Today started with the normal routine: wake up, take the kid to daycare, start work, yada yada. Most of my team was out of the office, it was pretty quiet, and I felt like I actually had control of my to-do list for the first time in months. On that to-do list, though, was one item that I really didn’t feel like doing: chest scan.
See, I’ve been having an odd pain across the full span of my chest for the past week and half. Since I first noticed the pain after a workout piled with push-ups and burpees, I didn’t jump to immediate conclusions, and considering my out of whack work-life balance lately, anxiety and stress could also easily be to blame. But after a week of no reprieve, I sucked it up and went to the doctor. They fit me in immediately.
The conclusion? Based on my description, most likely muscle strain. EKG clear and no questions about the anxiety/stress. The doctor prescribed strong ibuprofen to see if that would help and recommended getting a chest scan just in case.
Been there, done that. CT scan to figure out crazy headaches, ER visit to address sharp stomach pains, dermatologist visit to check a weird skin spot. Nothing. Every. Time. As a result, I have hard time deciphering what’s really a concern. Plus, it’s not always that pocket-friendly or comforting to feel like you’re the hypochondriac who cried wolf.
However, if there’s a recent story that pushed me through the door today, it’s that of fellow AMBer – aka fellow mom, aka friend – who put off an ultrasound order for a whole month, only to learn that she had stage 3 breast cancer (her story: Clogged Milk Duct… or Cancer?). She was our daycare provider at the time, and I remember the news like it was yesterday. So heaven forbid these pains aren’t just muscle strain or anxiety. I know Lauren would be the first to say, “GO!”
Insert awareness lesson learned.
To be honest, I’ve felt compelled to write about National Breast Cancer Awareness month as a witness to Lauren’s diagnosis, but I’ve struggled to identify my “angle.” Her story is not my story, and I’m sensitive to capitalizing on someone else’s journey. That was until a hometown friend recently lost her 33-year-old sister – aka mom, aka wife – to a long five year battle with breast cancer… and until I walked into that cold, dark chest scan room. My scans came back clear, but the “what if?” feeling alone put this whole conversation into a different perspective.
By not talking about breast cancer, isn’t that the opposite of what this month is really all about? Shouldn’t we share what we’ve learned from others’ stories? Whether we’ve had a first-hand breast cancer experience, a scare or not, I think we owe it to our fellow moms and the breast cancer community to add awareness to this campaign – beyond pink, beyond walks and beyond just knowing that breast cancer exists.
In the spirit of breast cancer awareness, these are a few lessons I’ve personally learned from fellow moms:
- Lumps are not the only sign! Inverted nipples, redness/rash, dimpling, underarm pain, skin changes, dripping and more.
- Breastfeeding can make lump identification tricky. Ever had a clogged duct? The week Lauren told me her story, I had felt my first clogged duct. It feels like a lump! Pay close attention to its behavior, if it ever goes away and if you’re having other signs.
- Not all breast cancer is equal. There are different stages, different types, fueled by different reasons, that may call for different treatments.
- Not everyone wins. Until recently, I’ve only known people who have “won” their battle, but that’s just not always the case.
- There is not bias to age. Yes, at the age of 29, I am susceptible to it too.
- When in doubt, check it out. If you haven’t already gotten my message, we worry too much about being hypochondriacs. Just go!
- Don’t procrastinate. In addition to above, if something looks fishy or you need to do more tests, take it seriously. Don’t wait.
- Get your annual exam. All these stories lately are enough to pressure me to get my annual exam, hopefully you too, because regular screening is so important.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Awareness, awareness, awareness. We don’t know what we don’t know, so let’s keep the conversation going.
- Be supportive forever. It’s hard to keep up with someone else’s life when you feel like you’re drowning in your own, but cancer is a long journey and patients (and their families) need you always, not just in the beginning.
- We are not immune. 1 in 8 women develop invasive breast cancer. That’s a lot!