I was 39 when the nurse practitioner in my doctor's office first found a lump in my left breast. It happened during one of those chatty conversations I tend to have with medical professionals during checkups?not because I'm nervous, exactly, but just because it feels sort of weird to have a stranger poking around my naked body. So I was blathering on about my kids, or the last movie I saw, or how I wonder whether it's ever going to snow again now that global warming has taken over Nashville, when the nurse interrupted: "Oops, there's a mass."
"Oops, there's a mass" is not a statement you ever want to hear in a medical examining room. I generally don't bother with self-exams because I can't tell a lump from normal tissue. But when I heard that nurse say, "Oops, there's a mass," I started wishing, right then and there, that I had not taken such a cavalier attitude toward checking myself out. A mass? In my breast? And I didn't even know it?
The nurse took one look at my stricken face and started issuing all kinds of caveats. She said that breast tissue is naturally lumpy and uneven, that the vast majority of breast lumps are nothing to worry about. She said she needed to send me to a specialist just to be on the safe side, just to rule out anything really worrisome. She said it wasn't time to panic.
I panicked anyway. By the time I?d had a mammogram and an ultrasound and a biopsy, by the time I?d met with the upbeat surgeon who said he wasn?t worried about me but still wanted to see me again in three months "to be absolutely sure your breasts are stable," I was feeling none too stable myself.