Okay, there’s a lump. Rosh, you are only 22. You can’t possibly have cancer.
I convinced myself it was breast tissue and left it alone.
Two months went by and as someone who cannot sit still, I did not make connections to any early symptoms. I had some bruising near my armpit and some pain, but I was hit by the subway doors earlier in the month so I naturally associated the pain with that incident. I noticed there was blood on my sheets but I just thought it was from my period. I did not realize that there were bloodstains on my nightshirts as well – until I noticed blood on my bra. It was red, brownish discharge. When I put pressure on my breast it would come out.
This was late April. All these thoughts of possibly having cancer were racing through my mind. I was freaking out. At the time I didn’t have an OB-GYN in the city, so I went on Zocdoc to look for the earliest appointment. I found one at 10 AM the next day.
It was a rainy Saturday morning, I rushed to Chinatown from Brooklyn to find the waiting room packed with women waiting for their checkups. When I met with the OB-GYN, I expressed my concerns and felt a strong sense of “are you sure about this? Why didn’t you come in sooner?” type of hostile environment.
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She asked all the routine questions: “when did you feel the lump?”, “is there a family history of breast cancer?” I have no family history with it, which was another reason why I didn’t get the lump checked when I first noticed it. It did not make me feel better that the OB-GYN didn’t validate my concerns. She judged me for waiting and based my quality of care on my age. I remember the remark she made while I sat on the medical table and she did a breast exam: “oh, it’s really bleeding,” after she put pressure on my breast.
[Read related: How a Breast Cancer Scare at 25 Changed My Life for the Better]
To be completely honest, I did possess a lack of self-awareness. I didn’t have any inclination to getting breast cancer before the age of 40. It was recommended that I get a sonogram so I ran to the nearest place to do so on Canal street, and it was quite busy. I expressed my urgency to the woman at the reception desk. She, thankfully, took my concerns seriously and I was done within the hour.
As I was getting the ultrasound done, I sensed the sonographer looking worried. She moved from my left breast to my armpit and did this repeatedly for a couple of minutes. I was facing away from the screen so I couldn’t see what she was looking at so I kept asking her questions but she kept deflecting them.
I got dressed and took the CD of my images and ran back to the OB-GYN with the images so she could take a look at them. Once I got there, my OB-GYN informed me that the sonographer expressed concern and recommended I get a breast biopsy. The radiology place that was recommended doesn’t do biopsies over the weekend, so I tried to get the earliest date. The earliest date was a week and a half later. I sat in a random café in Chinatown, crying and filled with anxiety. I called the gynecology office again and left a message for my OB-GYN. In that moment I did not want to be alone, so I met with a friend to try to calm myself down as I tried to get the situation figured out.
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My OB-GYN got back to me an hour later, I explained to her again that I needed to get an earlier date for a biopsy. She victim-blamed me and said something along the lines of,
You already waited so long, you can deal with waiting a little longer.
I was irritated and anxious – this was not something you want to hear from someone who is supposed to take your medical concerns seriously and help you.
I cried to her and yelled at her to start taking me seriously. If you know me personally, I have never yelled at someone over the phone but in that moment, I knew that this was my life I was dealing with so I needed to know as soon as possible what was going on with my body.
Yes, I waited. Yes, I was naïve. But prior to this I have never had any serious medical conditions or had surgery of any kind. After multiple back and forth phone calls I was finally able to get my OB-GYN to get me an appointment later that week.
On April 24th is when I got my breast biopsy done. I was the youngest person in the waiting and it was nerve-wracking. I absolutely hate needles and was about to get one through my breast. If you aren’t aware, a breast biopsy consists of sticking a needle through the side of the breast and collecting samples of any sign of tumor or lump to check for signs of cancer.
I laid down on the table facing the monitor. I could see my worst nightmare on the screen. Not only were they taking samples of the lump I could feel but also two other places in my armpit (my lymph nodes).
I was terrified—I had three lumps. I went home and binge watched Sex and The City to get my mind off the pain and the idea of having cancer.
The next day I got a phone call towards the end of the day from my OB-GYN to come into the office the next day—I almost fainted.
The next morning, I showed up at 9 AM with my cousin and one of my good friends. I tried to convince myself I could go alone (it’s a good thing I didn’t). We waited in the waiting room for two hours—two agonizing hours. So many thoughts were running through my mind. I was going to be sick.
Finally, I was called in. My OB is sitting at her desk. I was making my way to sit on the examining table as usual but to my surprise, she asked me not to. I sat on a chair facing her and she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this.” When she said this, I got a little angry with her because I knew she didn’t know how to tell me I had cancer because she ruled out my concerns when I stepped into her office that weekend.
“You have breast cancer,” she said. And then she started to state the cancer statistics that 1 in 6 women get diagnosed with breast cancer each year. On the outside I wanted to yell that I was 22 years old. But I listened to her and her recommendations – she gave me oncology recommendations on, get this, a Post-it Note. My life’s fate, scribbled on a Post-it Note. I was beyond furious. I wanted to give her a piece of my mind but I didn’t. Instead, I went into the bathroom and cried my eyes out.
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A cancer diagnosis is not the easiest thing to hear or cope with. I’m sharing my story because I made the decision to advocate for my health. I want other women who have ever been put into this situation to know their concerns and feelings are valid. We know our bodies, what feels normal and what doesn’t. My breast cancer journey has not been easy but by sharing my story, I hope to not feel so alone.