Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Find: The Day I Discovered the Lump

marla crider, breast cancer, blog, St. Vincent Breast Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
This sample image (not Crider's) shows the four levels of
breast density. From left to right: Level 1 (very fatty
breast), level 2 (fatty tissue makes up more than 50% of
breast), level 3 (dense tissue makes up more 50% of
breast), and level 4 (dense breast with very little fat).
It was Wednesday, March 12 - exactly one week after the 2013 Arkansas Governor’s Conference on  Tourism, the annual event I produce as the Deputy Tourism Director for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. I slept restlessly and it wasn't unusual for me to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and not be able to return to Snoozeville. Usually, the fatigue subsides in a day or two after executing a large event, but this time was different.

Maybe, I thought, age really does have something to do with endurance.  Either that or my subconscious was up to no good and preventing me from falling into a deep sleep. 

That day, Don, my significant other of nearly seven years, drove to Little Rock from Hot Springs for “date night.” When I made the move from the Spa City one year earlier to accept the position at Parks and Tourism, Don and I vowed that we would not let distance destroy our relationship.  We agreed to alternate weekends – his house on Lake Hamilton one weekend and my quaint condo in Midtown Little Rock on the other – and every Wednesday night would be reserved just for us in the Capitol City. And this was date night.

After a nice dinner and a little wine, the fatigue set in and I was ready for bed. I changed into my gown and, for whatever reason, I decided to do a quick breast exam, something I usually did in or after my morning shower.  When I moved my left hand over my right breast near the outside edge, I thought I felt some dense tissue.  For years, after each mammogram, the radiologists at St. Vincent’s Breast Center categorized me as having very dense breasts.  That’s what I thought I was feeling.  Just to be sure, I asked Don, who is a retired orthopedic surgeon, to put on his physician’s hat and tell me what he thought. The expression on his face changed.  “I feel it,” he said.  “It’s definitely a lump.  Have it checked…sooner than later.”

When I reported to work the next morning, I made a beeline to my gal pal Gloria’s office and explained the find from the night before.  I wanted her to tell me that the lump I felt was similar to the ones she frequently experiences as a sufferer of fibrocystic disease and she complied.  I exhaled and told myself that’s exactly what it was – a fluid-filled cyst - and didn’t think much more about it. 

Later that day, I received a text from Don.  “Have you called the doctor yet?” Dang it, I thought, he’s not going to stop asking until I call my OB/GYN, a laid-back Harley rider, who once greeted me in an exam room wearing greens and black motorcycle boots.   He was not your typical woman’s health professional and that’s why I liked him.  Since it was also time for my annual pap smear, I decided to schedule both and save a trip and a co-pay. 

When I called the clinic to make an appointment, the scheduler told me it would be five weeks before the doctor could see me. Geez, I thought birth rates in Arkansas had declined the past few years.  Apparently not. The OB part of Dr. “Harley’s” specialty seemed to be flourishing. I decided to tell the ever-so-business-like person on the other end of the line that I had felt a breast lump the night before and wondered if the 5-week rule still applied.  “He can see you next Monday to check out the breast, but it will still be five weeks before he can do the Pap smear and exam,” she told me.  “Let’s do it,” I told her.  And the breast appointment was made.

When I arrived for my appointment a few days later, I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive and had basically self-diagnosed myself as having a cyst, not a lump.  Dr. Harley, as I now refer to him, came into the exam room, took my story and examined both breasts. He spent extra time on the right breast, since that’s where I felt the “cyst.”  After the exam, he said he reviewed my mammogram report from ten months earlier and concluded that I didn’t have a cyst or lump, just dense breast tissue.  If I preferred, he said he would be happy to schedule a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound just to be sure and to also give me piece of mind.  I decided to monitor the “dense tissue” for a week or so then call him.  I didn’t call. And, Don didn’t buy the explanation from Dr. Harley.

After several weeks of being pre-occupied with out-of-town business trips, as well as my day-to-day tasks as the “fix-it” person in the tourism division, I finally did another self-exam and determined that what used to be a dime-sized lump was now the size of a quarter.  No longer did I think it was a cyst or dense breast tissue.  Something was definitely not right. 

By this time, it was late April.  I immediately called Dr. Harley’s nurse and asked her to make arrangements for a diagnostic mammogram.  She scheduled it for two days later. This time around, I was down-right scared.


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