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Finding a Lump — My Worst Fear

Columnist Sarah Frank shares her story about finding a lump and then waiting to find out if it was or wasn't cancerous.

As a teacher, I know that the start of a new school year is filled with it’s own stress. Getting my classroom in order before students arrive takes days if not weeks to do and encompasses hanging bulletin boards, moving desks into their proper placement for students, passing out supplies and books, and labeling everything. Each year, even though I have been teaching for 14, I get nervous all over again in excitement and anticipation.

This year, however, even more stress came into my life as I discovered what every person dreads — a lump — and only a day before a weekend and the start of the school year the following Monday. I was applying my deodorant Friday morning when I noticed a lump under my arm. As a survivor of thyroid cancer at 21, 16 years ago, I do not take lumps lightly.

I spent most of my Friday trying to get in to see a doctor, which I finally was able to do late Friday afternoon. Of course, this doctor’s visit really told me nothing more than I knew — yes, there was a lump.

I was told I would have to get an ultrasound of it before I would know anything further. The doctor who saw me at Kaiser in Pleasanton assured me not to lose sleep over it, but I was beyond worried.

Many years ago, I realized one has to be proactive with your own health, so I was on the phone Saturday morning, after being told the day before that it would take about 24 hours to process the referral to Kaiser Martinez’s Breast Imaging Center. I was given an appointment on Wednesday at the imagaing center, a mere five days after my initial appointment.

I drove myself to the appointment while my husband stayed at home and watched our three sons. The procedure itself was painless and simple. Fortunately, the doctor at this facility was able to tell me the results right away. She did not "think" it was cancerous but was not sure what it was. She told me I could have it taken it out if I wanted, which of course I said, “YES!” 

I did not want this lumpy thing in my body one more day — whether it was cancer or not!

Again, I was on the phone speeding up the process as only the patient advocate can do! I was asked if I wanted to come in just a few days later to have a surgeon look at the lump. I was there at the appointment time, eagerly waiting for a speedy resolution to this troublesome worry. The doctor was very kind and understood my worry, especially with my history of thyroid cancer. She fit me in for surgery, even though the next appointment was not technically until Sept. 16 and this was still August! I was so thankful.

From the time I first called Kaiser until I was in the surgery room having the lump taken out was just 9 days. Yes, nine agonizing, torturous, long days for me spent trying to keep the worry at bay. Still, though, nine days from initial appointment to surgery is really remarkable now that I look back on the experience.

The surgery itself took only about 30 minutes and was not nearly as painful as I had imagined. Afterward, I had some minor discomfort and pain, but I was tough and dealt with that. Again, I was just thankful not to have this foreign entity in my body anymore.

I played the waiting game again as the lump was analyzed in the lab. I was much less worried though, this time, as it was at least out of my body. About three days later, I called in for the results of the biopsy and was elated to learn it was not cancerous. It was simply an enlarged lymph gland. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and slept well that night!

Besides the usual stressors of beginning a new school year, finding this lump magnified the anxiety level inside me ten fold. It is finally now, almost a month and a half later, that I even want to share my story with you. It was a very scary realization to think that I might have to fight cancer in my own body again, after fighting my husband’s brain tumor six years ago and my own bout with cancer at 21.

The message to me, my family, and anyone else is that knowing your body is essential. I am proud of myself. I saw a lump in my body that I might have otherwise never noticed because I am ultra-aware of my person. Even though this was not cancer, I have no regrets about the steps I took. I would do it all over again!

Renae Wilber October 11, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Thank you for sharing your story, the importance of knowing our bodies, being proactive, and for me - for validating the hell I went through upon finding my own lump, the wait, the agony, and the beginning of a very long cancer journey. Awareness and education are key to saving lives! :)

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