January 3, 2016
(Warning: if you are weirded out about breasts and their description, maybe don't read this post. Breast cancer's not pretty, ya'll--it is what it is.)
Here's how it started. For a few months both my husband and I had noticed a small scab on one of my breasts. It didn't hurt and wasn't worrisome to me. As a matter of fact, I look back now and marvel that my irrational fear didn't kick into high gear. Maybe it was just denial When Doug asked me about it, I brushed it off and I said I was sure it was probably just chafing from a sports bra. I didn't really give it a lot of thought at first, but realized it wasn't going away after awhile. I thought it was a couple of months, but he figures somewhere closer to at least six months. (I'll grant he's probably more correct; my own sense of time in general is pretty suspect). As a holdover from my childhood, I'm still not one to run to the doctor for myself unless it's pretty dire, so I ignored it. One weekend, however, I started to feel something different. Even now it's hard to explain, but it felt like a pull or a strain. It started deep under the skin, from under my arm all the way down to the scab at the end of the nipple. As we lay in bed that Sunday night, I tried to describe to my husband what I was feeling.
Doug, who had already told me I should get in and see a doctor about the scab a couple of months prior, said, after I told him what was going on, "At what point in your day TOMORROW is the earliest time you can call and make an appointment to get yourself into your doctor?" And he was right; even I was concerned enough to say I had already made plans to call her first thing Monday morning. She was able to get me in on Tuesday morning.
They tell you in all the PSAs, and especially during October (the irony was not lost on me that all this took place during Breast Cancer Awareness Month--yes, yes, Universe, I get it--I'm AWARE!) that you should check for lumps once a month. That's all I had ever heard. I never even knew there could be any other indicators besides a fortuitous mammogram screen that luckily found something before it was even big enough to be detectable by touch. But I never felt a lump--I just felt off. I tried to describe it all to my doctor.
She felt no lumps either, but she felt something. A tightness, a slight swelling deep in the tissue. She looked at the scab, stubbornly still unchanged, unhealed. "It could very well be an infection I'm seeing, maybe deep in one of the ducts, and that's why you are seeing an outward manifestation of it. I'm going to prescribe you an antibiotic. You know what though,.." Here she paused. "The scab makes me think of something else I've read about called Paget's disease of the breast. I'm going to order you a mammogram diagnostic and an ultrasound. It's much more thorough than a regular screening. In the meantime, take the antibiotic in case it's an infection, and we'll see if that doesn't clear it up."
"What's Paget's disease?" I asked. I had never heard of it.
"To be honest, it's pretty rare. I've never actually seen it before--I've only read about it."
Before I left the office that day, I had an appointment for the following week to have my diagnostic tests done at an imaging center across town. As luck would have it, without me even letting them know my schedule, they scheduled me during my two hour prep period at work, so I didn't have to miss any classes to get it done. I was just thinking, "I can't believe I have doctor's appointments two weeks in a row!" Little did I know...