I Refuse to Beat Myself Up
Last updated: April 2023
I have been without health insurance, off and on, for all of my adulthood. I’ve never had breast screenings on a regular basis because of this. In fact, I detected a lump in my right breast that I got checked out because I found it through a self-exam. But that lump was unmistakable. It was well-defined, and classically the kind of thing we are told to feel for.
That was back in 2004 when a biopsy in January 2005 showed THAT lump to be benign. I think this gave me a false sense of security going forward. I mean, I have no family history of breast cancer. Of all the cancers I might get, I didn’t think breast cancer was on my bingo card. Truly, I had a good douse of ignorance and denial going on.
Looking back, I remember my cat getting up on the bed while I slept. He jumped right on my left breast. Hard! It was incredibly painful -- so much so that I sat up clutching my chest. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I always had “tender” breasts and even a cold house could make my nipples hurt. At that time, I still didn’t feel anything in my breast that seemed unusual.
About a year later though, as I was still dealing with my housing crisis, I did feel something. Yet, it was a mass, not a lump. It felt like… a shelf. So, I chalked it up to dense breasts and changes in my breasts due to aging. I had never heard of lobular breast cancer and that any changes need to be checked out -- not just “lumps.” (I have mixed ductal and lobular MBC.)
The reality is this: I just didn’t have the bandwidth to address this back then. Every day was a struggle with just the most basic of needs. And so, I am giving myself a break on my de novo metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. I did the best I could at the time, even if I did end up “failing” with regard to self-care.
It was only after my nipple started pointing downward and I detected a new mass in the upper quadrant that I realized something was wrong. It was coupled with nipple pain, but I thought that was connected to me falling into a ravine and suffering multiple injuries. It wasn’t.
A lot more to the story
There is a lot more to this whole story, but I’ll tell you that I saw a new GYN a year into my treatment. When she examined my breasts, she said they look and feel NORMAL. Then I pulled out a picture of what the left breast looked like right before I started chemo -- when my breast was terribly deformed and the nipple went into full hiding. Her jaw dropped to the floor and she called my response to treatment “remarkable.” She is correct. And I feel so very fortunate that, if I have to face MBC -- it is now rather than 10 years ago.
Granted, I wish it was 10 years from now… when I know there will be even more available with treatments that can and will keep us around. But, I will live my life the best I can and make whatever time I have left -- count.
A break in the blame department
For as much as I could be unkind to myself over this diagnosis, I refuse to do so. If there was ever a time when I needed to love and care for myself, it is now. Self-loathing, shame, regret, and embarrassment do not help me. So I won’t even “go there.” There is nothing to forgive myself about, either.
If you are someone who also missed breast health screenings and feel that you might have “caused this,” I hope you will be kind to and gentle with yourself. Even people who do everything “right” end up with MBC. We can’t change what has happened to us, but we can decide to give ourselves a break in the blame department.
I wish you peace.
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.