Diary: Fit mama – Boobies and the importance of self checks

breast exam

Last week I finally dealt with something I’ve been putting off for over a decade. Back in my early 20’s I found a breast lump during a routine self-examination. After a series of scans and a core biopsy at the time, doctors diagnosed it as a benign fibroadenoma (non-cancerous tumour) and gave me the option to either leave it alone or remove it.

Freaked out at the prospect of surgery and scars at such a young age, I chose to leave the lump where it was and get on with my life. Fast forward to my early 30’s and Old Lumpy decided that the hormonal changes from pregnancy and breastfeeding created a good opportunity to grow bigger.

So back to the breast specialist I went, where I was advised to get the 5cm x 4cm x 3cm lump removed as there was some potential for it to be something other than a fibroadenoma despite the previous testing.

I’m now in the middle of breastfeeding my first daughter, and adding surgery recovery into the mix of lifting Miss E a billion times each day, reduced sleep capacity and continuing to breastfeed her on the operated boob to prevent mastitis has been daunting to say the least.

The past week of recovery has been a challenge, but I certainly don’t regret going back to the doctor when I noticed the lump change.

breast exam

Know your body, recognise changes and take action

We’ve come to think of breast lumps as being scary, however, the fact is that many women have at least one boob lump at some point in life and the large majority of lumps that are found turn out to be benign.

Hell, since starting breastfeeding, my boobs frequently have a variety of lumps and bumps that change every other week.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your boobs, know what’s normal, and take action if you do notice anything different.

Removal and recovery

Not every lump needs to be removed. Mine was a stable size for a long time and the only reason it needed to go was because it grew.

My experience with the removal of my boob lump was far better than I ever expected. I had a lot of anxiety over the procedure, but I was booked in for the operation two weeks from my specialist appointment so there wasn’t a lot of time to dwell over it.

The 60-minute surgery was scheduled first thing in the morning, going under general anaesthetic was more than fine (I’d never done it before and I had more anxiety over this than the surgery itself…), and when I woke up after the operation, my boob looked a little beat up but it felt no different from normal.

I was lucky that my breast lump was close to the surface of the skin so it wasn’t difficult for the surgeon to get to,  was minimally invasive and the area where the lump was removed basically ‘reinflated’ like a panelbeating job after a few days. Hubby took some time off work to after the baby and I; about day three of recovery I felt ridiculously tired from the anaesthetic, but that lethargy came and went pretty quickly.

I had a follow-up appointment with the specialist a week later to talk about what she found and to have the wound checked over.

I was given the all clear that the initial diagnosis was correct despite the changes. Within the week I was back and work and I plan to resume gentle gym exercise in a few more weeks. Done and dusted – easy as that.

Lessons to be learned

If there’s anything to be taken from my story, here’s the abridged version:

  • As soon as you have breasts, you should know how to do a self-examination and do one regularly. Breast lumps can appear at any age and should be checked by a medical professional.
  • If you have a lump, most of the time it will be fine. It’s easy to think worst case scenario thanks to Google and self-diagnosis.
  • Don’t avoid doing something about a lump just because you don’t want to know the answer. If it does turn out to be cancer, early detection is key for a better chance of recovery.
  • If you find a lump that is medically cleared through tests and doctors decide not to operate, don’t forget about it. Know how big it is and what it feels like. If it changes, get it checked again.
  • General anaesthetic and lumpectomy surgeries aren’t as scary as they sound. I had major anxiety over these two things – I survived and it wasn’t anywhere near that bad.
  • Health insurance can make a lot of difference. The removal of my breast lump through private hospital service was estimated at approximately $10,000. You can wait to go through the public system, but in retrospect the $35 or so that I pay each month for my general healthcare insurance plan seems like a small price to pay for getting things seen to promptly and most of the costs of my surgery covered.

Image / NZ Real Health

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