Be not afraid

My new tattoo

The official results letter has arrived and it’s confirmed that the lump in my breast is not cancerous, but abnormal (perfectly safe) breast tissue. To say I’m feeling relieved and grateful for my health is a gross understatement.

On the heels of this news, however, I learned from a friend that her husband recently attempted suicide. He is thankfully okay and in therapy to treat his depression, but the news left me reeling and deeply saddened.

Periods of my life have been tough – some downright anguishing – but I’ve never considered suicide. It’s never been an option for me. Something deep down in me told me things would get better. I can’t imagine not having that little voice, that hope, no matter how small a shred it was at the time.

Both of these events have gotten me thinking about fear. As an early birthday gift, my husband paid for me to get a tattoo – a simple phrase on my foot that, when translated, says, “Be not afraid.” A friend uttered this phrase when I was going through a difficult time a couple years ago, and it stuck with me. It’s since become my mantra at home, at work, at the gym…everywhere.

I think it resonated so strongly with me because I’ve come to realize that fear is the root of so many of our actions (or inactions) and emotions, as well the people we become. When we’re stressed, we’re really just fearful. When we’re anxious, we’re fearful. When we lash out at people, fear is likely the culprit. And when we can’t get ourselves out bed every day and see no hope, fear is usually there in the picture.

I don’t want to live in fear, so I’ve made a promise to myself to practice little acts of personal courage each day, whether it be taking on a new challenge at the office or taking on that huge hill I usually avoid on my running route. These acts won’t change the world, but they’ll change my world for the better. I have no doubt about that.

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The L-word no woman wants to hear

Here's to hoping I don't have to see another of these until my annual exam next year!

The past month has been emotionally and mentally draining. In addition to an insanely full workload at the office, packed weekends and a bout of food poisoning (just say no to crab at airport restaurants – even if the restaurant supposedly serves the best in the state), I’ve had my health on the back of my mind big time.

I went to my doctor for a routine annual exam, and she detected a lump in both breasts. My appointment took place right before my period, so she instructed me to come back for a follow-up exam when I was mid-cycle, as hormones can create changes in breast tissue right around period time.

Being the type-A worrier I am, I immediately went home and did a Google search for “chances of breast cancer for women in their 30s.” My chances are 1 in 233. Not bad, I thought. I pushed it to the back of my mind.

I went back two weeks ago, and she felt nothing in my right breast. “False alarm!” I thought. Then she felt my left breast.

“I still feel a lump here,” she said. “Here,” she guided my hand. “Can you feel it?”

I could. And it was sore.

“It could be a cyst, which is common in women who use birth control, or a benign tumor. It doesn’t feel hard – more squishy, like tissue. It could even be abnormal breast tissue,” she explained. “I’m going to send you for an ultrasound so we can get a closer look at it. If it’s a lump, it’ll have to come out and be tested.”

So that was it. In a few sentences, I had my future – and it could turn out a number of ways.

I have my ultrasound this Thursday, and I’m scared. This is the first time I’ve admitted that. Everyone’s been telling me it’s probably nothing and I shouldn’t worry until I know more. I understand their reasons for saying this, but it’s so much easier said than done.

Every pain I feel in my breast brings about another bout of worry. Every time I put on or take off my bra, I think about the lump. I wonder how long it’s been there – if my gynecologist missed it last fall during my annual exam, just as I missed it during numerous self-checks.

There are a million articles out there about how to conduct a self-exam, but few tell you what you’ll actually feel if there’s a lump. My gynecologist had told me a lump feels hard, like a pea or marble. This lump doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a mass deep in my breast. Knowing I have dense breast tissue, I assumed that’s what it was – an area of very dense tissue.

I believe everything happens for a reason. And if it’s the worst-case scenario – cancer – my family and I will deal accordingly. If it’s not, I still need to make changes that put myself and my health first. Too often, they are put on the backburner for work, and it will eventually catch up with me.

I’m writing this for a few reasons: to remind you to do self-exams at home and get an annual exam by a doctor, and to urge you to make the same commitment to yourself and your health (if you haven’t already). Our health, though often pushed aside, must truly be #1 – no compromises.