July 12, 2011
Okay, I confess. In this moment I am a bit anxious. It is getting close to 2 months now, and I still don’t have a diagnosis.
I can go for a week at a time and be as calm as can be. And then I’ll have an appointment, or a call to make to one of the doctors, and I’ll be nervous all over again.
I am well aware that there are a number of benign conditions that could explain my three or four symptoms (abnormalities). I am aware that there is about an 80% chance that nothing serious is wrong. Of course, stating the obvious, that means there’s a 20% chance that I do have cancer.
To get you up to date, here are my symptoms:
- A dark discharge was discovered coming from my left nipple.
- An ultrasound of my left breast showed a small nodule beneath my areola.
- A mammogram showed a “cluster of micro-calcifications” in my right breast.
- I feel discomfort in my left breast. (Sometimes this discomfort seems to be directly proportional to how much recent abuse my breast has gone through – ie, palpation, squeezing, etc. But other times my left breast feels warm to the touch and my bra feels uncomfortable and it just plain “doesn’t feel right.”)
During my second-to-last doctor visit, I was informed that the nodule could be any of the following:
- A papilloma (generally benign)
- A fibroadenoma (benign)
- Cancerous (gulp)
I personally have ruled out fibroadenoma as they generally occur with younger women who eat lots of fruits and veggies, get moderate exercise, and have had several births. If they’ve been on the pill, there is a lower incidence of fibroadenoma. I am 53 years old, eat a fair number of veggies and fruits, don’t exercise nearly enough, have born no children, and was on the pill for quite a few years. Therefore, I seem an unlikely candidate.
A papilloma is most likely. Apparently 40-70% of pathological nipple discharge (PND) is due to a papilloma. This is a growth which appears in a breast duct and is generally benign – unless there are “certain cellular changes” – ie, atypical hyperplasia, which is doctor-speak for “an accumulation of abnormal cells.” Almost every site I researched called a papilloma benign. I had to read carefully to get to the disclaimer “certain cellular changes” part.
Once again, for most women, the chances are good that their atypical mammograms reflect a “false positive” – ie, no cancer. “80% of all breast lumps are not cancer.” And the Mayo Clinic states: “Generally single papillomas are thought to be an aberration and not a disease.”
I am torn here. On the one hand, I want to document how I’m feeling. On the other hand I want to be reassuring to women who may be reading this blog. Please know, dear women, the odds are very, very good that you have nothing to worry about.
What concerns me specifically about my situation is that in addition to the nodule in the left breast, I have these micro-calcifications in the right breast. “Microcalcifications are quite tiny bits of calcium, and may show up in clusters, or in patterns (like circles or lines) and are associated with extra cell activity in breast tissue. Usually the extra cell growth is not cancerous, but sometimes tight clusters of microcalcifications can indicate early breast cancer.”
I was told that these are benign 80% of the time. But again, there’s that pesky 20%.
So, I have different things going on in each breast. Each condition has about an 80% chance of being benign. Math is not my strong suit, but I’m guessing two 20% chances of cancer is more worrisome than one 20% chance.
To tell the truth, initially I was not overly alarmed. There seemed to be a good chance everything was benign and I hadn’t had any premonitions or anything. However the thing that started to worry me was when I took a solitary retreat to get clear on my next course of action. I had taken a book with me: She Who Dreams, by Wanda Easter Burch. In this book she documents the pain she’d been having in her breasts and the dreams which finally took her to the doctor’s and the dreams which ultimately helped guide her in her healing. I had been reading snippets of the book when I had a sudden memory of a few dreams in recent months in which the word “cancer” was mentioned.
The next day I spent the whole day poring over journals from the last year. I found many marvelous dreams, several scary dreams, and thus far, two cancer dreams. One was especially to the point. A woman ally turned to me and said, “How’s your cancer, Cindy?”