The last week has been one of the most difficult weeks for me, Scott, and my family. What began as a mild concern evolved into an urgent matter that quickly changed my perspective on life. With just one word, I felt like my world was being turned upside down. It’s a word every person dreads hearing: cancer.
But let me start at the beginning. Last Wednesday, October 31st, I went to see a breast care specialist I had seen a few years ago for a small cyst. I have had a large lump for over a month that continued to grow in size. I kept thinking it would turn into mastitis, but it never did. Eventually, it began causing pain and tenderness. I figured that the cyst had grown and was blocking or pressing on some milk ducts. I presumed that the doctor could simply drain the cyst and I’d be on my merry way.
When the doctor came in and I presented my problem, a quick glance at my chart revealed that the cyst from a few years ago was actually on the other side. After an ultrasound on the mass, the doctor said it could be a galactocele (a benign cystic tumor filled with milk). But she couldn’t rule out cancer. So she sent me over to the diagnostic center for a mammogram.
After the tech performed the mammogram (which was very painful to my already tender breast), the radiologist requested another ultrasound. They then sent me on my way and said the radiologist would look at the images and send back to my doctor. Within a couple of hours, the doctor’s office called and asked how soon I could come in for a core needle biopsy.
When the doctor met with me on Friday morning (she was in surgery all Thursday), she informed me that she and the radiologist were very concerned. In fact, the radiologist had wanted to keep me at the hospital on Wednesday to do an immediate biopsy, but the doctor knew I had Maryn with me and that it would be very stressful. Based on the images, they measured the mass at 5 cm! Just to give you an idea, a tumor that large would automatically place you in stage 3 or stage 4 of cancer. Breast cancer is very aggressive in younger women and can develop that quickly.
So the doctor showed me on the ultrasound what the mass looked like and how it differed from a cyst, galactocele, or any other benign mass. It was a surreal moment to sit there as she discussed with me the very real possibility that I might have cancer. I felt calm. I had told God I would take whatever He allowed to happen. After all, millions of women have fought and survived breast cancer, including my sister-in-law. And I didn’t even feel afraid of dying. What terrified me was leaving behind my children and my husband. Upon my questioning, the doctor said we would start with chemo before a masectomy, and the treatment would start almost immediately.
If it were not for the last few moments of the biopsy, I would have gone home thinking that I definitely had cancer. The results wouldn’t be back in until Monday morning, and what a long weekend it would be! However, the last amount of tissue the doctor pulled out showed a little bit of pus. Gross, I know. But it was a sign of hope! The doctor became excited and said that the mass might actually be an abscess. It didn’t resemble one on the images based on the shape, border, etc. And the mass appeared solid. But she was able to get some more pus out. She sent that to be cultured to see if it contained staph, which causes an abscess. Only 0.4-0.5% of women (who have mastitis) develop an abscess, and I haven’t even had mastitis with Maryn. But we were hopeful this was the case.
The weekend was a long one. As predicted by the doctor, the biopsy site became infected (which almost always happens with nursing moms), and I had a high fever, pain, redness, and flu-like symptoms on Saturday…essentially mastitis. I managed to pull everything together for Maryn’s dedication and brunch, but we all felt very distracted. I began to feel in my gut that the mass was an abscess. But my parents and Scott were still very fearful. And despite my instinct, I still had thoughts such as wanting Scott to get remarried if I passed away, what all I wanted to do with my kids, how we would afford Maryn’s formula if I had to stop nursing, how we would cope with the demands of treatment, etc. All our hopes and plans for the future suddenly fell to the side, and the prospect of a new “immediatie” future seemed overwhelming.
Monday came…and went. The lab results weren’t back in. Tuesday morning came…and went. By this time, my family and I were frustrated and almost beside ourselves. Finally, at 4 pm on Tuesday afternoon, we got the fantastic news that the results showed no malignancies!! The mass was indeed an abscess.
I saw the doctor yesterday, and we still have an important issue to resolve. First, she had to change my antiobiotics because the particular strain of staph was resistant to the one she had given me Friday. I will also have to have surgery on Tuesday during which I will be put under, the doctor will open me up, and remove the abscess and infection. It is too large to drain by a simple office procedure. Potentially, she may have to remove breast tissue which can lead to disfigurement. But my thinking is that maybe insurance will cover a lift and reconstructive surgery after I stop nursing! I will be in the hospital for at least one night, and maybe two. So I am starting to pump to save up enough milk for Maryn. I should be able to continue nursing, and it is recommended so that the milk ducts don’t get backed up. That is a blessing..I’m not ready to give up nursing. I will have to have a wound vac, as the area will have to heal from the inside out. So I’ll be wearing a large purse-like container connected to my body. Stylish, huh?
I still have a long road to healing. But we are so thankful for the good news. And to be honest, I’m thankful that for a short while, my mass was presumed to be cancer. Because that one word caused me to reflect on my life. To reevaluate my priorities. To focus on the relationships in my life, and most of all, my relationship with the Lord. The abscess diagnosis doesn’t mean that I won’t ever have breast cancer. Only God knows if I will ever fight that battle. But I hope that if that one word is ever presented to me again, I will be able to face it with courage and without regrets.
To all the women who have fought or are currently fighting cancer, I admire your bravery, strength, faith, and perseverance. I pray we will one day have a cure!!