I have breast cancer.
Over the last 8 months I’ve been chasing down a couple of pesky symptoms, nothing that felt urgent, but they led me here
I’m sharing the journey to diagnosis because I think it’s important.
Just like the realities of postpartum, just like pelvic health, we’ve got to talk about breast cancer too.
Because 1 in 8 of us are going to get it.
And it’s shitty but it’s not a death sentence (most of the time). And I think it’s important to share that reality.
And because I’m finding A LOT of people still don’t know that there are early signs and symptoms of breast cancer that aren’t a lump.
And because a lot of folks don’t know that you should start getting a mammogram around 40.
And because just like the rest of reproductive healthcare, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Postpartum and the rest of our breast and gyn health overlap.
And we’ve got to talk about it. Normalize it.
So we know what to look for. So we know where we need to seek help. So we can accept support from our community. So we don’t feel so alone.
So these diagnoses don’t prevent us from flexing our other superpowers.
Even though we’re in our childbearing chapter, we’re not exempt from other diseases and conditions our childbearing bodies.
My breast cancer diagnosis
In late 2020, I started to gain some weight. I noticed my breasts feeling fuller. My exercise tolerance went down.
The last time this happened, it was a sign of pregnancy.
But, this time I wasn’t pregnant. Nor was super worried.
We were living through a pandemic. I was sleeping poorly and stress was high. I was sitting more. Drinking more wine.
On the one hand, a little weight gain wasn’t so out there. And this is what all my friends and doctors suggested.
On the other hand, I am deeply in-tune with my body. As a long-time insomniac, an athlete, someone high on the anxiety spectrum- I know how my body responds to physical and emotional stress.
The stuff going on in my body felt different. The symptoms felt inconsistent with my lifestyle factors.
Over the next months, I started to get curious about these symptoms. I began working on poor habits to see if I could make any improvements. I began increasing non-exercise movement, prioritizing sleep and eliminating alcohol. Nothing I did impacted my weight gain trajectory or exercise tolerance.
I started tracking my heart rate variability (HRV; a way to track the body’s response to stress). It was very very low (a sign of stress). I did all the things one should do to improve HRV, and mine just didn’t respond.
I had a boatload of bloodwork done. It indicated my thyroid hormones were out of whack. A somewhat normal event for me, but more out of whack than usual.
My thyroid could explain the weight gain and exercise tolerance, perhaps even the HRV. But what explained the thyroid?
At some point, I began to notice a small amount of nipple discharge. This didn’t concern me a ton because it hasn’t been that long since I was breastfeeding Max. I mentioned it to my doctor, not because I was concerned about breast cancer, but because I was wracking my brain to find SOMETHING to help diagnose the thing going on in my body. I thought maybe my hormones were off. Or I had a pituitary tumor.
But at that point I was flagged for breast imaging.
A mammogram, an ultrasound, 2 biopsies and an MRI later, I now know, I have breast cancer. A bunch of it as luck would have. And this explains my thyroid, my HRV and the gamut of non-specific symptoms I was experiencing. Without the nipple discharge I wouldn’t have looked.
Fortunately my prognosis is good and there are effective treatments available.
Here’s a piece of the story I want you to know: This all happened in August. I put off a screening mammogram in January because we were in the middle of a Covid surge and I couldn’t feel any lumps (nor could my midwife).
Don’t be like me. Get your screening on time.
1 in 8 women will get cancer in their lifetime. If you’re over 40 or you have a strong family history of breast cancer, go get yourself a mammogram. Early detection saves lives.
To learn more about signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
Learn more about my cancer journey:
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