Detection: Recognizing Breast Cancer Symptoms

I’m sure you’ve heard it before--early detection plays a crucial role in beating breast cancer. Being able to nip it in the bud substantially increases your chance of survival as this illness has become highly treatable despite its rampant spread worldwide. The thing is, as with my case, I ignored it for far too long despite knowing that the threat exists as I come from a line of women with breast cancer although my mom succumbed to liver cancer more than 20 years ago. I was indeed in denial for a while about the need to have it checked and the pandemic had been a very convenient excuse to delay the inevitable.

You don’t just develop breast cancer in a short span of time. According to experts at Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center, the cancer could already exist in your body for two to three years before it can be noticeable. It only takes one malignant cell, which will then grow simply by cell division. This one cell divides into two, then into four, and so on. Each division generally takes around one to two months. You might think that the lump suddenly appeared from nowhere, but it already took the cell around 30 undetected divisions before you felt that bump. 

To avoid unpleasant surprises, regular mammograms upon hitting your 40’s is recommended for early detection of breast cancer symptoms which may be missed during the usual physical examination. This is another aspect that I shrugged off and skipped during annual checkup, using my hectic work schedule as an alibi. I wrote off the occasional tenderness as PMS while mild swelling in my armpit on rare occasions as nothing to be concerned about since it faded away soon enough. Apparently, these are breast cancer early signs already which I didn’t take seriously. 

I didn’t understand where I got that sense of invincibility, ignoring breast cancer signs when I was in denial back then. It was only after some introspection that I realized that it was cowardice, after all. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that it could happen to me too and I wasn’t ready to face the possibility. Despite the family history, I still stubbornly clung to the hope that I will be spared.

Nevertheless, you’ll reach that point when you just have to stop burying your head in the sand and find the courage to turn around and face the music. My aunt, who’s a breast cancer survivor had been breathing down my neck, for one, with much urgency already ever since I mentioned the lump I detected a while back. 

I hadn’t been alone in the early part of my journey, however, as my sister had been there with me. She gave me the right nudge as she was due for annual check-up as well and we finally made that appointment. She’s better at monitoring over the years so she just needs to continue along that path albeit a bit more closely. 

The OB-GYN recommended mammogram and ultrasound after my check-up. I have never experienced mammogram before but I’ve heard about how it can be a bit painful; uncomfortable at best. Discomfort was to be expected so I braced myself. I generally have high pain tolerance, but it still hurt quite a bit during the diagnostic procedure since the lump was already sore by then. The twinge caused by the pressure, however, was something I was still able to tolerate. If you want to have an idea on how it goes, and the ideal time to schedule your mammogram, do a bit of online research. Knowing what to expect helps ease any anxiety you might have before your first procedure.  

Breast ultrasound is considered as relatively painless procedure as it generally only uses sound waves to create images. However, in my case, it was similarly painful perhaps because it was just right after the mammogram, so my affected breast was still tender. It also took longer for extensive screening and the sonographer had to press the wand harder to capture the images better.

Perhaps the pain could have been avoided if it was during early detection--before swelling and soreness developed. You can almost tell with the grim expressions of the attendants as they felt and examined the bump even as they try not to show it. I already knew I waited too long; was starting to regret allowing it to get worse instead of preventing it. But what’s done is done and I must bear the consequences.

Digital mammography results had been BIRADS Category 5: Highly suggestive for malignancy – almost certainly cancer and appropriate action had been recommended. The suspicious high-density mass measured 5.4 x 7.2 x 6.1 cm with at least 2 high density nodes. Results for the 2D Breast Ultrasound was likewise BIRADS Category 5, with slight changes on the measurement at 6.2 x 5.2 x 6.7 cm.

With these results, my OB-GYN recommended seeing a breast surgeon to perform biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. As I mentioned in my previous post, I couldn’t get hold of the doctor as the holidays had been just around the corner at the time so most of the doctors were already on vacation. Although I still held on to the hope that it's not the Big C, I was already prepping to face my own mortality. 

Please join me on my next blog post for the ensuing part of my journey. Should you have any insights or questions, please share them in the Comments Section. 

Stay safe and healthy!


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