It’s time to talk about boobs. I’ve been through a roller coaster of a journey with my ta-ta’s, and I want to share the nauseating ups and downs with you in hopes someone will learn from this.
A few years ago, I woke up with a pain in my upper left breast. I went to my doctor. He didn’t feel a lump, told me to stop drinking caffeine (which I don’t drink anyway) and sent me home. I dumped that doc and found a new one. The new doctor ordered an ultrasound and mammogram. I was 32 and had never had either. The mammogram came back negative, BUT the radiologist told me that my breast tissue was dense–I had no idea what this meant. The ultrasound showed a mass in my upper left breast. The radiologist said, “it’s probably benign.”
And guess what? That is an actual diagnosis! My paperwork came back saying, “Probably benign will follow-up in six months. Breast tissue is dense.”
Well, before the six months came, I got myself knocked-up for the fifth time (well…fourth, since I had a set of twins). Boobs do crazy things when your preggers and the mass disappeared.
I gave birth. Breastfed. Two years went by and–bam! Breast pain is back. Same spot.
Repeat ultrasound. Radiologist says the mass is now a cyst, probably benign, dense breasts. I saw a specialist, he said I was fine. Dead End.
I asked my doctor what it meant to have “dense breasts.” He, along with the radiologist, told me that dense tissue was “so common,” especially in women my age, and nothing to be concerned about.
OK. Sounded good to me.
But the pain persisted. It wasn’t oh-my-gosh-I’m-gonna-die-please-pass-the-morphine pain. But it hurt. Boobs shouldn’t hurt. Yes, occasional pain is common but 24/7 pain? Nope.
So I decided to go see an OBGYN who actually had boobs. Dr. Stacey Fine. She sent me for a 3-D mammogram and an ultrasound and guess what?
Cyst, probably benign, dense breasts.
At this point, I decided to look further into what exactly a dense breast meant. I mean, come on, I’ve nursed FIVE babies. When I look at my boobs, I don’t exactly see “dense.”
Like someone attached two deflated balloons to my chest? Absolutely.
There ain’t’ nothing dense about these suckers.
But every report I received had this warning: Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Turns out it is required by the state of California to put this on mammogram results. The radiologist told me not to worry.
So of course–I worried. Cause that’s what I do best.
I consulted Google.
Here’s what I found:
- can be 6 times more likely to develop cancer
- can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer; breast cancers (which look white like breast gland tissue) are easier to see on a mammogram when they’re surrounded by fatty tissue (which looks dark)
So basically, cancer is white and dense breasts are white.
See the problem?
Why are doctors brushing over the fact that I have dense breasts if having dense breasts means that I am SIX TIMES more likely to develop cancer? Also, I have a family history!
Now I was on a mission. It was time to listen to my body and become my own advocate.
And, luckily, Dr. Fine was with me on this and sent me to see Dr. Memsic (who also has boobs). First off, if you’re in the Los Angeles area, see Dr. Memsic. She’s a surgical oncologist who specializes in breasts, and she’s AMAZING.
I’m so naming the heroine in my next book Leslie after her.
I talk to Dr. Memsic, and she explains to me what having dense breasts means. She said my breasts are busy. And when breasts are busy, they have a much higher chance of making a mistake and creating abnormal cells. She said there was no way to know for sure that my results are benign without doing an MRI.
Cool. Let’s do an MRI.
One problem: my insurance denied the claim.
They felt that a mammogram and an ultrasound were effective enough. Which is so nice of them to make this decision for me.
Discouraged, I was about to cancel the MRI appointment when my husband said, “If your doctor is telling you to get an MRI, you’re getting the MRI. We’ll pay cash if we have to.”
PS: an MRI is expensive.
After I did the MRI, I called the hubby and said, “I never want to do that again.” It was awful. I’m not claustrophobic, but the position you’re forced to lay in for an hour is so uncomfortable I thought I might cry, or puke, or both.
But, at least it was done.
I got a call later that night. Never a good sign when your doctor calls you late at night. It was Dr. Memsic. They found something. The exact area in which I had been having pain lit up with the contrast and the radiologist was very concerned. He ordered an ultrasound.
Palm, meet forehead.
Even though I was confident an ultrasound would show nothing–I went. And guess what?
It didn’t show anything.
My breasts are dense!
A week later I went to Cedar Sinai to have an MRI Guided Breast Biopsy. Cedar Sinai is like the Four Seasons of hospitals. Wow. I should have had my babies there like Beyonce did.
Speaking of Beyonce, while there I saw like ten celebrities…or it could have been the drugs I took. Probably the drugs. Unless Jimmy Fallon moonlights as an orderly.
See, I was nervous. SO nervous. Yikes! So when I was offered a Xanax, I happily took it. I’ve never taken Xanax before. I’ve never been drunk before either. But after my Xanax experience, I’ve decided that I would be a super fun drunk.
If it weren’t for the Xanax, I don’t think I would have gotten through the biopsy.
Please don’t be mistaken. An MRI Guided biopsy is NOTHING like an ultrasound biopsy. I felt as if I just had surgery. Crap. It was intense. Going into it, I hoped that after they took the first picture, they would pull me out of the tube and say, “Wow, the first MRI was wrong. There’s nothing there!”
But that wasn’t the case. Two hours later, and I was being wheeled into recovery by Jimmy Fallon.
FIVE days later, I got the call, “Benign. Benign. Benign,” Dr. Memsic sang as soon as I answered the phone.
I heaved a sigh of relief.
Then came the BUT.
I hate BUTs.
Benign BUT there is a cluster of tumors right there, which is what was causing my pain. The tumors are benign, BUT there’s a very good chance I will develop cancer. Those tumors have to go.
Then I got to thinking. If I have a family history of breast cancer. And if my breasts are so dense, only an MRI will work. And if my breasts are making small tumors…
Can I just get rid of them?
I mean, what’s the point?
Turns out I’m an excellent candidate for a preventative mastectomy. I’ve started the process, and I’m meeting with a plastic surgeon next month.
Is a mastectomy an intense and painful process? Yep.
But I don’t care. I owe it to myself and my family to take preventative measures.
Speaking of preventative measures: I found this article with 10 things to do NOW to prevent breast cancer.
First on the list?
FIND OUT HOW DENSE YOU ARE.
If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor about doing an MRI. They’ll fight you on this, and if they do, find a new doctor. Insurance companies don’t want to cover an MRI because it’s more expensive and they argue that there’s a chance of a false positive, which would result in more expensive tests.
But wouldn’t you rather have a false positive than a false negative?
So please, please, please–if you’ve had this show up on your mamo results:
Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Ask your doctor how dense your breasts are. Ask if an MRI would be more appropriate. And if you notice breast changes–don’t ask if you should have an MRI, TELL them you need an MRI. If your doctor doesn’t want to listen, find a new one.
I’m so blessed that this journey didn’t result in a malignant finding. SO BLESSED. But if I had listened to my first doctor–who knows what would have happened down the road.
Knowledge is power.
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