Please Take This Personally, Redux

There has been silence here for far too long, I know, for no real reason except that work was crazy for a few months, and then because I had fallen out of the habit of writing blog entries it was difficult to get back on the wagon. A fair amount of fun has been had which, as usual, I have totally failed to write about here – among other things, we did a short trip to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, long trips to Laos, London (with a side trip to Pavement’s ATP) and New York, I had a wonderful 30th birthday party at my beloved Black Forest (soon to close because the building is being redeveloped!), and we discovered the ultimate TV bliss of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

But what finally forced me to get back here was something decidedly unfun, which I still felt I wanted to tell you about: for any of you who’ve been here a long time, you might remember that in 2005, I had minor surgery to remove breast lumps. They turned out benign, but it was still an anxious time for me and those who love me. And I wrote about it here back then, because I wanted to warn other women my age that this wasn’t just something that their mums and “older women” had to worry about, it could also affect twenty-five year olds whose only prior boob problem had been said boobs’ tendency to pop out of bikinis in the course of a wakeboarding faceplant.

In a few hours’ time I will be having another operation, to remove another lump. It is a little more worrying now than the last time, because they were fairly sure the last time that the lumps were fine and it was left up to me whether to bother taking them out or not. This time the advice (based on analysis of the ultrasound) is that the lump is “indeterminate”, fed by blood vessels, and should most definitely be removed and biopsied.

I’m telling you all about this again for a few reasons. One, I’ve hardly told any of my friends about this recent development because when I’m hanging out with them I want to have fun and forget about my worries, not bring the mood down. At least now I can just direct them to this post so they’ll know what’s been up with me, and then when we hang out we can go back to talking about how it’s always dick’o’clock in Spartacus: Blood and Sand and how annoying it is to lose one entire level of your fridge to your husband’s flour collection. Oh, hang on, that last one’s just me.

Two, apart from reinforcing what I said five years ago that even young women should be mindful of these things, I wanted to share what could perhaps be described as a cautionary tale about not taking enough charge of one’s health. I knew about this new lump for six months before going to the doctor, a private clinic in my office building. They sent me for an ultrasound in a private radiology clinic, which said the lump looked benign. A year later, I asked for another scan, and got the same advice. I trusted this and took no further action, partly because I was lazy and wanted to believe that nothing else needed to be done, and partly because it didn’t occur to me to second-guess medical professionals.

A few months after that while speaking to my cousin, a doctor, she suggested I consider removing the lump anyway due to its size. It took me four more months to bother going to the public polyclinic (I had decided to go the public health route for the surgery for reasons of cost) to get a referral to the hospital where I had had the previous surgery. From here on things progressed rapidly, because the public health system evidently saw this as a matter of much more concern than the private healthcare providers I had used previously. I had an appointment within days, an incredibly thorough ultrasound a few days after that which picked up numerous lumps that the private clinic scans hadn’t reported (but none except the one I originally sought advice on were of concern), and an operation date within weeks.

Hopefully, the biopsy results will show all is well. But if it isn’t, I will be so angry with myself for being so laid back about it, for allowing a breast lump to stay in me for two and a half years when I could have had it removed within two months. It’s easy for me to blame the private doctors who didn’t take the lump as seriously as the public doctors did, but ultimately I should have taken better charge of my own health.

So that’s how things stand. In a few hours, a team that has never won the World Cup will raise the trophy for the first time, and a few hours after that, I report to hospital for my surgery. For those of you who pray, I’d be grateful for your prayers. I’ll end this by repeating what I said the last time:

Girls: you already know what you should do. Do it.
Guys: do all you can to make sure the women you love take the time and trouble to protect themselves.

Update: I was given the all clear. However, based on the biopsy results I was advised that in time, if left in there and not removed, this lump could have developed into something less than benign. Suffice to say I’m glad, thankful, and determined to be less of a lazy dumb-ass, going forward.

Accurate Acronyming

Paste read an article in the Independent about the increasing number of women seeking breast enlargements. The article quoted a representative of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons – or if you’re in a hurry, BAAPS.

All Clear

4 lumps, 4 “no evidence of malignancy” conclusions. In other words, I’m okay. :)

But please, don’t forget the reason I went public with this in the first place.

It is now nearly a year since my first visit to the doctor, and I had known a lump was there for more than a year before that. I have been blessed with a happy ending (as are 99.5% of women under 40), but if I had heard bad news today I would have had to deal with the disease knowing that **I** could have done so much more to protect myself from it but didn’t – and ultimately, that’s what I’ve hoped my story could help to prevent for other young women. Lots more information, for anyone who’s interested, can be found here.

Thanks to everyone, strangers and friends alike, who expressed their concern and support in comments, emails, text messages, conversations, and prayers. I am neither wealthy nor wise, but at the moment it just feels amazing to know I am healthy.

Stupid Boob Jokes

Given that life without stupid boob jokes just isn’t worth living at all for me, it was pretty hard to keep them out of the previous post. I’ve been making them all the way through this stressful process, but ultimately didn’t want them to detract from the serious message I wanted to send.

However, now that I’ve made my point, I think there’s no harm in a little levity. I don’t intend to spend the days till the 20th worrying unduly, and neither should any of you.

So here you are, a few of the Stupid Boob Jokes Deleted From The Previous Serious Post:

  • “FOUR lumps and still so small??!”
  • While doing a pre-op ultrasound scan, my surgeon was telling me what to expect after the operation.
    Surgeon: There will be some swelling, don’t worry if it takes a few months to fully go down.
    Me: Wow, could you operate on the other one too then?
  • Janet Jackson Demonstrates:

    A good way to do breast self-examination

    A bad way to do breast self-examination

  • I think it’s always important to maintain perspective. Breast self-examination is uncomfortable, breast ultrasounds are uncomfortable, breast surgery is uncomfortable, but in the larger scheme of breast-related activities it seems to me from reading dooce’s account that breastfeeding, in contrast, is MOTHERFUCKING AGONY.

Please Take This Personally

Even as I type this I’m not sure how comfortable I am being so public about it, but a sentiment stronger than my privacy scruples is motivating me to continue.

I had day surgery today, to remove four lumps from one of my breasts. Although one was biopsied last year (needle, boob, OW OW OW) and found to be benign, they said it was best to take them all out for testing, just to be safe.

I don’t know the test results yet, and will only find out on 20 July.

I am only twenty-five years old.

None of this is written to get your pity, although for those of you who pray, I’d be grateful for your prayers. I’m writing this because I’m pretty sure that many of the females who read this blog are around my age, and I want to say to you: please don’t think you are impervious to these problems just because you’re still young. Please learn how to check yourself, and do so regularly. Lumps aren’t at all uncommon in young breasts, and are more than likely to be benign, but you owe it to yourself and everyone who loves you to make sure anyway. I know it’s damn uncomfortable to do, but don’t do it half-heartedly either – I only found one lump on my own, but a thorough scan revealed four.

I’m still quite uncomfortable in writing all this, but this is where I’m coming from: despite anti-breast-cancer messages more than amply publicized both in women’s media and mainstream media, despite all sorts of celebrity campaigns, despite the background awareness most of us have that breast cancer happens to a lot of women and kills some of them, I was still pretty cavalier about it. Irrationally, it took a distant relative’s death from a totally different cancer to get me worried enough to check myself, and then to consult a doctor.

I don’t mean to overestimate the influence my Z-list blog could have on any of you, but it seems from your emails and comments over the years that I have at least influenced some of you in terms of music and reading. And even if I didn’t influence you there, please listen to me here.

Girls: you already know what you should do. Do it.
Guys: do all you can to make sure the women you love take the time and trouble to protect themselves.

[Edit: By the way, I have no objections if any of you link to this post in order to promote its message.]

[Edit: I have received the test results, and thankfully, all is well.]

Wakey Wakey

I have been meaning to write about wakeboarding for a while. Wakeboarding is lovely, though I certainly wasn’t feeling quite so affectionate towards it while grumpily driving to Punggol for our 8 a.m. start on Sunday morning. But once we were the only boat out, speeding over a vast calm expanse of water in sun which hadn’t turned scorching yet, with egrets in the distant shallows and an occasional gull, I realized just how much sense an early start makes.

Over the course of the morning, I was relieved to find that contrary to what my first attempt at wakeboarding indicated, I am not the world’s most spastic wakeboarder. After various absurdly comedic falls, I finally managed to get to a standing position and coast along happily behind the boat for a fair distance.

So, two lessons in, here are some things I have learned about wakeboarding:

  • Going for longer sessions with fewer people on the boat is worth the extra expense. You will learn faster and fewer people will witness your initial spasticity. But like Baz said, wear sunscreen.
  • If you are short-sighted, and decide not to wear your contact lenses for fear of sewage-derived eye infections from the Punggol water, you risk missing everyone else’s madly exaggerated instructions from the boat, such as when they jump around like monkeys to tell you to stop squatting and bloody stand up, or when they assume twisted hunchback poses to tell you that you look like a twisted hunchback.
  • Falling onto your left boob hurts, even when it’s onto water.
  • When removing one’s lifejacket upon returning to the boat, check first to see that your right boob has not slipped out of your bikini. Thank goodness the only other girl on the boat was the only person who saw.
  • Wakeboarding is hazardous to boobs.