I love those last few days leading up to an amazing trip. The excitement, the anticipation, the planning. This is where I was in August of 2010: headed to Greece for a college friend’s wedding with my best friend. Nothing better.
Days before we left, as I slid into bed and rolled over, I felt something on the top of my left breast. I say “something” because at that time I had no idea what it was. At first, I assumed that it was the result of my efforts to be “Greece beach ready” and did what anyone would have done; rolled over and went to sleep, dreaming of the Aegean. A pulled muscle is what I had self-diagnosed. It will just go away, I had said to myself, there’s no time to worry about this now.
Those 10 days away were a dream. I laughed until my sides hurt; I cried; I danced and my pulled muscle was with me all along the way. I’d fuss with it, wondering what it could actually be, because the truth was, it didn’t feel like a pulled anything. It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t visible from the outside. It wasn’t getting bigger or smaller. It was just a large bump that was not going away, and other than the nagging feeling that something was wrong, I felt totally fine.
After our trip, I merged back into a daily routine, which now included a five-minute self-breast massage; I started to panic. What if this isn’t a pulled muscle? What if this is my body slowly dying from the inside?
"What if this is breast cancer?" I thought in a fleeting moment. I quickly brushed that possibility off. I was only 32 — there was no way.
After a week of wondering and worrying, I finally called my gynecologist and said, “I’m not sure what I have, but it isn’t going away.” Her response was casual: “Why don’t you just come in. We’ll take a look.” No one seemed to be worried, so I wasn’t either.
“I feel what you’re talking about,” she said, doing a breast exam later that week. “You might be right. It could be a muscle, but make an appointment for a sonogram. Let’s just be sure.” Still, no one seemed to be worried, so I followed suit.
I scheduled my sonogram on a Friday in between a pedicure and lunch with a friend. Little did I know that this day would take a hard left somewhere around 1 p.m. The sonogram tech and I chatted casually, and I was relieved when she guided the sonogram over the top of my left breast and the picture remained clear. I was blissfully unaware of the 1.8-centimeter dark spot that appeared on my lower left breast until the tech said, “I think we need to do a mammogram.”
The panic set in, and from that day on, my life was forever changed. From the sonogram to the mammogram to the biopsy that confirmed it was breast cancer, it was all a blur — a mess of doctors visits and phone calls. A life that had been halted and my course redirected.
Somewhere in the middle of my yearlong cancer adventure, someone said to me, “You’re so lucky you thought you pulled a muscle. You never would have found the cancer otherwise.” And they were right.
If I had ignored what my body was trying to tell me, there is a chance I would not be alive today. My breast cancer was caught early; it had not spread to other parts of my body. My course of treatment was aggressive. My oncologist likes to say, “We threw the book at your cancer,” and after a long year, I was given the all clear.
I don’t like to think about what would have happened if I had continued to ignore the signals I was being sent, and I can say with 100 percent certainty that I will never make that rookie move again, nonrefundable plane tickets or not.
We tend to forget we are living, breathing organisms; our bodies are constantly giving us cues about what we need. When we’re hungry, our stomachs growl. When we’re dehydrated, our heads ache. It’s our job to listen.
Do you need to panic over every twitch and ache? Probably not. Could you probably be a little more aware of what signals are being sent to your brain? Probably. We’re only given one body in this life; if you love and respect it, it will love and respect you right back.