September 23, 2020

Breast lump follow-up: the specialist

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to discuss my breasts again this week.

Yet so many people e-mailed or phoned me about the column concerning a suspicious lump in my breast that I felt the need to follow up.

A couple of weeks ago I found a lump, a bit tender, in my left breast. After a weekend of little sleep, I was examined by my doctor, who quickly found the lump. The next day another breast examiner found the lump, and I had a mammogram and an ultrasound.

A few days later I learned that both tests were clear, but my doctor recommended that I meet with a breast specialist.

I felt quite confident when both tests were clear and wrote about my scare in a column claiming that I felt my cancer scare was over.

Then your phone calls and e-mails came in, and I learned that too often breast cancer is not detected on a mammogram or an ultrasound. Breast cancer survivors and their friends and husbands called to warn me and encourage me to follow through with the breast specialist.

Two neighbors stopped me to tell me that a fellow young mother of four in our neighborhood had been told a year ago that a spot on her breast was of no concern. At about the same time I found my lump, she was undergoing a mastectomy.

The fear came back, and while no one likes to be scared, I was grateful for people’s willingness to share their stories and to be honest with me. Like so many women who go through similar scares, I spent many hours trying to be rational yet still imagining myself looking into the mirror after breast surgery.

Could I handle it? Could my husband handle it? Would I be emotionally and physically stable enough to effectively mother my kids through the ordeal?

On Thursday I met with the specialist. She was kind and smart and compassionate and, most important, I felt confident that this woman knew what there was to know about breasts.

We talked, she examined me, she performed another ultrasound, and she confidently diagnosed me with Mondor’s disease or superficial thrombophlebitis of the breast. In lay terms it’s basically an inflamed vein.

According to her and to breast health Web sites, it’s fairly rare, and there is no real known cause, but it is benign. Treated with anti-inflammatory medication for pain, it should go away within weeks or months.

She explained to me the shape of the lump, which felt more like a ridge or a cord than a hard round lump, and showed me the ultrasound images.

Patients need to follow their gut when talking with a doctor and certainly need to advocate for themselves. I felt assured that she had made the right diagnosis and left her office feeling like a 20-pound cement block had been removed from my shoulders.

If there are any changes at all, if redness occurs or if it doesn’t go away in a couple of months, I should call, she said.

When I was awaiting my test results two weeks ago, I found myself cooking a lot to take my mind off the worry. As I left her office Thursday, the relief was nearly as overwhelming as the fear, but instead of cooking, I headed to the bookstore and bought a novel I’d wanted to read. I finally felt that I might be able to concentrate and enjoy a good book.

I discovered that cancer survivors are a strong and determined lot. So are their friends and family members. I thank them for encouraging me to follow through, and I hope this column encourages other women to do the same.

One in eight women will get diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. That’s a staggering statistic. But there are ways to fight the numbers.

From 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, a spaghetti supper and silent auction at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer will benefit Laurie and Kevin Stevenson and their family as they battle through Laurie’s breast cancer.

Renee Ordway can be reached at

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