In 1988, I developed a lump in my right breast. I was in my mid twenties and while I pointed it out to my doctors -- no one was alarmed.
Finally in 1991, I started to have some pain associated and I decided to take it more seriously and sought the consultation of a breast surgeon. At my behest, he took the lump out and the biopsy read "dense fibrous tissue".
Many people have fiber cystic tissue, but the lumps in my breasts were different shapes, hard and many. Size would change depending on stress, menstrual cycle and caffeine consumption and sometimes they felt tender, but most of the time I didn't feel them!
In the following years, my gynecologists referred me to breast oncologists for my check ups, because the lumps are too many and the tissue is so unclear, they did not want the liability.
I started having mammograms when I was 34, and the comment was my “mammograms look like a snow storm!” I started to ask "what are we looking for?" and no one had the answer.
In 2004, I developed another lump on the left side, this time much more sensitive, and I decided to talk to a friend who had just gone through breast cancer treatment. She recommended that I see Dr. Shawna Willey at Georgetown’s Betty Ourisman Breast Cancer Center.
My experience at this center has been the best care I could ask for. Flanked by physician’s assistant Minna Manola, Dr. Willey took her time to feel, look and discuss my history and current lifestyle and looked at my past and present mammograms.
She and Minna worked hand in glove. She requested a mammogram and ultrasound. Within her office is all the equipment to offer patients a seamless appointment. I simply walked down a hallway to have my mammogram and ultrasound and returned back to my consultation room.
Within minutes, Dr. Willey appeared and looked at the scans on a computer and said the same thing everyone had: “It’s a snow storm in there!”
Dr. Willey felt she was not comfortable not to look at the tissue directly, so we scheduled surgery. I asked to be awake (a local anesthesia) and she said “Great”! But we made a determination that if anything came up that needed aggressive action, she would put my lights out and surgery would begin.
Georgetown is a teaching hospital, which means that students assist in the surgery. In the very capable hands of Dr. Willey, I listened to the conversation about what they saw. Dr. Willey removed the cyst and explained that the type of tissue was unusual, that most cysts were not this fibrous and it was not cancerous or even precancerous. To be awake and listening to the conversation was very assuring to me, giving me even more confidence in my doctor!
My ob/gyn made the firm decision that my annual mammograms needed to be followed by Dr. Willey’s office. Normally, women go to a mammography center, not a cancer clinic, for follow up, but we determined that Dr. Willey’s office was exactly the care it would take to watch my lumpy condition! Minna Manola started a clinic for Georgetown patients like me who have difficult tissue and I've been doing my annual mammograms religiously!