The Demon Lump.
June 2017. I was 32 years old and had finally just become a mommy 4 months earlier. I was struggling with nursing and producing enough milk when pumping. I had to pump pretty often and for a long time each session to produce enough just to be away from my little guy for a few hours.
It was during one of these marathon pumping sessions that I found it. There was a lump. Right there in my right breast. “Damn it,” I thought, “I have a clogged duct.” I convinced myself it was just a clogged milk duct, I waited for the rest of the symptoms. Those symptoms never arrived, yet the lump remained.
Later that week, I came across a questionable piece of paperwork from my son’s birth, and told myself I needed to call the doctor about the paperwork. I ignored the Lump, hoping it would disappear on it’s own, it didn’t. I kept telling myself I had to call the doctor about this paperwork, I always remembered after they had closed for the day. When you’re in the first months with a baby time does not march to the rhythm of the rest of the world. I was up in the middle of the night nursing, up before dawn getting ready for my day. It was haywire all time. I was exhausted and incredibly forgetful. I was also blessed with a little baby boy who didn’t have any interest in daytime naps for a very long time, so my day didn’t allow much time for phone calls during office hours.
I found a little time later in the week to call and address this paperwork issue as well as mention off the cuff that I had found a lump, but it was probably a clogged duct. The receptionist asked my age, and I told her 32, she sighed and scheduled me that week to see the doctor. I arrived for my appointment, baby on my hip, I was led to the back and told to remove my top and put on the gown. The stylish itchy paper gown. Well as any nursing mother can tell you, the baby just saw lunch while I was preparing for the doctor. While I waited in the tiny neon lit room, for the doctor who undoubtedly would tell me I had a clogged duct, I nursed him.
I heard a knock on the door and in popped my bubbly smiling doctor. You can tell she chose the field of gynecology because she wanted to deliver babies, probably not deliver information I was about to get. Her positive spirit did put me at ease though. I gave her a run down of what was going on, how I had a clogged duct but no other symptoms. She examined me while my son continued to nurse the other side. Immediately she found it, she said “ Oh, there it is.” and she pursed her lips. Lips pursed in a way that simply told me, this was not a clogged duct. She continued with a long explanation, I barely heard, with lots of complicated doctor words and then “It’s Suggested you get a mammogram”. A Mammogram. I was 32 years old and currently nursing my 4 month old first child. I thought to myself Mammograms are for old women, not for me. She made a few suggestions on locations that could get me in quickly. I just continued to nurse my son attempting to take in all she was saying. It’s supposed to be a clogged duct, but it started to set in that it might be more that a clogged duct.
I made the appropriate appointments at the hospital with the breast specialist. She advised that before a mammogram, we should do an ultrasound, so I scheduled it. The day arrived and I knew I would soon see the demon lump that had be causing such a hassle. I was one step closer to redemption that it was just a clogged milk duct. I busied myself all morning with work, cleaning and taking care of the baby. I drove to the hospital in silence, I do my best thinking while in the car and it really started to settle in. I didn’t want to leave my baby boy, little boys need their mamas.
Surprisingly I found a spot in the notoriously packed parking lot. I trekked across that epic parking lot in the humid 85 degrees and found myself at the main entrance. Of course I see someone I know, who just gave birth to her second child. She’s excited and says “We’re going home!” and I make an awkward joke about just arriving, hoping to God she doesn’t ask why I’m there. I say my goodbyes while she waits for the car to be pulled up. I ask at reception in a whispered voice “Can you tell me where the breast center is?” The receptionist looks at me funny and very loudly says “Breast Center?” as if to say, you’re not old enough to go there. I painfully reply “Yes, that’s where they told me to go”. Finally a lovely older man, who over heard this exchange, says “I’ll show you where to go.” I follow his instructions, and on the way I realize the woman I ran into, who was just released, also heard all of that conversation. I would see her in a few days, she had hired me to photograph that precious new baby she is ushering home.
I’m going to pause here, to explain that I am a notoriously private person. I like to deal with everything on my own and get the whole picture before anyone else even knows it happened. So running into someone I knew, a client at that, and that receptionist yelling “Breast Center” was just about my worst nightmare. Only my son’s father knew this was going on at the time, and that is only because I needed him to stay home with the baby so I could have this ultrasound done, or I would have kept it from him too.
I find the Breast center, big frosted windows and a closed door, at least that will protect my secret from anyone else who may wander by. I opened the door to see 10 or so gray and white haired ladies sitting in the waiting room. I do not belong here. More women come in and some are called back. I remain the youngest women in the room. I wrote most of this on my phone while sitting there waiting to see the demon lump, which is what I affectionately named it a few days prior. I feel eyes on me, I feel like these ladies are wondering why I’m here. I wanted to stand up and say “Tomorrow is my 33rd Birthday, I have a 4 month old baby at home, I found a lump, but it’s really just a clogged duct.” I want to leave, I want it all to go away on it’s own. Finally, I’m called back.
A lovely curly haired older woman brings me back and puts me in a room filled with posters covered in pink ribbons. The procedure begins, and ends. That was faster than the time spent in the waiting room, or maybe I expected more to happen, but she was quick and efficient. Though it was pretty painful as she pushed down with the wand thingy to make sure she got the clearest image possible. I’m told the breast specialist will be in touch with me in a few days. So now I have to go home with my demon lump and wait. At this point I came to terms with the fact, this wasn’t a clogged duct, it was more, but how much more was the question. So I waited an excruciating few days not knowing what was growing in my chest.
Finally I got the call to come in to speak with the specialist. Once again I got lost in the numerous wings of the hospital, of course her office had to be in a totally different spot than I was before. I was still incredibly early when I found this new frosted glass door. They were training a new front desk person, it was obviously her first day, as she gave me the wrong paperwork to fill out. I understood but I still was anxious to get back to see the doctor to find out that my silly demon lump was really just a clogged duct after all. After what seemed like forever I was ushered back put in an exam room and told to wait. Why do doctors do that? Why do you wait forever and then get told to wait again?
The Specialist arrived. She had my folder in hand flipping through pages fastened to the top, nodding and pursing her lips. She looked up from the pile and said “I would like to do a Biopsy”. I took a sharp breath in, this was not a clogged duct. I said “Ok, when do I schedule that?” She replied “ How about in 20 minutes? I have an opening in my schedule.” I think I went pretty white and took a big breath, but I said “ok I can do that.” Though, I wasn’t exactly ready. I feel like one needs a few days to process someone drilling a hole into their chest before it happens, but I also just wanted the demon lump gone, and I wanted to finally know what this thing was.
I was sent back down to the breast center with all the gray hair ladies. I didn’t wait as long in the waiting area this time. I was ushered back pretty quickly and given another itchy paper gown. A few minutes later the specialist came in and explained the procedure. I was given local anesthetic and told to lay very still while they cut a hole in my body and stuck a long tube into my right breast above the demon lump. I felt it but I didn’t feel it, I was numb, but it wasn’t comfortable. The machine made loud cranking and banging noises, and it felt hot. This took a lot longer than the ultra sound did a few days earlier. When it was finally over, I was told they would receive the results in a few days and the nurse gave me a info sheet on what to expect. I was told to continue to nurse on that side like normal.
Later that night at home, after the numbness went away, I removed the bandage. The Biopsy took the demon lump and left behind a cut and big bruise on my right breast. The problem with this was that I had a Nursing photo shoot scheduled with my friend the next day. It was too late to cancel, and I honestly didn’t want to. I was so afraid that once I got my results the doctor would tell me I needed to stop breastfeeding. I would rather have a little bruise, ok maybe not a little bruise, a big one, but still I’d rather have that than not have the memories of these special time with my son. I was terrified.
Right after I removed the bandage it was time to pump, I hadn’t nursed on that side yet because it was so sore. As I pumped the milk was tinged red, with blood, I was told it was perfectly safe to give my son, I dumped it anyway. That was the most painful pumping session I had ever had, it took my breath away and brought me to tears at one point. I began nursing on that side the next day, but that continued to be very painful. I couldn’t not nurse or pump, engorgement would be unbearable. I just had to power through till it got better. Our shoot went great, I attempted to hide my bruise at first, then I just decided this was now part of my story. It was part of this shoot, it was part of my journey of motherhood.
I was called by the specialist a few days later. I arrived at her office and sat in the waiting area in what seemed like a vacuum, I knew there was things going on around me but it all just felt so far away. I was in my own head, sick to my stomach, overthinking, bargaining with God. I was about to find out just what this demon lump was. I was taken to a smaller blue exam room this time and told to sit and wait for the doctor. The specialist arrived with the same folder, with a larger pile of papers clipped to it than the week before. I exhaled and waited to hear what she had to say about the demon lump.
She spouted off some words that sounded rather technical and possibly Latin. I just stared at her not getting it. She finally said in plain English “You’re fine, it was a Cyst, but it’s benign.” Then I realized I could breath again.
Now I know this is a very long detailed story to say I was fine, but I feel like if I had read this before this happened to me I would have not waited a week or two for it to just go away. I would not have been in denial that it was a clogged duct for so long. I was lucky but so many others aren’t. Their stories don’t play out like mine. Again I’m a notoriously private person, and I’ve told very few people about this. I can’t even believe I’m about to post this on the internet and especially not on my business blog. It happened two years ago and just today I felt a pull to share and stop keeping it to myself. I don’t know why. Something just said today was the day. Maybe it was the talk show this morning with the 33 year old woman who had a similar story to mine but she did have cancer. I was reminded of how hard it was in the moment and how out of place I felt because of my age.
I see so many women just like me all the time. I have so many clients and friends that this could be their story too, and I hope it never is. We have to take care of ourselves so we can be 100% there for our kids, no matter your age. We have to stop assuming breast cancer only happens at certain ages. I never thought at 32 years old, 4 months after giving birth to my first child, while pumping milk for him so that I could go to work, that I would find a lump in my breast. My doctors took this very seriously, thank God the demon lump was benign but I realize I was incredibly lucky. I don’t write any of this to scare you, just to let you know, it happened to me and it can happen to anyone. My age at the time was just a number, demon lumps can happen. I never ever thought I would find a lump in my breast, but I guess no one does. So please check yourself, be aware of your body and speak up when something doesn’t feel right, do not ignore it.
If you have a similar story please share it. I felt shame over this for so long. I’ve realize that the easiest way to help someone else is to share our stories. The more knowledge out there that this can happen at 32, the more women who are going to take this seriously.