When you turn 16 all of life is still in front of you. You are finally able to drive. You are given more freedom. You are going to kiss all of the cute boys. You are going to laugh with all of your friends. You are going to go to college in two years. You are going to do so much because you are 16 and the possibilities are endless.
Imagine sitting on your bed in your 16 year old body. Your body has changed a lot in the past few years and you’re still trying to figure it out. If you are a girl, you have boobs and hips! You have periods! It is all still new and exciting and sometimes awful. Imagine sitting on your bed after a shower, putting on lotion and feeling alive. Suddenly, you feel a sharp pain and notice something is different. Something doesn’t feel right. You reach your hand up and there it is: a lump in your left boob. You think, “Is this normal? Do all boobs have lumps? I am only 16, I can’t be… I can’t!”
You calm yourself down enough to go talk to your mom. Yes, the woman you spend most of your days making completely miserable. The woman you try and never share anything personal with. The woman you have made cry more in the past six months than in your whole life combined. You drag your feet and eventually work up the courage to tell her.
She is upset in a way you’ve never seen her be upset. You remember that your grandmother, her mother, had breast cancer. You remember visiting your grandma in the hospital. You remember how your grandma was never anyone to sugarcoat anything. When you asked her how she was doing she was upfront. “Oh, not that well, Abby.” But she is better now, you think. You don’t know much about cancer or even boobs really.
A few weeks later, you are waiting with your mother for a surgeon to meet you. You are in a hospital gown and sitting on the table waiting for the doctor, someone you have never met, to talk to you about what it going on with your body. You are 16 years old, you have never been kissed, you have never gone out on a ~real~ date, and a stranger is about to examine your body. You are scared but your mom tells you it will work out.
You meet the doctor and instantly do not like him. He is not helpful, nice or anything great. He says things your mom doesn’t like. Your mom yells at him. YOUR MOM YELLS AT HIM. Your sweet, kind, extremely patient mother yells at A DOCTOR. You’re confused and you’re scared but you feel okay because your mom will protect you.
It takes a few months but everyone agrees on what it is: a non cancerous cyst. They made you abstain from caffeine of all forms to see if that helped. It might have helped but it made other things worse. Eventually they agree on a treatment that makes things more manageable. You are going to be fine. Things will work out. You are lucky.
You are about to turn 24. You still have so much life ahead of you. Things are great. You have a real relationship with your mom. You live in a new city. You have new friends. Things are going well. You go to the doctor for a yearly exam. You dread this but accept it as one of life’s necessary unpleasantries. The nurse practitioner your mom recommended is incredibly nice. She makes you feel much better about things. This is the first time she gives you a breast exam, but you trust her. She does her job and is looking over your file and something does not seem right. Something in the file does not match your body. She discusses it with you, you tell her everything and that nothing has changed. Somehow, in your file, the description of things doesn’t match what she felt. She tells you not to worry and wants you to come back in a few weeks for exams and tests with surgeons and radiologists.
After you leave, you get in a fight with your mom when you tell her what happened. You are so angry with the first doctor because he probably wrote the wrong information down. Then you think of all the doctors that examined you in those seven years and NONE of them realized it wasn’t the exact same? Then you think, maybe it is different. Maybe something is wrong. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time you won’t be lucky.
You are 25 and have been examined in so many different ways for over a year now. Each time you are terrified because this could be the test that changes everything. This ultrasound might look different. This breast exam might feel different. The radiologist cannot give you her opinion, but you look deep into her eyes to see if she looks worried. The radiologists all think you are too young to be going through this. You are certain their eyes will give something away when they make eye contact with you.
Finally, the doctor tells you everything is fine. Normal. Nothing to be concerned about. No Big Deal. For the past year you have been scared out of your mind for No Big Deal. But you remind yourself: You are okay. They tell you to keep an eye on it and if anything changes or develops to contact them but otherwise you are good to go.
Good to go! Finally, you can be a normal girl in your mid-20’s. You can live your life with no voice whispering to you. You are calm, free, & healthy.
It is April 2016, you’ve had a very rough year already. You went through a painful and nasty breakup, you lost your grandmother, your mom is struggling with all of it and you still live 367 miles from her. Your brother and his wife planned to take your parents to New York City and see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. You get to tag along and your parents will thank you for the trip even though it was all your sister-in-law and some of your brother. This trip could not come at a better time. Your mom needs to get away and you could all use some happy times. Also, who doesn’t love the Piano Man?
You are all packed up and getting ready for bed. You go to brush your teeth and you feel a horrible pain in your right boob. It feels similar to when you are PMSing but you just ended your period. Your boobs normally never hurt once your period starts. You are confused. You go to touch it and it is very warm and extremely painful. It is brand new and very different. You cannot ruin this trip for your mom. You cannot have more bad news for her. You will tell everyone after the trip. You will be fine. It does not matter.
You are in the car the next morning with your brother and sister-in-law. You do not even make it a mile outside your apartment before you blurt it out. You had to tell them, someone. Your brother has always been fiercely protective of you. This is no different. He demands you call the doctor immediately and set up an appointment. He tells you it will all be okay but you cannot ignore this. Your sister-in-law agrees. You make an appointment for Monday. You can make it through this week and the weekend. You can still have a great time. You can and you will, think of your mother!
You are afraid to tell her, she needs to know. She will be hurt if you do not tell her. She will feel guilty if you do not tell her. You are acting strange, she might not notice but your dad probably does. You are sitting in the family room with your mom and dad and you blurt it out. You say you did not want to ruin the trip but you also couldn’t keep it inside any more. You are scared and you need them to comfort you. They tell you reassuring things and you try your hardest to believe them.
You go to New York and have a great time. You hide in the bathroom and cry because you are in so much pain and very scared. A bruise is forming on your right boob. What does that mean? You stare at your reflection in the mirror for longer than usual because you can physically see it this time. It hurts to have ANYTHING touch it. It is a very warm, bruised spot. You secretly WebMD your symptoms. You wake up in the middle of the night and read tons of articles. You are convinced your symptoms match the worst possible outcome. You are making yourself sick with all of this. It feels like a gray cloud over your head. You try and keep a happy face on for your family. You have a great time at the concert, you eat too much food, you laugh at the silly things your mom says, you try to relax because you will not know anything until Monday.
Monday comes, you are ready to get this over with and have prepared yourself for all outcomes. Your sister-in-law drives you to the doctor. You are running late because even though you swore you’d be fine and were ready to get this over with, you still found a way to drag your feet. You are walking into the hospital when an elderly couple gets in front of you, they walk so slow. You could have walked around them and beat them to the counter with your agile body but karma might come to bite you in the butt later. You wait behind them, every second feels like an hour. Finally, you are in the waiting room preparing to see the doctor. This is a new doctor, you lost count of how many various doctors you’ve seen. You try to remember their names. All of them were fine or good enough. You expect this doctor will be the same.
The nurse calls your name. She takes your vitals and asks you questions. It is the same routine at this point and you have a log of everything in your phone so they understand that you know what you’re talking about and will take your concerns seriously. The doctor comes in and is different. Something about him makes you feel, for the first time in almost 10 years, like it will be okay. He talks with you, not at you, not down to you. He sees you are nervous and he is able to abate some of those fears. He goes over lots of things and discusses your history with you. He makes you feel safe. He goes over a plan of action with you and tells you what he believe this to be. You trust him. He orders some tests for you and tells you to call him in a week.
A week goes by, you call him and he is just as nice on the phone as in person. He tells you the news you were hoping for, it is the same thing you already have: noncancerous cysts. Given your family history and your personal history, the chances are high more of these cysts will grow. The chance of cancer will increase. You have to be vigilant and it is best if you keep a log of all activity. If anything changes or if the pain becomes too much, you both will develop a new course of action and go from there. For now, you are healthy. For now, I am healthy.