Sunday, October 13, 2019

The 10 Year Anniversary of My Breast Cancer Scare


October 11, 2009 will forever be a date burned into my mind. 10 years ago today, at age 14, I discovered a lump that I was terrified was breast cancer. I knew cancer was hereditary, and my great aunt had breast cancer. I knew cancer was a long battle to fight and that so many people died from it.

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That day was the beginning of one of the most terrifying times in my life. I was 14 years old and just started high school. My life had barely began. My dreams of making the varsity softball team, getting my driver's license, and gong to prom all seemed to fade away. The night before I found the lump was my freshman year homecoming dance. I had my hair styled into a beautiful updo, and I ended up leaving it pinned up for softball practice the next day becuase I was too tired from the dance to take out all the pins. I cried thinking about how chemotherapy might make all my hair fall out and that I wouldn't be able to have my hair look that pretty until it grew back out. During the homecoming dance, I had my very first slow dance with my very first boyfriend on the night that marked our one-month anniversary; I'd never even had my first kiss at that point. I was terrified thinking that I would have to take my top off for some unknown doctor, and I was upset that he or she would be the first person to touch my breasts. I was uncomfortable with my body, especially my breasts, in the way that most budding pubescent girls are, and it took so much courage to even tell my mom I found the lump. In the course of a day, my life changed.

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My mom scheduled me an appointment with a (female) doctor for the following day after school. I walked the halls in a daze; everyone was talking about football games, upcoming tests, and secret crushes while I tried to visualize walking the halls with a scarf around my head. I was too scared and embarrassed to tell anyone what was going on, so I just quietly went through the motions of what felt like the longest school day ever. My mom picked me up after school and drove me to the doctor's office. The look on her face only reinforced my own worries. I walked into the exam room and put on an exam gown that opened in the front. The doctor came in and began her examination. She commended me for catching the lump early and said that I'd need to have an ultrasound done on my breast to determine what the lump was. So my mom and I went across the parking lot to the hospital and sat in the waiting room to get the ultrasound. There were a handful of young women and middle-aged ladies waiting as well, and the judgemental looks on their faces left very little to the imagination about why they thought a scared-looking 14-year-old was waiting for an ultrasound. I would have loved to yell "I'm not pregnant, I might have breast cancer!" When my name was finally called,  I could feel all of their stares on me. I walked back to a room and put on a similar gown as before. The ultrasound technician finally came in and performed the ultrasound. After she left, I put my clothes back on and waited for the doctor.

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I found out I had a breast cyst, which is a small fluid-filled sac, and that it likely wasn't malignant. I set a date to have it aspirated, a process where the doctor would pierce the cyst with a needle and drain it. At home, I did some research, and found out that if the cyst drained and wasn't bloody that I was likely fine. However, if the drained fluid was bloody or the cyst was solid, I could need further testing.

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I walked into the doctor's office on the day of the aspiration feeling incredibly anxious. It didn't help that the elderly couple and the middle-aged woman in the waiting room with me were also tense, nor that all the pamphlets in the waiting area were about breast cancer. I finally got called back, and I put on the exam gown. There were huge needles and medical diagrams of breasts all over the room. A male doctor came in to perform the aspiration. The first time a man would see or touch my breasts was going to be in the doctor's office, with my mom in the room, to see if I had breast cancer. I was so scared and embarrassed; I just wanted to get the aspiration over with. First, the doctors used a local anesthetic to numb the area, then they inserted a needle into my breast to drain the fluid. I watched as the syringe filled with rust-colored fluid. All the articles about how bloody fluid could possibly be an indicator of cancer rushed through my mind. The doctors said something about sending the fluid to a lab, taking a biopsy of the cyst itself, and that they'd get back to us when they had the results. My mom asked if I wanted to stay home from school for the rest of the day, but I told her I needed to focus on anything else, even if it was classes that I hated.

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It took about three and a half months for the doctors to affirmatively rule out cancer. I missed softball practices and had to tell my male coaches why I couldn't dive after fly balls. I had family members want to know every intimate detail about how I was doing who couldn't take the hint about how uncomfortable I was discussing the topic. But most importantly, I came out of this whole experience stronger and cancer free. I am so grateful for the support system I have been blessed with. I don't know what I would have done without my parents, friends, family, my then-boyfriend, and my softball team supporting me each step of the way.

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After finally overcoming my cancer scare, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to helping those who did not get such a fortunate diagnosis. I have spent the last 10 years doing all that I can to help those struggling with cancer: I've donated my hair twice; I've donated blood 7 times; I've crocheted over a dozen hats and donated them to cancer patients; my Amazon Smile charity is St. Jude.

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10 years ago today, I was more scared than I've ever been. Today, I do all that I can to honor the blessings I have been given since.

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Thanks for reading everyone! Make today the best page yet! 💘

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