Ladies, Feel Those Boobs!

The C-word has always fluttered around on the peripheries on my life for as long as I can remember. Cancer. I have friends who’ve battled it, family members, and most closely, my mom had breast cancer when I was in high school. 

It’s one of life’s terrifying mysteries that’s easy to ignore the presence of, but you can always feel the spectre of it making the hair rise on the back of your neck. Since I’ve seen cancer first hand, I’ve always been especially cognisant of staying on top of all my ladies’ health checks. Pap smears, self breast checks, the full works. 

I’m going to go out on a tangent here for a moment and speak directly to all the ladies: boobs are inherently lumpy, right? So when you follow the fliers showing you how to do breast checks in the shower, 90% of the time, if you’re like me you think “Well, that’s a bit lumpy but that’s supposed to be there. I think.” I think there should be a class in school where everyone gets to feel up a model of a breast to check for abnormal lumps just to get some practice in. It will be embarrassing and hilarious, but it would probably save lives, right? 

Anyways, let’s get back on track. Breasts are lumpy and bumpy and only you really know what your particular bumps are kind-of like. And one day a few weeks ago, I felt a lump. I was like, “well that’s weird, but I’m also a chronic worrier so I’m probably imagining it.” So I left it alone for a bit. And then the next time I checked it was still there, which is when the “huh” alarm started to gently tingle. I did what most sane women do – try to find someone else who feels comfortable squashing their boob around to see if they feel it too. In my case, I chose Sam (lucky Sam). He felt it too, so I immediately booked an appointment with my GP. 

But as soon as I had set my mind to seeing the doctor, I started second guessing myself. It probably is nothing. The NHS is already overburdened. I don’t want to waste their time. I don’t want to be the girl who cried breast lump. (The worry was that if I ever found another again, that the doctor would take me less seriously if I had come in claiming to have found one before.) I defaulted to my 7 year old self and called my mom who re-assured me that it was probably all fine but that it was not wasting anyone’s time to go to the doctor. 

Once there, my GP had a good feel around and she too could feel something. In a way I felt victorious. My first thought was, “Yes! I’m not losing my mind – there actually was something there” and my next thought was “Oh f*$#”.  I was referred to the breast screening clinic to have screenings and all that jazz. 

So What Happened Next? 

In most cases, if your GP refers you, you’ll go to a special unit in your local hospital. In my case, it was to the York Teaching Hospital where the staff was 100% lovely. They completely understand that when you get to the point of being referred to them, you are usually pretty stressed about it and they go to great lengths to calm you down and talk you through everything. 

We started with a physical exam where the doctor at the clinic had a feel around just to confirm what the GP and myself felt. They then brought in the breast surgeon in the unit to double check. As everyone could still feel something in my case, they decided to proceed with some screenings. Because of my age, they ruled out doing the mammogram because the lump probably wouldn’t be picked up on it. (The doctor explained that in most women under 40 the tissue is too dense and the reading would just come out as white with the lumps obscured or hidden.) So I had a ultrasound. It was just like in the movies when you see a pregnant woman get her baby scan, but it was my boob and I was reclining with one arm overhead like Rose posing for her portrait. 

At that point in time, they could see the lump on the scan and because the edges were quite smooth and it was fairly mobile, they were confident to diagnose it as a fibroadenoma. Fibroadenomas are benign lumps that occur especially in your early 20s. So if you’re under 25 and that’s what they discover at that point in time, you’re off the hook mostly and you can go home knowing you have a lumpy but cancer-free boob. 

In my case, I’m banging on the front door of 30, the team decided that they wanted to biopsy it, just as a precaution. So nearly all women over 25 in the UK that get a diagnosis of fibroadenoma will be biopsied. The doctor sat me down after my scan to explain the results and the fact that it’s definitely benign, but that they wanted to book me in for a biopsy in a few weeks. When I questioned if her certainty was just a tactic to ensure that I didn’t freak out over the next few weeks, she assured me that if they were actually worried about the lump they would have biopsied it then and there. 

The Biopsy: 

I made the terrible mistake of googling “does a breast biopsy hurt?” because I am a massive baby and I hate needles. In came dozens of horror stories from women who had their biopsy and the anestethitic didn’t work and they were in agony. Or it worked just fine but the next few days were awful.

From my point of view (as someone who has never had surgery before and thinks that they have a low pain threshold), it was an absolute walk in the park. There are several types of biopsies that can be done from fine needle aspiration (where they are able to reach the lump with a super tiny needle to take the sample) to a core needle biopsy, which is what I had done. During a core needle biopsy, you’re injected with a local anesthetic and then the doctor makes a small cut so that they can insert a hollow needle which traps bits of cells inside. 

The most painful bit was the anestethic. After that I felt pressure but nothing else. Be warned though that the hollow needle clicks loudly – like a piercing gun – when they take the samples. Less than 20 minutes on the table and I’m being bandaged up and sent on my merry way. In fact, I felt so fine that I literally leapt off the table, then immediately had to sit down due to dizziness. My nurse then explained that the injection they give you also has adrenaline in it to slow down the blood flow to the area so you can feel the affects of that for a bit. As an FYI – the cut area bleeds a lot once the adrenaline wears off and gets quite bruised. You’re also advised to take it easy for a few days and lift nothing heavier than a kettle. In the days afterwards, I felt pretty spiffy. I had a fair bit of bleeding from the area and a bruise that still hasn’t faded but it’s a tiny, minuscule price to pay.

I was incredibly lucky and my result was a benign tumour. (Insert one million hoorays!) I had to wait about 2 1/2 weeks after my biopsy for the result but that time was slightly extended by having the biopsy done on a Friday before the Bank Holiday. 

(And here’s a big thank you to the countless doctors and nurses, I saw. But especially to Lisa at the York Teaching Hospital who has been with me nearly every step of the way and helped calm me down when she knew that I hated needles. )

So here’s the moral of the story ladies: feel those boobs. Do it frequently. And never be afraid of being the girl who cried breast lump. 

****Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, and everyone’s experience will be different according to their needs, but I thought it was important to write about the process and clarify it a bit for people who might be scared of going to the doctor, like I was! ****

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  • Miu

    Amanda, I’m so happy your result ended up being good!
    I also already thought about being taught what these lumps actually feel like, because you are always told “Examine your breast for lumps!” and then you stand in the shower and are like – is this a lump? Is this? Is this normal?
    But it was also interesting to read why mamograms are not done with younger women, I always wondered why health insurance only offers it for older women, but now it makes sense.

    • Right?! They are so lumpy in the first place! When I talked to the doctor about it, she said that most of the bumpiness we usually feel is just normal breast tissues. When I did find my lump I suddenly was like “yep, that’s different than the rest”. But it would be so helpful if at GP appointments there were gel/plastic models that we could practice touching to see the difference! x

  • Thank you for raising awareness and being so honest/open! Even though I’m a childhood cancer survivor x 2 (a fibrosarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma), I still get anxiety at every doctor’s appointment. I’m super diligent about getting a pap smear and breast check every single year, even though no one in my family has had either type of cancer. Still, this is so important…especially to remind young(er) women!!!

    • First of all, thanks you for opening up about your own childhood experiences! I know some insurances and countries won’t cover or perform breast checks on younger women so it’s up to us to stay on top of it for ourselves! x

  • Laura Torninoja

    I’m so glad to hear that you were okay in the end Amanda – that must have been SO scary to go through! I think it’s so amazing that you’re sharing your story too – I definitely don’t check for lumps often enough, but I’m determined to do it from here on out! xx

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

    • When I talked to the specialist about it, she said that you should check about twice a month (in the shower preferably) so that you can get used to all the normal lumps and bumps that are in there so if anything new ever pops up you’ll know what it is. x

  • Yay for healthy tits! Did they biopsy the top or the bottom of your boob? Like, is the bruise visible if you’re wearing a low cut top? Coz if it is, I’d put on some leather, some studs, some distressed denim and a ferocious snarl and use it as a conversaton starter. “Oh, you noticed my bruise? No, my husband didn’t beat me. I punched a Nazi in the face. With my tit”

    Then saunter away like a major badass. This part is key to the whole aesthetic.

    • The biopsy was underneath, but basically the whole bruise became a bruise. It was super, super gnarly. There was an instastory I took at a pool a few weeks ago in a one piece swimsuit and if you looked super closely (i.e. zoomed in on my boob), you could see the edges of the bruise peeking out of my armpit. x

  • Kourtney Reece

    Thanks for this post. Breast cancer runs on both sides of my family so I know I’m due for a check up soon. I also do random check ups on my own, but like you I’m no doctor and I tend to freak myself out if I feel something that shouldn’t be there. Doctors visits aren’t fun, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

    • Totally! My mom had her breast cancer when she was really young so it’s always been there in the back of my mind so actually finding a tumour was a bit stressful but I’m so glad that I convinced myself to go to the doctor! x

  • Such an important thing to share! I went to the doctors this year for the same thing but came out with the conclusion that they are just lumpy and bumpy but it’s so important to just get it checked!

    • So important! I know so many women who’ve talked themselves out of going, saying “oh it’s probably nothing” and I’m like “NOOOOOO! DON’T DO THAT!” x

  • ninegrandstudent

    So glad you’re okay! I have verrryyy lumpy boobs and have had a couple of ultrasounds when a new one appears (I tend to get one when I exercise too hard/pull a suitcase for longer than a few minutes). I am constantly on at my friends to check even though we’re still early twenties, it’s shocking how it’s not really that common!

    NINEGRANDSTUDENT: A Lifestyle Blog

    • It’s so uncommon and it’s really dangerous! I know so many women who’ve talked themselves out of going to the doctor to get a lump checked, saying “oh it’s probably nothing” and I’m like “NOOOOOO! DON’T DO THAT!” x

  • When I had my first mammogram they found something, so had to have a ultrasound done followed by a biopsy I found the biopsy alright not painful and had to wait two weeks for the result which showed it was nothing to worry about

  • Amanda, so glad to hear all ended well. I’m one of those people who hates going to the doctors, so thank you for sharing your experience. It was a good reminder to remain mindful and the importance for general checkups, which I suck at!

    • And boobs are such a weird thing to gauge that if you even faintest of suspect something you should definitely go to the doctor! x

  • Gosh glad to read you’re well! And thanks for sharing the experience too! Boobs are lumpy aren’t they! I will keep checking! Always!

    • Totally lumpy! And all the pamphlets and things always say that they are lumpy but when you hit a tumour it will be a noticeable difference but when I found mine I was like “maybe? is it really that different? I’m not so sure…..” So always go to the GP just in case! x

  • Thank you so much for writing about this openly and honestly. We can never have too many reminders to keep checking ourselves and our partners. So glad to hear your experience wasn’t too traumatic and that you’re okay! x

    • Thanks so much Hannah! I was just really surprised that there was so little information about the details of things out there when I was doing my research. I know so many women who’ve talked themselves out of going to the doctor to get a lump checked, saying “oh it’s probably nothing” and I’m like “NOOOOOO! DON’T DO THAT!” x

  • You are an inspiration, and YES to spreading the word about checking your boobs! My mum has had breast cancer 3 times so I’m also super vigilant about checking my boobs every day in the shower and also lying down. I am SO pleased for you that you were ok, hoooooooray! Alice xxx

    • Thanks Alice! I don’t know if you’ve thought about it, but you can ask your GP for a referral to met with a breast cancer geneticist to screen you for the two genes because of your mom’s history. (I did this right before we went away on honeymoon). I know knowing isn’t the right decision for everyone but it’s always an option! (Plus testing negative for the genes still doesn’t mean that you won’t get breast cancer but it helps to know) x

      • Very annoyingly, even though mum had breast cancer 3x before she was 50, because none of my other direct female relatives have had breast cancer, I’m not eligible for the BRCA1 blood test! Frustrating! I’d spent ages trying to decide whether to get the test and then to be turned down for it was annoying. Did you test negative? xxx

        • Man that is frustrating. My mom had hers pre-40 so it automatically qualified me as at risk. I tested negative (thank goodness!) but because it only screens for that one particularly type of breast cancer I still have the same risk for having breast cancer as the general population now. I went into the test having made the decision that I’d it was positive I would opt for the mastectomy. I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to take that choice! X

          • Mmm I’m not sure what choice I would have made, and it’s annoying that they wouldn’t let me have the test as Mum was 39 at her first diagnosis, 41 at her 2nd and 43 at her third! Seems crazy, but the problem is, if they don’t think you’re a significant risk then I guess there’s nothing else you can do! xxx

          • Ugh. That’s so frustrating! It’s quite expensive ( I think around Β£1500) to do it privately, which seems so unfair! X

  • Glad to hear you’re okay!

  • Thank you for sharing, Amanda. I’m so glad you’re all right, and so glad that you got such good care. I’ve been lucky enough not to directly know anyone affected by breast cancer (though my grandma had pancreatic cancer), so I always really appreciate reading other people’s stories that remind me to pay attention.

    On a much lighter note, that’s a beautiful blouse. Is it Laura Ashley, by any chance?

  • I’m so glad it was benign! Thanks for reminding us of the importance of self-exams.

    Your biopsy experience sounds like when I had my skin biopsied last summer. I couldn’t feel anything, but yes, it was quite loud as they essentially hole-punched my skin to take samples.

    • The biopsy experience was totally fine – the bruise took over my entire chest but I wasn’t very sore which was great. The only surprising thing was how much it bled. x

  • Thanks for sharing this! A few years ago I felt a lump and had an ultrasound but I was told that it was just lumpy tissue that forms depending on my hormone levels. Maybe it’s time for another check though! My mother survived breast cancer too so another reason to be cautious.
    Glad you’re okay!! x