No amount of medical training can prepare you to absorb the words, “we found a mass in your breast.” I am a healthy 33 year old with little family history of cancer and although I by no means think I’m infallible, if you told me I’d start 2017 with a breast biopsy and the placement of a bead for annual followup, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So that the few people who know me personally exhale, let me skip to the punchline first: the mass is benign and everything is a-ok. The pathology came back as a sclerosing papilloma, which is the most common breast mass in women in my age group.
***The rest of this is a little TMI, so feel free to skip.***
This all started in August, when I was in Chapel Hill for a girls weekend with friends and woke up to find that there was blood on my sheets and shirt from my nipple. At the time, I discounted it as terrible chafing from my sports bra. KC and I had run the day before in 104 degree humidity and every other square inch of my body was chafed, so I didn’t worry about it and didn’t say anything to KC or Lindsey. Everything was fine for a couple of weeks and then it started happening rather regularly. Sometime in the fall, I also started having intermittent stabbing pain, usually with movement but sometimes just laying in bed. Without laying too much blame, it took some time to get into my PCP’s office because they were in a transition and I was away for interviews.
I had my mammogram and ultrasound at the end of December. Public Service Announcement: I had heard horror stories about mammograms and they are false. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s awkward. But it’s never painful and it’s so worth it. Get yours. The mammogram was normal but the ultrasound revealed a mass in my right breast and warranted a biopsy and placement of a bead so that the mass could be tracked for either surgery or further monitoring. A few people have asked if I was scared and to be completely honest, I wasn’t. Somewhere between Katrina relief and medical school, I’ve stopped trying to control things I can’t control and this situation fell firmly in that range for me. I knew that the chances of it being malignant were low and I also knew that the Breast Cancer Center at UVM was incredible and that I was in the best hands possible.
Telling my husband, parents and sister, however, was horrible. Will lost his mother to breast cancer when he was in high school and she was diagnosed in her early 30s. He has been great through the whole process but I can’t help but imagine that this dredged up a lot of things he didn’t want to remember. My family was fantastic and I did my best to prepare them for what was most likely (and what was the worst case scenario).
Will was away for an interview so my mom took me to my biopsy on January 2nd. The team at the BCC was incredible; they are kind, caring and just the nicest people you could ask to undergo this with. The biopsy wasn’t too bad, just a ton of pressure. The placement of the bead, however, gave me an appreciation for 10/10 pain. In a classic Sarah move, I thought I was fine, went out to the waiting room to wait…and promptly vasovagaled down and had to go lay down again. Things went well after that but unfortunately, I had quite a bit of bleeding from the biopsy and formed a large hematoma which earned me a breast binder. It is exactly what it sounds like…the nurses wrestled me into it and I went home to recover.
Because a hematoma is a deep bruise that needs some help to drain, I had to wear the breast binder for a few weeks. The worst part of the breast binder was the inability to expand my lungs. The second worst part was that it makes you stand up incredibly straight. Both of these things made it virtually impossible to ski or run normally, so I skied slowly with poor form and didn’t do much running.
What it took to run or ski…and yes, the breast binder is pink and flowery. Don’t get me started.
The pathology (cell type and behavior) came back as a sclerosing papilloma which essentially means that the cells were normal but they were stacking up on themselves to make this nice little mass in one of my ducts. Because mine is symptomatic and because it’s large and unlikely to stop bleeding on its own, I’ll be having surgery on March 7th to remove it. It’s a straightforward surgery and I don’t even have to have general anesthesia but I can’t run for a week afterward because I’ve already demonstrated that I like to bleed. The long term bummer is that I won’t be able to breast feed on that side due to scarring.
So why share this on a running blog? First, because I am a split inch from being a doctor and I want everyone to pay attention to their preventative health. Second, because I attributed this to running and chafing and easily could have continued that had I not had my background in medicine. And third, because it changes the way I will be approaching my training for New Bedford. Provided I don’t have any complications, I will now be running New Bedford as a long workout in preparation for the Unplugged Half in April. Because I need to take a week off after surgery, it just doesn’t make sense to force myself to try to get a race effort in at New Bedford. I may feel totally fine and get a great workout in or I may have pain and need to just back off and do it as a workout.