In a foreign country.
In a second language.
Without your family/boyfriend (well…boyfriend at the time..haha -__-)
I put off writing about this for all this time because it was too fresh and I thought it might be TMI, but I do in fact think that health matters like this are important to talk about. I think it was sometime in January or early February because it was right before Chinese new year—but I was chillin’ out, relaxin’ real cool,
shootin’ some b-ball out side of the school when I found a suspicious lump on my right breast. It was….weird. About the size of a pea, quite hard, and not entirely round. After some quick googling I was in FULL ON panic mode. Everything I read said that this lump was bad, bad, bad aka probably cancerous.
Cysts are common in women, but they are usually round, movable, and not hard. I called in sick immediately and went to the hospital. I googled around for where would be best to go and made an informed decision to go to Taipei Medical University Hospital. The hospital was really great. It even had a Starbucks inside! haha. But seriously, everyone I interacted with there was super friendly and helpful to this freaked out foreign girl. Also, the place had free wi-fi. The first day I went there, I made an inquiry about getting a breast exam at the help desk and one of the volunteers helped me go to a machine, insert my insurance card, and get a number. The number was my place in line to see the doctor the following night. I came back with a book, Starbucks, and my itouch in tow. I had to wait for over an hour, but it was pretty enjoyable. When it was finally my turn, a nurse did the exam on me. She felt my lump and then called the doctor in. He felt it, asked a few questions, and did an ultrasound. (They’re not kidding—that gel is cold!) I changed and then he called me into his office. My lump was at a Bi-rads 4a which meant that it was mildly suspicious. So we scheduled a mamogram and a biopsy in which I would go under local anesthetic and there would be several small incisions made to get tissue for lab testing. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do the biopsy until one week later.
That was one of the scariest weeks of my life. I was freaking out..to say the least. It doesn’t seem that serious in retrospect, but at the time…I was so scared. I read that breast cancer is quite rare in a woman of my age, but it’s not impossible—and if you do get breast cancer at my age, the chances of beating it are much smaller (that scared me the most). Also, I have really small breasts, but the thought of having to chop one or both off was very sad to me.
The mamogram hurt like hell. It was like someone wanted to take my 3D boob and squeeze it until it was 2D. And for whatever reason—because of the lump’s position—they had to take SOO many x-rays. Which meant a lot more painful boob smashing. I shed a tear because it hurt so bad and I almost had to scream at one point. Maybe I just have a low threshold for pain? The biopsy was fine. There was a pinch of pain for the anesthesia, but the rest of the procedure was completely painless. And the doctor was great. It didn’t feel awkward at all. And I got to wear this cool draped covering that just had one perfect boob hole. haha.
Anyway, during this scary time, I wanted nothing more than to hug my mom and dad and have them tell me that it would be okay. But, unfortunately I couldn’t do that. I have friends here, but I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone, but my best friend, Ariana. She was great about it, helped me keep my mind off of it, and treated me to nice things like fancy grilled cheese. Another comfort was the online community of women that I found. While I was waiting for results, I trolled several breast cancer forums. I made a post describing my situation and lump and got so many supportive and helpful responses from women who have had breast cancer. They all told me that waiting was the hardest part, that I had done a great job at finding the lump and immediately seeking treatment. These strangers told me that they were sending me good vibes and hoping for a good outcome for me. It was great to talk to women who had had similar experiences. And it was one of the only things that helped me sleep at night.
Obviously, I eventually got my biopsy results telling me that the lump is benign. But, having this kind of lump does increase my chances in the future for developing breast cancer and I should keep an eye on this lump (which is still there by the way).
Overall, I’m proud of myself for dealing with this issue in a foreign country far away from my loved ones and primarily using Mandarin to communicate with my nurses and doctor. I am also really pleased with the medical treatment and overall experience I had at Taipei University Medical hospital. I would definitely recommend them.
Lastly…check your breasts, ya’ll. I don’t care how young you are. Check ‘em. I feel like I was really lucky to have found my lump. Ut would have been really easy to miss. Immediately following the ordeal, I felt really motivated to live life fully. I’m going to be honest, that crazy zeal for life wore off a couple weeks later. I got back into my normal routine…but it did make me appreciate my health and I can say that since that time, I have made some tangible, positive life changes. The lesson I learned was not to take my health for granted at all. I may not always have it.