My name is Traci Mulder, and I am 40 years old. I have been a breast cancer survivor for six years, since 9/11/2000, and this is my breast cancer story.
The Breast Cancer Symptoms - Was It A Breast Lump or Not?
I was 34 when I found a tender lump underneath my left armpit. I had just finished breastfeeding our 14-month-old son, Cameron, and was pregnant with our second child.
I was healthy and happy and thought it was probably just a blocked milk duct. But, the medical professional in me told me that to be safe, I should get the lump checked out. And I did.
When I saw my doctor, he agreed that there was nothing in the breast that felt suspicious. There were no obvious symptoms of breast cancer, aside from that odd lump. But, he ordered me to have a mammogram anyhow.
I argued with him. I was a registered nurse, pregnant and had no family history. I was only 34 years old I didn’t need a mammogram. The doctor countered that mammograms weren’t that bad and that arguing wasn’t going to change his mind or mandate.
Mammograms? Not that bad? I wanted to ask him when the last time was that he had a tender body part crushed between two pieces of Plexiglas until it was the size of a pancake. I held my tongue.
My First (And Second) Mammogram
When I was examined by an RN at the Betty Ford Diagnostic Breast Clinic in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before my first-ever mammogram, she didn’t feel anything in the breast, confirming what the doctor had said. Phew.
The radiologist opted to pass on the bilateral mammogram, to protect my unborn child. After getting draped with a heavy lead apron, they took mammograms of one breast. When the squishing, squeezing, and squashing was complete, I was sent back out of the mammography suite to wait.
I expected the mammography technician to report back something like this: “You are all set, Mrs. Mulder. Everything looks fine.”
If only that was the case.
Turns out the radiologist needed more pictures of my other breast, since the mammogram of one breast had revealed a suspicious area.
It was freezing in the waiting room, as I sat half-naked waiting, waiting, waiting for the results of the second set of mammograms.
The nurse returned to examine my breasts again. Since this was my first mammogram and visit to a breast clinic, I had no idea that this re-examination wasn’t standard procedure. And, as my breast cancer story progressed beyond diagnosis and initial fears, it only became less and less standard. Even six years later, I can hardly believe what happened to me and my family after I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Clusters of Calcification - And No Prior Mammograms for Comparison
The RN did a thorough breast exam again and still did not feel any lumps. I felt confident that everything was fine even after I learned that “clusters of calcification” had appeared as suspicious areas in my mammograms. Since I didn’t have any prior mammograms to compare the suspicious results with, they couldn’t tell if this was a change in my breast tissue or not. The doctors strongly recommended a biopsy.
Breast Biopsy - This Can’t Be Good
BIOPSY!?! I didn’t like that word. Biopsy was a word I associated only with cancer and malignancy. Nevertheless, my mind and heart continued to tell me that it was nothing. I would be fine.
As I awaited the results of my mammograms, I was told by a friend and medical professional named Brenda, “Traci, I just wanted to make sure you understand the report. It reads much differently when I have it in my hands than when someone is reading it to me over the phone.”
I told her I understood that the mammogram results could be anything from “nothing” to “cancer.” My heart leaned toward “nothing.”