To my untrained fingers, the knot in my breast felt firm; defiant; determined to send me a message and I got it; all at once: breast cancer. I’ve got breast cancer. I’ve got two daughters in high school and one in middle school and their mother has breast cancer. I’ve got a niece in middle school whose aunt has breast cancer. I’ve got one adopted sister and one biological sister whose sister has breast cancer. Suddenly I could no longer hear the television in my bedroom or smell the Egyptian oil that I slather on my body after a bath. Suddenly my daughters’ voices in the next room grew distant; or maybe I pushed them away. I stood in the dim light of my bedroom stunned. And right before fear set down its luggage, I forced myself to check my breast again. Maybe I was mistaken. But two days later, the doctor felt it too. Not my regular doctor; a substitute – but a female which was good. That was important to me for some reason. After kneading my breast for a couple of minutes, she confirmed the lump near my right nipple. Still, it wasn’t until after I had ultrasound x-rays of a dark mass in my right breast and an appointment for a biopsy that I sat my three girls down at the dining room table to break the news. I kept my emotions to myself because I felt I had to. This was just a lump I’d found during a self-breast exam I told them. It could be cancer, but most likely it wasn’t.
All three of my girls traipsed down to University of Maryland Hospital with me for my 6 a.m. appointment the day of the biopsy. All three stayed with me for the five-hour wait before they wheeled me out on a stretcher to have a surgeon slice into my breast. I didn’t act sad; we talked; laughed; rehashed some old hurts and laughed some more.
Fifteen minutes later, I drifted away on a cloud of anaesthesia giggling and talking to the team of health professionals surrounding me on that table and awoke the same way 30 minutes later as if I’d just closed my eyes for a minute. When I was fully awake, the doctor handed me a clear jar. There was a slimy, worm looking thing inside with a lump attached it. “A milk duct,” she told me. “You had a clogged milk duct.” Not breast cancer. Not a threat to my health. My sisters don’t have a sister with breast cancer. My niece doesn’t have an aunt with breast cancer. My daughters don’t have a mother with breast cancer. They have someone who didn’t ignore the signs; someone who didn’t let her fear of what might be, paralyze the reality of what must be done. The light skin of the half-moon scar under my right nipple blazes a lifelong reminder through the dark brown of the areola. I won’t forget the fear I had that I wouldn’t see my family’s future. I won’t take for granted my benign diagnosis. I didn’t have breast cancer this time. I hope I’m still strong enough to get to the truth next time.