What I learnt from my boob scare

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I've been reflecting a lot on the year I've had lately, which I generally do at this time of year. While it's been a year of massive growth, fun and incredible adventures, there's also been some real struggles. I've been pretty vocal about my experience with anxiety this year, and over the past couple of months it has been pretty relentless.

In saying that, I've put myself in some fairly anxiety-inducing situations. In November I flew to the Gold Coast to do Bridge Experience Extreme Leadership, which was level 2 of the workshop I did earlier this year in L.A. Without going into too much of it, the three day (14 hour days) workshop is designed to make you face off with the darkest parts of yourself; your identities, your triggers, thought-patterns and beliefs, and crack you apart so you can put yourself back together again with renewed intention. It did quite a number on me. 

I came back to Auckland a little uncertain as to how to assimilate again with my environment. Things looked the same but felt different. Or maybe I was different? That's what I get to unpack and figure out. 

But during this time of reflection, there's been one event this year that I've pushed so far to the back of my mind that it was difficult to write about; the sequence of events and how they played out - plus my associated feelings - a little blurred.

Earlier this year - in fact late last year - I found a lump in my right boob. It sounds more legit if I say that I found it, but it was actually my spiritual healer Karen who picked it up during an energy work session. 

Part of the way through the session Karen paused, lingering over my right breast. “There’s something going on there” she said.

Admittedly I’d noticed a lump there a few weeks prior, but had been too scared to do anything. I had a history of lumpy boobs so didn’t really think anything of it, plus, my modus operandi was to ignore things enough that they'd disappear. (Where else do we do this in our lives?!)

Regardless, I booked an appointment with my GP who confirmed that there was in fact a 1cm lump which needed further “examination, ultrasound and possible biopsy”.

Heavy.

A few short weeks later, and soon after celebrating my birthday in Byron Bay I was booked in for a mammogram and ultrasound. I look back on that Byron Bay trip as a real turning point for me this year. I was coming out of a (very short) relationship and moving into the unknown with this new health scare. I had a choice to make; I could sit around and ruminate on why this was happening to me or I could access an internal compass that was telling me that I needed this. I needed this health scare to force me to stop and take stock of who I was and what I wanted. 

As many of you know from following my blog, up until this year I had resigned myself to being a full-time passive participant in this ride of life. I had this belief that life was just life and we would be dealt the cards we were due, with no room for energetic or vibrational intervention. In fact, I knew nothing about the law of attraction so the topic of energy and vibration was entirely foreign to me and something that someone on mushrooms would talk about. I lacked the confidence to believe I could change the trajectory I was on. I believed that -- through some genetic predisposition -- I had missed out on receiving the purpose gene. Or the career gene. Or the marriage gene. I also believed that, since I'd been a pretty healthy kid and young adult, I was surely going to be hit with some horrendous illness at some point. 

And perhaps that's why a giant red flag was raised this year.

I wholeheartedly believe that all disease first starts as a thought in the mind. I'd spent years worrying about getting breast cancer. In my twenties I was a live-in nanny for a family where the Mum was recovering from breast cancer (sadly I learnt that she died two years ago after it spread to other organs). She believed she knew why she got her cancer. My dear friend Jessica Weller, who is in remission for the breast cancer she was diagnosed with at age 27 can pinpoint the emotional trauma that caused her cancer. I don't believe disease is a genetic misfortune. My grandma found a breast lump in her 80's. I had enough women around me to feel that, statistically, I was probably next. 

I don't believe disease is a genetic misfortune.

In eastern medicine - particularly Ayurveda - they teach that we have a masculine right side of the body and a feminine left side of the body. The same also applies for the front body (feminine) and back body (masculine). Where illness shows up in the body - right, left, front, or back - can indicate misalignment with a specific person in your life. Illness or injury on the right side, then, indicates an obstacle with a male figure. My life had been plagued with male-shaped obstacles so this was no surprise. Every injury or ailment I had ever had in my life, had been on the right side. Coincidence, or metaphysical guidance?

I’d had an ultrasound a few years prior for another breast lump so knew what to expect, but the mammogram was foreign to me. Because I had private medical insurance I chose to go private. I chose to pay $100 extra for a thermography mammogram which uses infrared detection instead of radiation (which isn't yet covered by insurance in NZ, but I hope it will be). NB: Thermography should never replace a mammogram, but is an effective tool to use in conjunction with.

It was during the ultrasound that my physician asked if she could proceed with the biopsy, then and there. I was given a local anaesthetic before the procedure took place.

If you’ve never had a biopsy, it sounds and feels like a staple gun being fired at your chest -- without the pain. 

Three anxious days later I got a call from my physician to say that things looked fine, but she’d like me to come back for a follow-up ultrasound in 3 months to check that there had been no change. She said that there was an area of inflammation, which I put down to being clotheslined at touch rugby a few weeks prior. It was at that follow-up ultrasound that there was an area of dark shading on my breast that could either be nothing, or it could be "a rare form of cancer that looks like a cobweb of dark shading." Either way, it was obscure enough for my case to be put in front of a panel of physicians to decide the next course of action.

They recommended I book in for an MRI. So, 20th June, shortly after returning home from a whirlwind trip to LA for the Bridge Experience I had my first MRI. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the experience. Mum came with me to the appointment and although I maintained a stoic front in the waiting room, I cried as soon as my back was turned and I was on my way through to the treatment room.

I’d been warned about the noise and about the tight, confined space -- but surprisingly, neither bothered me too much. A year ago, I think it would have been a different story, but I’m in a place now where I get to choose my response. I have a mindfulness practice that keeps me centred, and stops my mind from running away with ‘what if’s’.

In that machine as my veins were injected with a contrast dye so the machine could take a clear reading, I made a list of everything I was grateful for (access to world class medical care being one of them) and circled over it for the duration - about 45 minutes. I repeated the mantra ‘I’m safe, I’m okay’.

And I knew I would be.

Unfortunately, the panel who reviewed my case a further time, were still unsure. On 4th July, I was back at the hospital for another ride inside the MRI machine, this time sedated so they could take another biopsy whilst inside the machine. I’m not a doctor so I don’t know why they needed to do that but it seemed a little over the top. Nevertheless, I obliged. I’ve been under full sedation several times before, but never under awake sedation. I've never taken Valium before but I get it.

The only time I'll show my boobs on my blog, I promise!

The only time I'll show my boobs on my blog, I promise!

This second biopsy was pretty brutal; there was a lot of bruising and later that night the puncture wound in my boob started bleeding. I’d used up all of the dressings that I was given at the hospital so, as the initiative-taking strong independent Dr Quinn medicine woman that I am, I went to bed that night with a sanitary pad in my bra. It’s only now while I'm writing this that I’ve remembered that I have a fully stocked first aid kit in my car. Fuck.

On 11th July I was out having dinner with my flatmate when I got a late call from my physician.

The result of the MRI guided breast biopsy of the lump in your right upper outer breast has confirmed areas of fibrocystic change and sclerosing adenosis.  These are benign changes in the breast.  There was no evidence of any atypical cells or malignancy.

I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was. I am in no way religious but I think I had a little conversation with God that night (sidenote: Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsche is one of my favourite books of all time). I'm not entirely out of the woods yet -- I have a follow-up ultrasound in mid-January, but I'm fairly certain I'll be okay. I now have two biopsy scars on my right breast as a daily reminder to listen to my body and to choose my thoughts and words kindly. 

So, guys and gals (guys, you can get breast cancer too!) I urge you to get familiar with your body. Get familiar with what your normal feels like and please get a second opinion if you notice any changes. Educate yourself about what to look out for. And don't let doctors tell you that "you're too young for breast cancer" because - as my friend Jessica can attest - sadly, you're not. Limit your exposure to environmental toxins and endocrine-disrupting skincare and make-up. Eat cleanly and as organic as you can. Limit your alcohol intake, and your exposure to stress. 

If you would like help with any of the above areas, or you need support with a health scare of your own, send me an email! I'd love to hear from you.

Keep well. 

Squelchy xo 

P.S - I have 4 spots left on my wellness retreat in Bali next May 2018. I would love for you to join!