On September 28, 2010, I was awakened with shooting pain in my right breast. I am a person who can sleep standing up, with lights on and a live band playing. So to be awakened is a rare occurrence. I immediately felt a shockingly prominent lump.
The same middle-of-the-night awakening happened three more times that week. I was relieved to have already had an appointment with a gynecologist for a full checkup a week later.
During the comprehensive checkup that included blood work and all of the other unmentionable components of a gynecologic exam, I directed my doctor to the lump in my right breast, which, a week later, was now quite obviously protruding.
She said that the lump was probably nothing but that she wanted me to have a mammogram and handheld ultrasound as soon as possible. ASAP? I wondered, if she thinks it’s “nothing,” then why am I rushing to get these tests?
The mammogram went smoothly. The tech was kind, gentle, and apologetic for smooshing (a clinical term) my breasts into the vise-like machine. Next was the handheld ultrasound. I was escorted into a quiet, dark room and given a warm blanket, which had “nap” written all over it. The technician was chatty; then she stopped talking. I knew this was not a good sign. She finished and asked me to put my clothes on and wait in the waiting room. She told me that the radiologist would see me before I left, which was another bad sign.
When I was called into the radiologist’s office, images of my breasts were prominently displayed on four large monitors. He said, “You have four lesions in your right breast and three in your left. We need to do a biopsy today and an MRI as soon as possible. Here are the images. You can see right here …”
In an instant, my life changed forever. Over the next year, I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, months of chemotherapy, and weeks of radiation.
Nearly two years after diagnosis, I find myself in a very different world than I did that fateful day in September when I felt the first stab of FBC (f-bomb cancer) pain. I quit my job as a nurse and am now a full-time writer and speaker, dedicated to helping people navigate the breast cancer experience. Shortly after my diagnosis, I began writing a blog called The Silver Pen.
My blog is both a resource for firsthand information on what it’s like to be treated for breast cancer, as well as a community to share stories and inspiration with others. If you or someone you know is facing a breast cancer diagnosis, here are my top four recommendations:
• Do not make any rash decisions. Despite feeling like a bomb has hit you, the situation is more than likely not emergent (i.e., requiring medical intervention within 24 hours).
• Prepare a list of questions before every doctor’s appointment and take a calm and collected friend with you to document questions and answers.
• Determine the best way for you to communicate (or not communicate!) with friends, family, and colleagues about your diagnosis and upcoming treatment.
• Begin building your own comprehensive medical records. At the time of every appointment and test, request a copy of the results and progress notes. This is well worth the effort.
This is the first article in a four-part series by Hollye Jacobs during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more information, go to Hollye Jacobs's blog, the silverpen.com, and watch a video of her work on our website.