A tumor biopsy is the only way to 100% know that a lump is malignant or not, so that’s where I headed next.
Breast Tumor Biopsy
The ultrasound tech was really sweet and consoled me. She called a breast surgeon in the office next door, and he was able to work me in for a biopsy immediately. Everyone kept telling me I needed to have my husband come up to go through the process with me.
He was at home with our baby; though, and I knew our infant would be a disaster in a doctor’s office. So, we talked and texted back and forth while he stayed home with our baby girl.
My surgeon was really nice and hugged me right away. He just kept telling me that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t believe him at all, but I appreciated the sentiment.
The radiologist found the main tumor, which I had felt. But he also noticed a couple other tiny spots that looked suspicious. The surgeon wanted to do a biopsy on all three spots.
I laid on an operating table where the nurses numbed me. The doctor used some type of tool to take the biopsy. It sounded like he was hitting a rock. The surgeon finished the biopsy and told me to try to enjoy the weekend without worrying about the results.
Easier said than done. It was the worst weekend EVER. The not knowing is terrible! The only thing that made me feel better was to read success stories from women my age who had been in my shoes.
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wasn’t aware that there are so many different types of the disease. I thought breast cancer was breast cancer. On the contrary, so many types of the disease exist and treatment depends on the specific kind you have.
Three days after my tumor biopsy, my doctor called with my results. My tumor was classified as invasive ductal carcinoma. It was estrogen receptor positive, progesterone receptor positive, and HER2 negative.
The biopsy showed that it was contained to my breast and had not spread. (Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case.) The next week was full of doctor’s appointments. I now have SO many doctors.
In this one week, I had genetic testing, an MRI, and a consultation with a plastic surgeon. I also had another ultrasound after the MRI found questionable spots in my right breast. All of the testing came back with good results thankfully.
I knew I wanted a double mastectomy immediately after I heard the words breast cancer. My surgeon wanted to remove my left breast, but he said I could keep the right one. I wanted them both gone.
They disgusted me and made me angry. I felt like they had betrayed me and taken control of my body. I wanted control back, and I wanted them off ASAP!
To this day, I have not mourned them at all. Maybe it’s because they weren’t that cute to begin with. Ha!
I had my bilateral mastectomy about three weeks after being diagnosed. The plan was to remove both breasts along with four lymph nodes to make certain the cancer hadn’t spread.
During surgery, my plastic surgeon would insert tissue expanders to keep my skin stretched until it was time to place actual implants. I had no clue that so much went into treating breast cancer!
The week after my surgery was a really rough one. We had hoped that all of my tests were accurate and that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes.
My surgeon called a few days after my surgery to inform me that the cancer was in two of the lymph nodes though. He was now debating taking out more lymph nodes or having me complete radiation therapy.
He referred me to a radiation oncologist who specializes in breast cancer on the left side. Since the heart is on the left side of the body, they have to be extra careful radiating the chest without hitting the heart.
Again, another issue I had never thought of until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Chemo and Hair Loss
I met with my medical oncologist for the first time the week following my surgery. My oncologist is a really intelligent, mild mannered man who I trust completely.
He informed me that my cancer was classified as stage 1, but that it was extremely aggressive. It wanted to spread, and it wanted to come back.
Basically my oncologist told me one of my biggest fears was about to come true: I was going to be sick as a dog, and I was going to lose my hair. I cared nothing about losing my breasts, but losing my hair was terrifying!
A few days after meeting with the medical oncologist, I had a consultation with the radiation oncologist. One of the first things she said was “I really think I can help you.” For some reason those words meant a lot to me, and I liked her immediately.
She told me she could reduce the risk of my cancer returning, and I was to see her again once I finished chemo. So my plan for attack was to complete 6 months of chemo, followed by 6 weeks of radiation, and then 10 years of hormone therapy.
Also, if you are keeping score, I now have a genetics counselor, a surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist.
Breast Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders
Since I had chosen to have breast reconstruction with tissue expanders, I had to meet with my plastic surgeon regularly to have my expanders increased.
He filled them up a little at each visit to stretch my skin so it could handle implants. Again, something I never thought about when I heard the words breast cancer!
Once we got my breasts to a size we were comfortable with, my plastic surgeon stopped filling them. However, I had to continue to keep them in place until after radiation.
My doctors kept telling me that this new life would become my new normal. I think once I accepted this new life, I felt so much better mentally and emotionally.
I have learned to truly, TRULY live day to day. If I think about the future and the possible side effects from both the cancer and the treatments, I get really overwhelmed.
Instead I have learned to be consciously thankful for all of the positives. I am grateful we caught the breast cancer when we did.
I’m grateful there are treatment options to make me better. I am SO grateful to be LIVING.
My husband created a book of inspirational quotes from my family and friends to help keep my spirits up. I gathered these breast cancer quotes into a post.
Thank you for reading this really personal story! If breast cancer has touched your life in some way, I would love for you to comment below and tell me about it!
Did you find a breast lump that hurts when pressed?
Make sure you get it checked out by your doctor right away! Your decision could end up saving your life!