Unexpected Discovery: My Accidental Breast Self-Exam Journey

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I’ll admit it. I was not the best at doing a breast self-exam. I didn’t even really know how to do it and I didn’t think I’d ever find anything.

Until one morning, by accident, I accidentally did a breast self-exam.

While lying in bed, with my body in an awkward position, and my hand over my chest, I felt a weird and rather large lump on the side of my right breast. I’d never felt anything like it before and I immediately knew it was not normal.

I felt numb for a bit. But I intuitively knew two things.

  1. This was not something to be ignored.
  2. Despite my initial fears, I knew whatever the outcome, I was going to be okay.
breast self-exam lying in bed

What to Do if You Find a Lump During a Breast Self-Exam

  • Confide in a couple of people you trust. You don’t have to go through the anguish alone. I sat with these feelings for that morning until I finally told my husband later that afternoon.
  • Schedule an appointment with a mammography clinic or your doctor. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday so I couldn’t make an appointment until the next day. I immediately called the mammography clinic on Monday at 7:00 a.m. and was told I couldn’t get in for another week. That simply wasn’t going to work for my worrisome thoughts. After a few more calls, and some advice from friends, I was able to get in for an appointment with my family doctor the next morning.

Don’t Wait. Don’t Google. Be Brave.

The first appointment was encouraging. My doctor felt like it was a large cyst, but scheduled a sonogram the next day to be sure. Everything was going to be okay. Right?

I started to reflect A LOT on the past few years. My definition of “healthy” was tied to eating well and exercising daily. I had that part down, but I began to realize these things are just a small part of living a WHOLE life.

My stress and anxiety the past year has not been great. Blame it on moving, getting older, faced with being an empty nester, not having my family close to us, uncertainty, uncertainty, and uncertainty…all the things and changes that have caused disruption with my peace. I needed to take more time to take care of all of me.

A Lonely, but Hopeful Sonogram

The next couple weeks were filled with a lot of prayers, and a lot of waiting. My sonogram took place in a cold and dark room. With my upper body fully exposed, while uncomfortable and anxious, I lay in deep anticipation for the doctor’s analysis and recommendation. I surveyed my entire life, past and future before me.

It appears to not be “dangerous”.

Dangerous? I was so grateful for her kindness and beautiful bedside manner as well as her choice of words. I couldn’t bare to hear the word cancer. She assured me that she was fairly certain it was going to be okay, but I would still need to have a biopsy to be certain there was no danger.

Next Steps: A Biopsy

My biopsy took place after another week of anxiety-filled waiting. Biopsies are standard procedures for the amazing medical staff and doctor I had. Yet, this was all new to me and I felt tremendous loneliness. I needed to hear that “not dangerous” phrase again…but she said nothing. Did she see something different this time?

Feel All the Emotions

Patience and uncertainty are the two things in life that leave my heart unsettled and my mind wandering. Was the plan for the next couple years of my life going to get completely overhauled? How would this impact my family? They need their mother…they can’t be without their mother! Would I be treated quickly? Would I get really sick? The hair…I just couldn’t stop thinking about my HAIR! WHY IS THE DOCTOR NOT SAYING ANYTHING TO ME? Does she see something that looks bad?

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    From the Exam Table to the Imaging Room

    A bit of advice. Don’t go to these appointments by yourself. I thought I didn’t need anyone. I did.

    Immediately following my biopsy, I went directly to the imaging room, to capture the exact spot where the biopsy took place for future reference.

    My lump is in a very awkward place at the side of my breast and it was very difficult for the tech to get the image. She needed help and while two of the kindest women helped me maneuver my body just right, I simply could not suppress my emotions any longer.

    Why do I feel so lonely? NO….there is no possible way for me to pretend I feel comfortable with my shirt off and my body contorted while you smash my boobs, knowing there is something there that is NOT NORMAL inside of my body.

    I let all my tears out right there…in that exam room. All of them.

    “Do you need a Kleenex?” That’s what one of the mammography techs said to me after the biopsy while trying her best to keep me comfortable. It seems silly, but that really comforted me. She made me feel human and when I was finished, she looked me in the eye, and told me she hopes I’ll be okay.

    And in my extreme loneliness, I felt seen. I still wish I could hug that woman.

    I cried all the way home.

    Then I waited more. I prayed constantly. I surrendered it all.

    Five days after the biopsy, and two weeks after the initial appointment, I got the news I had hoped for…benign!

    A huge moment of gratitude. An awakening.

    Moving Forward

    How to Do a Breast Self-Exam

    Conducting Breast Self-Exams is very easy. I found my lump by accident, so whether you do the same or use this simple technique below, do yourself a favor and pay attention to your body and any changes that you feel.

    • Using the pads of your three middle fingers, raise your opposite arm and apply pressure in a circular motion around your entire breast.
    • Look for anything unusual, any changes, or lumps.
    • Repeat both sides.
    • It’s easiest to do this in the shower or lying in bed (that’s how I found mine).
    • If you discover any changes, see a professional as soon as possible.

    Getting familiar with your how breasts feel through a consistent breast self-exam practice and seeing a doctor immediately if you notice anything abnormal is a critical step in your health.

    Woman reflecting with coffee

    Be Proactive with Your Breast Health

    One thing that kept me encouraged during the process was that I have been proactive in getting yearly mammograms since I turned 40 at Solis Mammography. (My most recent mammogram before discovering my lump came back normal.) They have centers located all throughout the United States and I always feel kindness and compassion during my appointments. I wasn’t great at doing a breast self-exam, but I was good at regularly scheduling my yearly screening.

    In additional to your regular breast self-exams, the following are screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society for women without risk factors for breast cancer.

    • Women 40-44: Begin screenings. Yearly screening is optional.
    • Women 45 – 54: Yearly screenings recommended.
    • Women over 55: Optional screenings every other year as long as you’re in good health otherwise.
    Breast cancer awareness flowers
    With Gratitude

    Thank you! To all the women that have gone before me and didn’t have this result, thank you for your courage. This is not an easy battle you are fighting or have fought, but you have taught me to face my fears. My hope is that my story will help other women not only face theirs, but to take care of every part of themselves. We owe that to ourselves and those that love us.

    For more information: visit the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for early breast cancer screening.

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