I’ll start this post with a spoiler: everything’s fine.
Four weeks ago I found a lump in my left breast. I sort of willfully ignored/explained it away. PMS, sometimes things feel a bit funny, probably nothing to worry about. I didn’t want to deal with it, but it hummed away in the back of my mind. I was always aware of it.
After ten or so days, it was definitely still there, a tangible something. My partner felt it and gently suggested I get it checked out. I admit, I had an ostrich response: stick head in sand, pretend nothing is wrong, maybe it’ll go away.
But I made the appointment. I didn’t have any luck with cancellations, so it was another week and a half’s wait. Then an ultrasound and a wait for the results. I’m so relieved and happy to say that it’s turned out to be a benign fibroadenoma. Fibroadenomas are cysts 10-15% of women in North America have. We’ll keep an eye on it with checkups every six or twelve months, just to be sure, but my doctor was very clear that this is nothing to worry about.
Super great news. A little creepy to know there’s just this weird, quarter-sized mass of differentiated cells in there that didn’t used to be there. But it’s not cancer.
I haven’t seriously thought about cancer before. I’m in my mid thirties, have never had a major health issue, take generally good care of myself.
I’ve also had kind of a rough year or so. I went from a sort of post-grad bubble a few years ago–getting jobs I wanted, promotions, liking the work I was doing, going to conferences, feeling like I had momentum–to suddenly not. Suddenly my partner and I were dealing with job loss, financial stress, depression (him) and anxiety disorder (me), a few lost or strained friendships, and a feeling of being set adrift. I suddenly wasn’t happy with my job situation and left for what seemed a good opportunity but was actually a terribly abusive workplace, one that shook my faith in my professional abilities. I’m still recovering from that. I left and found a much better job. Well, better in terms of what I do and why I do it, worse in terms of compensation. I’ve taken on more freelance to make up the gap. I enjoy freelancing. I do a number of different editorial jobs for a wonderful variety of people, businesses, and publishing houses. But it has consequences.
My time has become extremely limited. I often feel weary and old. My back and right shoulder are problematic from hunching over keyboards for most of my waking hours. I work too much, I don’t do enough fun things, I spend a lot of time feeling like I’m not living up to my potential. Over the past year I’ve stress-eaten and become very sedentary, putting on a good twenty-five pounds. After a full day in the office, another few hours’ freelance, maintaining relationships, trying to squeeze in a workout and meditation and groceries and household stuff, adding anything else to the mix isn’t appealing. I’m not up for scaling mountains or learning a Beethoven piano concerto. I don’t even read as much as I used to. I don’t have the energy.
Thinking about cancer isn’t going to be fun at any life stage, but nothing makes you feel young like contemplating breast cancer in your thirties. Imagining you might not see forty.
It gives you some perspective and some clarity about what’s important. I might feel old and worn down, but I’m not.
That’s part of why I started writing again, and why I started this blog. I talked myself out of thinking I had time or talent or anything interesting to say. I’ve been just getting by for too long. I want to write because I want to find my voice again, and to share it. Writing feels like a reclamation of who I used to be before all the adult crap encroached.
The stresses aren’t magically going to go away. I still need to work and freelance (and thankfully I love being an editor, both in-house and independently). But I can stop to remember that there are things that matter more than sleepwalking through endless days of work and worry.
This hasn’t been a fun few weeks contemplating the possibility of cancer, but it’s been clarifying, and the benign diagnosis is cathartic and freeing. I have time. I’m not going to waste it.