There is nothing more profound than sitting in a full breast clinic waiting room amongst so many people waiting for and receiving results. Some people are waiting to see the doctor to check a lump they’ve found, some are waiting for an ultrasound to confirm what that lump is, and some are receiving results that are good, while others are receiving devastating news. Some are being told about the treatment they will receive that day due to having an easily removable cyst, and some will be talking about the next steps or how they will need to face cancer.
Looking around a breast clinic waiting room is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It’s in a place like this that you can see humans as they truly are, completely raw. The different facial expressions, body language, the people holding hands with loved ones, and the ones sat alone, some smiling through the fear, some obviously nervous and worried. People deal with things so differently and I think this is one place where you realise that we are all going through the same things in life, whether it’s this or other illnesses, or things unrelated – we all have difficult times.
Finding a Breast Lump
Three years ago, I was sitting in the living room with my boyfriend when I suddenly felt a weird pang of discomfort – not quite pain – in my breast. I felt it and there was a large, obvious lump. Instantly, the worst sprung to mind.
The next day, I went to the local medical walk-in centre only to be told that’s what a breast feels like. I argued, of course. I was a 29 year old woman who knew something was wrong, but I was turned away. I stormed out angry and upset, and worried out of my mind. I’d never had anything like this before, and I wouldn’t relax until I’d done something. I went for a second opinion, and of course the lump was found.
When a lump is found by the doctor, they refer you to the hospital or a clinic. An appointment can take up to two weeks in Leeds, and for that two weeks, I was constantly checking myself, hoping nothing grew or changed, and associated every little pain or discomfort with it.
I read up on everything you can imagine about lumps, cancer, cysts. I knew the ins and outs of treatments, just to know what to expect next. Despite worrying, I am a firm believer in staying positive and not thinking myself ill, but knowing the options meant that I could remain calm about the situation.
During the wait for my letter, my Nan was in hospital for something unrelated, but while in there, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I still disassociated myself with this, it wasn’t the same. I am young and healthy(ish)!
Breast Clinic Appointment
Once I received my appointment, I went to the hospital alone. I had a friend willing to come with me, but didn’t want an unnecessary drama – I know. I wanted to think of it as just a lump that would be removed and all would be fine.
However, once I got to that waiting room and saw the way some people’s facial expressions changed after coming out of the ultrasound room, I wished I’d been less dismissive of having company.
At the hospital, you get another check for lumps by the doctor, and then you are referred for an ultrasound. That ultrasound determines what the lump actually is, whether it’s cancerous or not. The hardest part of the day is waiting on those results. It can take up to three hours to get results back, and that’s a long time to be sat alone waiting to hear the news.
In that time, I noticed the more subtle things. The tighter hand squeezes between people. The nurses’ knowing and pitying smiles. I knew I’d be fine, but you still have time on your hands to consider all of the other options.
The nurse came over and took me back into the doctor’s room to discuss my results. Thankfully, I had a cyst and it could be removed that day. Breathing a sigh of relief, I couldn’t help but feel guilty in a way. All of those other people that weren’t getting this news must have had such a different day to me.
A cyst is basically a small sac of fluid, like a water balloon being filled up by your body. Grim.
There is no way to prevent them apparently. However, I do believe that your body can manifest things due to stress – of which I had plenty. My nan was in hospital basically saying goodbyes, I had a lot on in my job, and I was feeling really homesick due to both. There was a strain on everything around that time.
Cysts are affected by hormones, which after having one you can tell as it acts differently throughout the month. Stress hormones and oestrogen have a major affect on your body so I believe these could cause something like this to occur.
Either way, this was not preventable, and if you have one, it is nothing you have done wrong, just ‘one of those things’ as I was told.
Some cysts can be removed on the same day if there are the resources and doctors available. I sat in the office, got undressed for the third time in a few hours, and hopped onto the table. I’m not great with even slight pain, so a needle being stuck into me was not ideal, but I felt so lucky in that moment to be stung by that “sharp scratch” the doctor told me I’d receive.
This treatment is called fine needle aspiration and is a type of biopsy procedure. The needle was on a syringe that would drain the fluid. This took seconds to do and within minutes I was dressed again, discharged from the clinic, and on my way.
Here we go again!
A couple of months ago, I was under a lot of stress. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back, within a few weeks I’d been job searching, found a job, but got a chest infection and was worried I couldn’t start, my relationship with my partner of ten years had fallen apart, I was looking to move, and I had some other ongoing issues. To top it off, I found another lump.
I convinced myself it was just another cyst and I’d get an appointment and get rid of it like last time. But I was too busy to deal with another ‘thing’.
During this time, my close Aunty called me. She found out she has breast cancer.
I was still convinced mine was a cyst, but thought it was best to hurry up the diagnosis, even if to reassure my family.
I went through the process as before, doctor’s appointment, hospital appointment. This time, I had a wonderful friend come with me and it made the process so much easier to handle. I would definitely suggest bringing company if you can, if anything to stop you looking around and upsetting yourself over others.
I was remaining positive, but of course the worst diagnosis can enter your mind. Once again, I was diagnosed with a cyst, plus another two – the first one refilled and I never went back as thought it would happen again and again, as it can sometimes.
Same process, wait hours for diagnosis, get needles stuck in to syringe out the fluid. This time it was much more painful. The lumps were a bit awkward to get to, so a bit more poking around. I looked like a bloody voodoo doll by the end of it! Then like a little patchwork one with all the plasters!
One cyst was too difficult to get to so I had to go back the next morning for an ultrasound guided aspiration, where they use the ultrasound to see exactly where the needle needs to go. This was much easier to handle as there was no estimation and was done in a minute too.
I went back to work right after both treatments, and on the first day especially, did feel in quite a bit of pain, so it wasn’t my best move. It’s a mentally exhausting thing to go through too, but I’m so thankful I had someone by my side to take my mind off it all at the time. Thanks, Victoria!
I still have a bit of discomfort where the needles have been as they went quite deep. I imagine breasts as just fat and forget how sensitive they are! Other than that, I’m okay now, and hopeful that I don’t have to do it again. It sounds silly as I am okay and took it in my stride mostly, but it is definitely a draining experience – in more ways than one! (I’m funny)
I’m so glad that no matter what, I manage to remain in a positive mindset as I know I could have let something like this get to me a lot more and I’m sure some people do.
I was annoyed at my body for putting me through such worry, but now I have had a chance to look back, I feel incredibly lucky that I was one of the people receiving good news in that room.
However, something my mind is now telling me is that when I have a cyst, it’s a warning someone has cancer!
My Aunty is doing great, she’s been amazingly brave throughout and was given positive news that the tumour is gone the day before I received my treatment. She has some follow up treatment, but all is going in the right direction.
Leeds NHS Breast Clinic
I just want to add a quick note that I have been to the NHS Breast Clinic in St. James Hospital, Leeds for both treatments, and the staff from reception to the doctors room, through to ultrasound and treatment were fantastic. The nurses on hand are reassuring and helpful throughout the process too and genuinely made me feel better about the whole experience.
I cannot thank them enough for their help and kindness, and managing to treat a delicate issue with such grace. I am sure that no matter the results, people would have felt well cared for during the day due to these people.
I wanted to write this post as a bit of a diary entry for myself, but also for anyone wondering what it’s like to go through the process. It’s not the most detailed or medically technical account, but emotionally, I think it’s all there!
I would strongly suggest that you learn how to check yourself and if you find anything abnormal, to get checked out straight away.
You can find more information about how to check for lumps, breast clinic visits and treatment here: www.breastcancercare.org.uk
If you have any questions at all about finding a lump, going to the breast clinic, or anything related, please feel free to get in touch with me privately. Of course, any comments are welcome and if you have been through this and have anything further to add, just leave your comments below.