The first breast lump I found in my twenties. I asked my doctor to send me for a mammogram because the lump was hard and painful. Arriving at the UCLA imaging center in Westwood was nerve-racking. I went alone…I do everything alone, it is just who I am. The woman at the front desk immediately refused my mammogram exam. She stated I was too young to be there and that a mistake must have been made. I was adamant and did not allow her to dismiss me. Calling my doctor, insurance and using my tenacious attitude, I had my first mammogram.
Usually, women are not recommended to start getting mammograms until around age forty. Do not listen to this recommendation. Listen to your body. You body will almost always tell you when something is wrong. This first lump turned out to be a hormonal cyst. The doctors told me to not worry about it, but again, I listen to myself, not them. Getting annual mammograms since my twenties has been a fight, as I sometimes am u p against resistance and or dismissive doctors and radiologists, but I never let up. I stayed on top of this lump and made sure to always perform a self breast examination while showering, or laying on the bed every few months.
Fast forward to my late thirties, it’s 2018, and a new lump has formed. Many times I will find a lump in my underarm area from shaving irritation, which is completely normal and almost all of us get them, but this one was different. My Mother died of Metastatic Cancer in 2015, my Grandmother (her Mom) died of Lung cancer just a few years later. Again, I am taking no chances. I head to the UCLA imaging center in Palos Verdes and get a mammogram. The radiologist immediately comes out after the ultrasound (I had to have both because of the lump found) and dismisses my worries, even after I tell her about my family history, and shoos me out of the door. ‘It’s hormonal’ she says. I still feel iffy.
This year my new doctor says, hey you just turned forty, you should get a mammogram. By this time the newer lump I felt in 2018 has disappeared. You’re right, I tell her, and she sends in a referral. As my insurance has now changed, I must have a referral to go anywhere for medical testing/images. I have a mammogram at the Beverly Hills Women’s Tower and while on a mini-break in San Diego, a letter comes to my home, which I receive when I get back. San Diego was relaxing, restful and fun. In no way was I thinking about my mammogram, nor did I have any worries outside of finding a new apartment.
I grab my mail and see the letter from the imaging center: a breast mass has been found and further testing needs to be done. This time it’s not that same lump in my right breast I have had for decades now, no, this is a lump in the left breast-the same side as the one I found in 2018-and it’s 4cm. The lump in 2018 was around 3cm…panic sets in. Immediately call and schedule the secondary mammogram and ultrasound. A few days later I head back to Beverly Hills and the radiologist wants to talk to me. “You didn’t feel this?” he says, and I tell him about the lump of 2018. “I want to biopsy the thing.” he says, and walks out.
One week later I go to get my biopsy done. For the first time in my life, I don’t face something big alone. My cousins girlfriend, Hannah comes with me. We have formed a great friendship since they began dating and she refuses (literally) to allow me to do this alone. COVID restricts her from being in the room with me, but she waits for me in the waiting room. I cry in the dressing room when I read a text from my Aunt Rachel saying she is with me in spirit and praying fro me. I cry thinking of my Mom and Nanny in heaven. Taken from us because of this intrepid disease that may be taking us space in my body too.
I lay on the exam table and the nurse, Katrina is nicer than anyone has ever been to me at UCLA. She talks me through everything and I tell her that I know I will be okay, even if I do have it. That’s what I have been calling cancer, IT. I can’t allow my brain to say the word, or let the cells in my body believe for a second that I do have, IT, so I meditate, and repeat affirmations of healing. “I am healthy…I am healed…I do not have, IT.”
As my boob lays out in the exam room, I turn to face the computer screen and watch as the needle is placed in filled with a numbing agent. It doesn’t really hurt that bad. The dentist inserting novocaine feels worse. The needle is small. He then switches to a much larger needle and inserts it into the lump. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. That’s the noise the needle makes as he inserts, removes and inserts it again, five times to collect samples. The last insertion is of a teeny tiny metal piece that marks the lump. This is so oncologist, surgeons, radiology techs etc. will know exactly where to look in the future. The biopsy is done. I am given at home instructions, and ice packs, which are placed in my bra. Before I leave, I must have yet another mammogram, and thank goodness that numbing agent lasts!
Hannah hugs me gently, and I cry as we walk to my car. I don’t want to hurt my family by having IT. We have already lost Mom and Nanny. Cancer is not an automatic death sentence, but earn you have lost you Mom and Grandmother to it, you can’t help but immediately think of them. We eat pancakes afterward and everyone calls, and texts to check up on me. I meditate, pray and say my affirmations. This time I include a new ones, “I trust in God.” “I do not have cancer.” “I will be okay if I do.” The weekend rolls by, I am sore (in fact its been one week and I am still sore and bruised) and have to be strong. Wallowing in fear and self pity is not allowed. I will beat this if I have too.
I call my doctors office on Monday and Tuesday, but they do not have the results. I obsessively log onto the radiology centers patient portal to see if they have any updates yet…nothing. Wednesday morning, October 14 at around 8:30am I see my doctors number flat on my screen. I jump up in bed and frantically answer. It is the front office: “Can I speak with Cassia please?” “This is her…” “We have your results and the tests are benign.” I hold back the scream I want to emit and ask her if she is sure. She says yes. “Oh thank God!” I say and hang up. Immediately I send out the same text to my family and the few friends that knew, ‘Breast mass benign no cancer!’ and then I wear uncontrollably.
I sob for my mom and Grandmother that did not receive that call. Weap for every other woman at the imaging center who did not receive that call. Cry because I know that I will always have to watch this mass, and be wary of it. I cry for all of the women who do not have access to healthcare like I do. I sob for all of the family members who have also lost their ones to this wretched disease. Thank you God. Thank you Mom. Thank you Nanny. Thank You. As I meditate now and say my affirmations, I use a new one I was taught in San Diego, “I am strong. I am powerful. I am the mountaintop.”
Would love to hear about your experiences…sound off in the comment section below.
Get informed on Breast Cancer & how to perform a self exam here: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam