It occurred to me that most of you, dear readers, don’t know how this odyssey all began. I am choosing the term ‘odyssey’ because as an avid member of Bachelor Nation, I refuse to use the word journey. Some things are sacred and ‘journey’ belongs to Chris Harrison.
Upfront warning: This post will walk the line of TMI. If you wish to maintain the fantasy of me as your own personal version of Botticelli’s Venus, now would be the time to stop reading and allow me to float off into the id of your minds on my seashell, in all of my splendor.
In early April we took a vacation to visit my in-laws in Florida and they graciously allowed Joe and I to jet off for 3 days to the Bahamas, alone. This sojourn was much needed and allowed us to remember that we actually like each other. We lounged, we ate, we lounged.
I don’t know what you guys do with your free time on a tropical island, but I used the opportunity to check in with my breasts. I breastfed all three of my babies and had finished nursing Enzo about 18 months prior to this vacation. During the breast check-in, I noticed that there was a tiny bit of breastmilk on my nipple. What the?!
Ever curious, I did more research and found that, upon stimulation, I could produce breastmilk from both nipples. WHAT THE?!!!
One Google search on random lactation brings up pretty much one thing, a pituitary gland tumor. A brain tumor.
Romantic vacay comes to a screeching halt.
I immediately called my dear friend and brilliant reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Carrie, who said not to panic, but to call my primary doctor and schedule an appointment for a blood test of my hormones and thyroid.
Skip to the week after vacation at my doctor’s office. This was the first time I was seeing this doctor, as my last doctor had recently left the practice. Little did I know how incredibly serendipitous this ‘meeting of the minds’ would be. My blood was drawn, which was really all I cared about, but the doctor was incredibly thorough and thoughtful and suggested that I see a breast doctor and have a mammogram.
At the time, I was 35, 5 years away from a baseline mammogram. This seemed like a ridiculous waste of time, as bilateral lactation outside of breastfeeding, otherwise known by the super-cute name, galactorrhea, seemed to have zero relation to breast issues, just hormones sent from the brain. At this point my actual breasts are of no concern to me. I am assuming I have a brain tumor.
Blood tests come back normal. Hmmmm. Even though I feel very strongly that my appointment for a mammogram and subsequent appointment with a breast surgeon are a colossal waste of time, I am a good patient, so I go. Alone. Mistake numero uno.
At the mammogram, the tech sees something. I can tell. She keeps taking more pictures, then leaving the room to consult with the in-house radiologist. I am put into a consult room with a pink landline phone. Panic. What is happening?!
The radiologist and a nurse come in and tell me that they see a tiny cluster of calcifications in my right breast. They say that they are not concerned, but that they recommend a biopsy to be safe. I am told there is an 80% chance it’s nothing and a 20% chance it’s DCIS, which is considered pre-cancer.
Even after the private, pink phone consult and subsequent scheduling of a biopsy a few days later, I’m still calm. There is no way I have breast cancer. I go to the appointment with the breast surgeon the next day, who performs a very thorough breast exam, finds nothing and says she is not at all worried about the mammogram results.
This is also the appointment where I am told that random lactation is actually quite normal for a woman who has breastfed as much as I have and there is zero correlation between the lactation and the calcifications the mammogram found.
This is an important piece of the puzzle. The creepy lactation is not at all related to the findings of the mammogram and is of no concern. Remember this for later.
Biopsy was unpleasant, but I still am not even remotely concerned about cancer. I was told I would have results in 3-4 days.
24 hours later, I receive a phone call at 5:30pm from the breast surgeon I had seen a few days ago. She asks if it is a ‘good time to talk.’ Dinnertime call from a doctor asking if it’s a good time to talk? SHIT.
While my children eat dinner and I am the only adult in the house, I am told that not only do I have DCIS, the pre-cancer, I also have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Real deal, motherfucking cancer. An MRI two days later reveals a whole shitshow of cancer in my right breast.
Taking a vacation alone with my husband saved my life. Yucky galactorrhea saved my life. A thorough primary care doctor who ordered a test that at the time seemed like an enormous waste of time and resources, saved my life.
There was no palpable lump. The surgeon said due to the placement of the primary tumor, I might not have felt a lump for another year or more. To think of what would have happened if we hadn’t made time for ourselves on a tropical island and I didn’t notice the galactorrhea is something I can barely bring myself to do.
At this point, the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes. There are so many things that did not have to happen. The vacation, the doctor, the mammogram. There is no logical reason I should know I have cancer now.
If I had waited until I felt a lump, in a year or two, I would probably be in a very bad place. An advanced cancer that wouldn’t have the rosy disposition that my current cancer has.
I don’t know who I pissed off in order to get a non-genetic cancer as a very healthy 35 year old in the first place, but I choose instead to focus on the fact that somebody upstairs sent some creepola breastmilk as a warning flare to its existence.
I am one lucky, lucky, LUCKY woman.