Answering friends’ questions

Several of the other questions I have had from many, many of my female friends relate to how I found my cancer and what the lumps feel like. Since being diagnosed, I have been voluntarily been groped by at least half of dozen women, just like you and me, who don’t have medical training, so that they could feel my lumps in my breast and lymph nodes.

So, how did I find it? Before I get into that, I want to give you some context on my boobs. Who ever thought I would be posting that statement on the internet…

Almost 20 years ago, I found a large lump in my right breast. When bring it to the attention to my doctor, he got me into my first mammogram. It showed that I had dense and lumpy breasts and I had a large mass (~4.5 cm in width) in my right breast. As a result, my doctor put me on a 2-year screening program as he felt it made me “high-risk”. It was part of my routine to get them done every 2 years. So, when it was time for my regular mammogram after I had moved to Calgary, I went to a walk-in clinic (it was impossible to find family physicians back in 2007/2008) and asked for one. I was told that in Alberta, mammograms were only offered after the age of 50 or for women who were considered “high-risk”. I told him that I was considered “high-risk” in BC, so he reluctantly gave me mammogram. It came back clear. He reiterated that I wouldn’t get one again until I was 50 or unless something changed. Then, in 2013, my relatively new GP ordered a mammogram for me since he wasn’t familiar with my lump and he wanted to get a new image. Again, it came back clear.

Fast forward ~6 years, which brings me to February of this year. I was washing in the shower and I felt a small, pea size lump under the big lump I had been carrying around with me for decades. It was smaller than the tip of my pinky and infinitely smaller than the lump I already had. It was so small, so in my mind, there was no way that something so small could be breast cancer, especially since the doctors had told me that I had lumpy breasts. And, it was hard to find. Even after the diagnosis, I couldn’t always feel it. It moves around.

But, I followed my instincts and booked an appointment with my GP the next day. After checked my breasts, he immediately booked me in for a mammogram and ultrasound. Long story short… the little, tiny lump underneath my big one, was cancer. And, it spread to the previously benign lump that I had. So now, I had two cancer lumps in my breast… or so I thought! My oncologist felt one under my nipple! I had never checked under my nipple since the nipple is lumpy. I didn’t think of it! But, there was indeed a lump under it!

Then, I found out it was in my lymph nodes. There is no way I could feel those, right? Wrong! You can check your lymph nodes, but I didn’t know that. This isn’t something they teach you in school to do. They are hard to find. Now, once you have cancer in them, I can feel them. But, if I check on the left armpit, I can’t. But honestly, I never, ever, ever checked my lymph nodes for lumps because nobody teaches you that. You should! Now that I know how to, I will be checking my left lymph nodes for swelling in the future. I don’t know how to explain where to find them, but ask your doctor to show you. Then, try finding them yourself, regularly. I have to close my eyes and focus but can’t find them now. Practice and learn what they feel like and report any changes immediately to your doctor.

If anything good comes out of this, I hope the women who felt my boobs and lymph nodes can better monitor themselves so they can better understand what they are looking for on their self-exams. I only wish I head learned what it felt like before having cancer myself.