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Once upon a time, I had a tumor. Yes, an actual tumor located in my left breast. The word is frightening (as it should be), but the definition of a tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue within the body. It was a golf ball sized mass that I knew about for a two years, but ignored because, pfft, it was probably nothing. Right? Then, in the Fall semester of my Sophomore year at college, I woke up on the first morning after finals to intense pain and the feeling like I was laying on a ball. I looked around my dorm room bed to find it empty. Only when I started getting up did I realize the ball was inside of me. I knew something was serious when I called the health center, calmly told them my symptoms, and received the response, “Come in NOW.” Our student health center didn’t do “now” appointments. Those were for emergenc- oh, crap. As I was walking the two blocks over there, it hit me; this could be serious. All of those months of ignoring this mass, thinking it was just some dense tissue, had caught up with me.

I went in for the exam and thought everything was going to be okay. No. As the doctor sat me up, her face was grave as she said, “You’re going to need to see a specialist about this, a surgeon.” She patted me on the knee and made sure I understood just what was going on. Luckily, my mom was coming to get me for the break in three days. All I cared about was my upcoming semester abroad. I’d spent so much time planning, saving, and thinking about going to England. I couldn’t back out now. I had to classes picked for Spring. I didn’t technically even have a room on campus, either. It would take the surgeon’s approval before the college would let me go abroad.

When my mom came, we went out to dinner where I nervously broke the news to her. I’d found a mass and the doctor on campus confirmed it. Her response was to dismiss it and tell me all of the things wrong with her. I closed my eyes, sighed, and said, “You’re not getting it. No one knows what this is, but they keep telling me it’s serious. I’m scared.” That was the first time I said the words. And I was scared. This was during a time when I spent so much time trying to be perfect, internally numb while appearing happy was my go-to mask. Fear shocked me.

At the appointment with my breast health specialist in my hometown, I went into the back by myself. They did a special sonogram on the mass, measuring it, checking the density, and looking at all sorts of things I couldn’t recall. Here’s what I remember; it was cold, it hurt, I felt exposed, the technician pressed really hard on a sensitive area, no one asked me any questions how I felt, and no one reassured me of anything. The doctor came in after looking at the results and told me that it wasn’t a cyst. He said he wished it was a cyst because those are more common and easier to treat. This was going to require surgery. Instead of taking a little biopsy, they wanted to remove the entire thing in one go and not take any chances. I agreed. The problem with that was we wouldn’t know if it was benign or cancerous until after surgery. The doctor did say that, given the sonogram results, it was probably benign and it was contained into one ball-like formation. Yay?

I mentioned my upcoming trip and how I was leaving in less than two weeks. His response floored me. He told me to put off surgery and go. I remember the words so clearly. “If it’s cancer now, it’ll still be cancer in a few months. Go, have fun. You might not get the opportunity to take another trip like this after the results come back.” The doctor told my mom I there was no reason I shouldn’t go. He told my college I was approved to go. My surgery would be scheduled the moment I got back. It was, I’d hardly had enough time to get over my jetlag before I was rolled into the operating room. The moment I woke up from the surgery, I felt nothing but white hot pain. It all disappeared when I heard the words, “We got it all. It came back negative. You’re going to be fine.”

I don’t regret those months spent abroad. I had the best time of my life. My friends knew about my tumor. I made an agreement to tell the people running the program in case anything happened to me physically. But, it was my friends that needed to know. If I ever collapsed or had something strange happen to me, they needed to be prepared that it could be related to what was hiding in my chest. At first, they took it seriously. Then, it became something we joked about. It helped me to take away some of the stress and anxiety of knowing I might go home to find my life was changing forever. My friends from England are some of the best. One was even my bridesmaid and the mother of my goddaughter and godson. I was in her wedding, too! She met her husband right before we flew off to the Land of Eng and spoke to him EVERY NIGHT!

It’s been ten years today since I had my tumor removed. I was 19- two weeks shy of turning 20. I’ve had a couple of minor problems since then and a lot of pain to go with it. Of all my surgeries and injuries, this was the most painful. I woke up to find my chest was black and blue with puffs of purple. Never had I known such burning pain. It would constantly feel like something was ripping inside of me. For years, I wore a bra even to bed because the support helped against the internal tugging. I have a scar that took years to fade against my skin. I was ashamed of it, hated the sight of the damn thing. Now, I hardly notice my scar because of its strategic placement. My husband is the only person who sees it besides my doctor and he can’t tell it’s there.

TL:DR If you think you’re too young to have problems with your breast health, think again. Don’t ignore the early signs and check yourself! Also, don’t be afraid to take hold of the opportunities you’re given.


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