The Lump in My Breast: Meeting the Enemy

Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#1 in a series)

My left hand brushed over the top of my right breast and landed on a lump. I wasn’t performing a breast self-exam. I was simply changing my clothes, but there it was. The lump that would change everything.

Just as we remember where we were and what we were doing when President Kennedy was shot or when we heard a plane smashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York, I’ll always remember that moment on Thursday, October 14, 2010 when I came face-to-face with the cancer that would do its best to kill me.

I’m very much in tune with my body and was certain this lump had not been around long. I would have felt it. I would have known… wouldn’t I? How fast can these things grow? I ran my fingers around the entire breast, then repeated on the left side, discovering nothing else of concern.

I did not jump to the conclusion that this lump equaled breast cancer. I thought it was more likely something else — blocked ducts, some kind of infection, a harmless cyst. I was tired and wanted to crawl into bed, and easily brushed thoughts of the lump aside in favor of a good night’s sleep. I was convinced it would be gone in the morning and I’m not one to get all worked up over nothing.

Breast Cancer Fact: Most Biopsies are Noncancerous
As many as four out of five breast lumps that are biopsied are benign — that means they are noncancerous. You should consult a doctor if:

  • A breast lump is new or unusual and feels different from breast tissue in either breast
  • A new breast lump doesn’t go away after your next period
  • A breast lump seems to have changed — it gets bigger, for instance
  • You have bloody discharge from your nipple
  • You notice skin changes on your breast, such as redness, crusting, dimpling or puckering
  • Your nipple suddenly turns inward (inversion)

(Source: Mayo Clinic)

Sleep came easily and, when I awoke, the lump didn’t even enter my mind — until I rediscovered the ominous thing while showering.

Left to my own devices, I would most likely have waited several more days in the hope that it would clear up before reaching out to a doctor. But I have a husband who has seen me through years of issues with multiple sclerosis (MS), and if he knew about this lump, he’d want immediate action. That prompted me to make a doctor’s appointment before broaching the subject with him. I was surprised and pleased that our long-time general physician had an opening on Monday.

Not soon enough for hubby. When we met in the kitchen for lunch, I broke the news, “Hon, I don’t want you to get all bent out of shape about this, okay? I already have an appointment with Dr. R on Monday.” His face immediately registered concern. “It’s probably nothing, but I have a lump on my breast.”

I unbuttoned my blouse and led his hand to the lump, although it was not difficult to locate. His face froze as he felt the size of the invader, saying in no uncertain terms, “Call the doctor back. We’re going in today!”

It happened to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I was on board for the cause. On September 27, I posted a call to action to Blog For Your Breasts. On October 4, I wrote that Breast Cancer is Not Just for Women. The following day, I questioned the effectiveness of the I Like It on the Kitchen Table campaign, and on October 19, I shared Dr. Hilda Hutcherson’s suggestions for Three Lifesaving Tests for Women, one of which is the mammogram.

During that same time period, I celebrated my 51st birthday in the best health I’d enjoyed in years. My MS had been in remission since April. The frequent relapses that plagued me since 2003 had all but disappeared for reasons still unknown, and I was enjoying an unprecedented run of vibrant health, thanking the universe and proclaiming this good news to all who would listen. My cane, my handicapped parking placard, and other MS-related items fell into a state of disuse, and I was taking full advantage of the situation.

I felt good… really good. Over the course of the summer I even managed to dance, joining the conga line at a wedding and moving to the beat of some old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, pleasures I’d been unable to experience for a very long time.

Just as you might expect from a soap opera script, this unprecedented run of physical strength preceded bad news. So I’m glad I danced. I’m glad I giggled and sang and celebrated and appreciated, because I was about to embark on a very difficult, but enlightening journey.

Author’s Note: This is the opening entry in a series chronicling my first-hand patient perspective of life with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Without being overly self-indulgent, I hope to convey the raw emotion that comes with such a diagnosis… and the process of living with and beyond it. Entries will appear in Care2 Causes and in Care2 Healthy & Green Living. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

For More Information:
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation
American Cancer Society

Access the up-to-date Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series




Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Keith Kelley
Keith Kelley5 years ago

Merrily, you could be saying, "what are the thoughts and actions that are causing this to happen?"
"Do i seek other ways than the medical, who simply cut out the symptom instead of finding the cause."
I wish you well.

Merrily L.
La Loba L5 years ago

First, thank you for this series of articles.

I've had breast cancer - a little over 20 years ago. I had a mastectomy and chemo. After 3 years free of cancer I had breast reconstruction. I'm very glad I did, it helped me emotionally handle getting over the cancer. Recently I found another lump in the breast I had left, and have had a mammo and ultrasound done on it. The Dr who examined those results wants me to have an Ultrasound guided biopsy, due to a suspicious very tiny lump near the large one.

Having been down the 'cancer' road before, I'm not afraid, I still sleep well, and I expect a diagnosis of non-malignancy. My husband is very supportive, and altho he doesn't show it, I'm sure he's concerned (notice a big difference between "concern" and "fear"). Either way, we'll get through this, and again, it will not change who I am. Maybe I'll even be able to have reconstruction done on that 'other' breast, then I won't have to wear a bra at all! There are nearly always some positive things we can find about most situations. By the way, when things like this happen, you find out who is your true friend, and who is not.

It seems that only when faced with the possibility of death in the foreseeable future do we truly appreciate what we have at the time.

Betty Stark
Betty Stark5 years ago

It is so strange that when we learn we have a diseases that are likely going to kill us we no longer look at them as something to be afraid of, I guess we are like vets who must fight,we become soldiers for our bodies.The madder at these desiese the harder we fight.And we survive from Adrenalin.

Betty Stark
Betty Stark5 years ago

Oh my..the pending birth of a Grandchild is very encouraging to make you fight even harder to be well.:) I know when I would hear that my Daughter was pregnant I couldn't hardly wait for the baby to arrive.. :)

Betty Stark
Betty Stark5 years ago

Ellen I am with you concerning Anne..She deserves a medal,even a purple heart..

Betty Stark
Betty Stark5 years ago

Edna I am just so very happy about you being a survivor .My Mother was also a victim of breast cancer.She didn't survive but it had nothing to do with her not getting treatment.However she didn't take chemo. That was 55 years ago.She did have radiation and it was painful. I survived cervical cancer since 1977 by surgery and radiation implant.It was extremely scary.I had daughter who was only 7 years old.I decided at that time to not think negatively. My therapy since has been when the Dr's say '' I can't " The Lord "says I can''.And He will see you through it all either way it goes.

Edna P.
Edna P5 years ago

WE ARE SURVIVORS! GOD and a POSITIVE ATTITUDE got me thru MS (1968-42 years ago) and Breast cancer (11 yrears free). You have these two very important things on your side that will get you thru this time. Just keep your life as normal as possible and do the things that brings JOY to you. Remember you are #1! I just celebrated my 72nd birthday. GOD BLESS AND TAKE CARE.

Anne M.
Past Member 5 years ago

I am a two time survivor of breast cancer and I have NEVER seen it as " the Enemy". I saw it as a chance to change my life and my opinions and to learn to avoid stress and strife as much as I can. I see it still as the best thing that ever happened to me, because when someone told me I might be dying, that was the moment I started living. The air was clearer, the skies were more blue than ever before and when I cleared a 2 centimetre tumor the 2nd time my daughter told me she was pregnant with my first grandchild. I dont believe in fighting anything that the Cosmos sends us a a lesson to learn, but I do believe in learning that lesson and using every moment learned to appreciate. Cancer is not an Enemy for me, Cancer is a teacher.

Maira Sun
Maira Sun5 years ago