Year after year my mom faithfully succumbed to that female torture device known as the mammogram. Month after month she faithfully performed self breast exams. She even had breast exam instructions hanging in the shower. (Something I wasn't quite sure how to deal with when my son spent the night.) So...when my mom found a lump, we were more than a little surprised.
I do realize that all of this breast checking doesn't prevent lumps. However, my point of confusion came from the fact that my mom didn't find a lump through any of these methods. She found it, because it hurt. In trying to figure out what was hurting, she bent over to feel her breasts, and there was the lump.
"Does cancer hurt?" she asked. "I think I have a lump."
"Go to the doctor," I said.
"No," said the doctor. "Breast cancer does not hurt."
We were relieved by this highly scientific determination that my mother did not have cancer. But, cancer or not, my mom did have an unusually large lump. The doctor determined that it needed to be removed, just because.
I didn't attend that surgery. My mom lives a few hours a way, she said coming wasn't necessary, and after all, she did not have cancer. In fact, the doctors were so sure when my mom found a lump that she did not have cancer, they decided to take only the lump, and none of the surrounding tissue that must be removed when you do have cancer.
A few days later my siblings and I got an email from my mother:
How could this be? The doctors were so sure. Since they left all the surrounding tissue inside my mom, they had to go get it, and my mom was prepped for surgery number 2. This time, the doctors were sure the cancer was not in the lymphnodes. The lymphnodes were tested, but not removed.
Recovering from her second surgery in just over 2 weeks, my mom got the news. Cancer was in the lymphnodes, and it was time for another surgery. This would be her 3rd surgery in a month. Convinced that my mother was going to continue to have surgeries until I attended one, I arose at 3am on surgery day to be at her side. The day wasn't a smooth one, and I was glad I was there. The final results revealed that when my mom found a lump, she in fact found a long-time companion. Given the size, and rate of growth, cancer had been living inside my mother for 12 years. 12 years. Can you imagine? First of all, I can't believe she didn't have issues long before 12 years, and secondly, I can't believe no one and nothing found it.
After 8 intense chemo treatments and months of radiation, my mom is fine. It has been a handful of years, and she is about finished with her low dose radiation pills as well. We don't speak of the cancer much. My mom doesn't identify herself as "a survivor". Sure, it comes up now again. But in our family it's more like, "Remember the time when...?" We just don't want to keep the thoughts of cancer hanging around.
When my mom found a lump those years ago she never imagined the lengthy and zig-zaggy road she would take to combat it. As the end of that road nears, she is looking forward to a new path, grateful to have successfully executed the course.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Use this time to start new habits that will keep you healthy. Eat your fruits and vegetables, get exercise, release negative thoughts and feelings, embrace the positives in your life, and bend over when you do your self-exams!