The Journey of a Breast Cancer Patient (Part 1): Something’s Not Right

by Team Onco
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It’s always noisy in Seema’s house, but it’s mostly happy noises. Her son is three years old and is always up to some sort of mischief. The TV is always tuned in to the news or the sports channels that her husband loves to watch. Her domestic helper is the chatty kind, adding to the general noise of the cooker, the washing machine, and the sound of clanging vessels, with her own gossip about the neighbours. 

They live above a busy street and even during this pandemic, the constant hum of the traffic below reaches their windows. 

The phones ringing, the mixer running, her son riding his bicycle indoors … all together it is mayhem, but the happy, domestic mayhem of any young household. 

Between all of these noises, Seema sits at her laptop, finishing her report (which was due yesterday) with perfect concentration. A meeting and two emails later, she will make lunch for her family. 

Between chopping up the coriander and setting the table, Seema remembers what she had noticed this morning. She was in the shower and there was a lump, or what seemed like a lump, in her left breast. Seema was not sure what it was. There was no pain at all, but just something a little heavy … just then her son tells her that he is hungry and she puts her thoughts aside and begins to serve the food. 

Later that evening, in her bedroom, Seema tries to feel the lump again.

Cancer? Suddenly, the noise seems to have stopped. It’s almost as if everything is silent. Seema can’t hear anything except the pounding of her heart. 

She tries to calm herself. It’s impossible. How can it be cancer? Must be a milk cyst. Her sister used to get these milk cysts earlier … but something inside her is not convinced. 

She settles down for an online meeting with her colleagues the next morning. While she is waiting for the meeting to start, she quickly googles “lump in breast”. The search results make her want to slam her laptop shut. She closes that tab and continues with the meeting. 

That night, after everyone is asleep, Seema sits up in bed with her phone. She’s not sure what’s worse, not knowing or knowing. But she finally takes a deep breath and googles again, “lump in breast”. 

She spends the next hour scanning through the numerous websites that provide a list of symptoms and risk factors of breast cancer. She grows more confident that she does not have cancer. 

Why? Just look at the symptoms of breast cancer:

symptoms of breast cancer

Seema is almost relieved. She only has the second symptom, and none of the others. 1/8 is not bad!

And then look at the list of the people who are likely to have breast cancer:

Not even one of these is true for Seema. 0/10! So it can’t be cancer for sure. What a relief! She can go to sleep in peace now.

She shuts her eyes to sleep, but deep down there is still that nagging feeling. If it’s not cancer, then what is it? 

Another week goes by before she finally decides to tell her husband about the lump. He is as confused as she is. “How can it be a milk cyst”, he asks, “Didn’t you stop breastfeeding a couple of years back?”

Seema agrees. Maybe not a milk cyst, but not cancer either. Then, what? 

It’s more than a month before her husband asks her if the lump has gone now. No, it’s still there. She feels it and a wave of panic hits her. Does it feel bigger? She must be imagining it. No, it does feel a little bigger than the last time. 

“Better go show it to a doctor today,” her husband says. At least once the doctor tells you that it is nothing, you can stop worrying about it.

“I’ll go next week,” Seema says, “I’ve got some work to finish today and ..”

“Just go and get it done. There will always be work to finish.”

She agrees and reluctantly books an appointment with her gynecologist. 

Her gynecologist physically examines her breasts and finds the lump. 

Finally, Seema pours out the questions that have been on her mind for months now:

The doctor writes out a prescription for two tests:

Noticing the panic on Seema’s face, her doctor explains, “These are very simple procedures, Seema. It will get done in a couple of hours. You don’t have to be admitted for these. You don’t even have to prepare for these in any way, so you can get them done as soon as possible.”

“A sonomammography is just a breast ultrasound. It’s a bit like getting an x-ray done. They get you to lie down on a bed and apply a gel on your breast. Then, they use a probe to scan your breast and armpit area. It does not hurt at all.”

probe used for sonomammography

probe used in sonomammography

“But what about the biopsy, doctor? Isn’t that an operation?”

“Not at all. We will use a needle to extract a small tissue from the lump, so that we can understand what it is. There will be no operation. You can go back home as soon as it is done. It will just take an hour or so.”

Seema agrees to get both the tests done immediately. The reports will be with her in 5 to 7 days. After that, this mystery will finally be solved. 

What will the reports say? What’s your guess? 

(Part 2 will be posted on October 6.)

Watch Dr Rohan Khandelwal explain the symptoms of breast cancer here.

 

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