A Bump In The Road: My Journey With The Tumors In My Breast

Please listen to your doctor and do a self-check breast exam every month, it could save your life.

It was almost a year ago when I found it – it being a small lump in my right breast. When I first found it I told myself it was nothing, that I was just being dramatic like usual, and so I ignored it. I frantically texted my friend who was a nursing major describing the location and feeling to her over the phone as much as I could. She told me it was probably nothing and not to worry, so I tried not to. But, my anxiety didn’t let me not worry.

My anxiety knocked on my brain and reminded me every chance it could, it didn’t care what I was doing or where I was. One day it knocked so hard that I finally decided to do something about it. I made an appointment with a doctor at school because I wanted a professional opinion. I sat in the waiting room, a nervous wreck. I had the cold sweats, my hands were shaking like a drug addict going through withdrawal, and I never felt more alone in my entire life. I was going through this journey all by myself. I didn’t want to tell my family because I didn’t want them to worry over something that could be “nothing.” I didn’t want to tell anyone else because I didn’t want that look, you know that look of pure pity? When their eyes fill with sadness and they don’t know what to do or say. I hate that look.

“Gianna?” They called my name. The nurse in pink scrubs took my blood pressure, “120/80, perfect” she said. She took my height and weight, then took me to the last room on the left. I was told to undress and was given a pink paper hospital gown. There was a soft knock on the door and the doctor walked swiftly in. She smelled of Purell and cleaning products and her hands were as cold as ice. She was older, around sixty I would say, gray patches showed in her box-dyed hair, and her wrinkles told me that she’s been around for quite a while. She started by asking me about my family history with breast cancer.

That’s the thing, my family’s journey with breast cancer came long before this scare. My grandmother had breast cancer when I was around three or four. She found it early and was lucky enough not to need intensive treatment. My great-aunt also had a battle with breast cancer. And now here I am, lying half naked on a paper sheet, talking about my family struggles with a lady I met nine minutes ago and she’s about to feel me up.

The doctor looked around, poked and prodded; everything else is a blur. I think my mind wanted to pretend that this all never happened, and I blacked out. Twenty minutes later I found myself back in my car with a prescription in my shaking hand to a breast ultrasound.

Fast forward two weeks later I arrived at Atlantic Medical Imaging on Jimmie Leads Road, on a gloomy and rainy day in early March. I sat silently next to other women who had the same look of worry on their face as I did. We all looked at one another. Without saying a single word we all let each other know that we weren’t completely alone. I waited for what seemed like forever until the nurse called my name.

“Gianna,” she shouted until I woke up from my fog. I slowly walked in the back like a zombie where dark rooms with tables and all sorts of equipment waited for their victims. They seemed to be taunting me, calling my name until I finally reached my room. I was given a Pepto-Bismol colored robe, and was asked to undress once again; you never get any privacy here.

I laid on the table, which was once again covered in paper that crunched when you made even the slightest movement. My heart was in my throat and it was beating so fast and so loud I thought it was going to come right out of my mouth. My mind was moving as fast as a racecar around a track, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing that I was thinking about. The room was cold, ten degrees colder than I would prefer and the lights were so dim you had to squint to see what was hanging on the walls. The ultrasound sat there teasing me. I just wanted to know. Finally, the doctor waltzed into the room. I gave him my story, he gave me his, and we began. I felt as though a drumroll was going off as the ultrasound jelly was squirted on my side, it was cold but I welcomed it. The handle smoothly glided on my skin like a metal detector on the beach trying to find buried treasure.

I wasn’t crazy, there was a lump. There it was on the screen before me. Seemingly it was like meeting someone you have been talking to online for a while and then finally meeting them for the first time in person. It waved hello. The doctor told me it was a fibroadenoma, a firm, smooth, or rubbery lump in the breast with a well-defined shape. It is fairly normal for young women my age to get these lumps, they can last a long time and even forever if you decide not to get it removed, they are usually painless, but mine is not. The doctor told me not to worry, but I would need to get it checked again every six months. I could finally breathe again.

Jump to September 2016 and I was back at Atlantic Medical Imaging, although this time around felt a lot different. I walked a little lighter and felt more confident going in than I was six months prior. I wasn’t nervous at all this time, but I didn’t want to jinx it. I felt as though this time around my appointment went in fast forward. They showed me the tumor again, I named him Timmy. Timmy, looked the same and it seemed as though it didn’t grow since my last visit, which is a good sign. I was finally feeling good about my health until right before Christmas.

It was colder now, lights were hung on houses in every neighborhood and you could feel the Christmas spirit in the air. My tumor never came to mind, unless for my random moments of pain that were rare and went fast. I was at work when my mom called me. I picked up my phone to seven missed calls, and about ten texts saying, “call me right now” all from my mom. My heart sank. Anytime you get a call or text from your mom your mind goes to a dark place that the worst possible thing just happened. All my positive thoughts went out the window. The call was quick and to the point. She told me that the doctor I went to almost ten months prior had called and was concerned with my tumor. She wanted me to go to a breast specialist right away. ‘Shit’ was the only thought that popped into my head. I thought this was all over, but I was dead wrong. Another chapter had just begun.

It took a couple weeks for me to get an appointment to the fanciest breast oncologist in the Monmouth county area. I went to the women’s center at Centra State Hospital in Freehold, New Jersey to meet with Dr. Pellegrino. This place had a different atmosphere than the last two places I visited for my little problem. The waiting room was smaller, and a little less friendly, and it seemed to be a lot more serious. When they called my name they forced my mom to wait in the waiting room. The look on her face was priceless. I was brought to the back room with a similar table and ultrasound computer like the others before. It was starting to feel normal to be in this kind of room. I was asked to undress once again, and I laid on the table waiting for my fate. This appointment was eerily similar to the others. After the ultrasound I was asked to go into Dr. Pellegrino’s office, and my mom was brought in as well. He explained my tumor to me, but truthfully I blacked out during the entire thing. I don’t know what is scarier to me, not knowing or knowing. Long story, short there was not one but two tumors that the other two ultrasounds had missed. Amazing.

Dr. Pellegrino thought it was best for me to get a biopsy right away. Some people are scared of spiders, I am afraid of needles. Needles are my biggest fear, needles and Dakota Fanning. Seriously she is scary, think about it. Back to needles, they scare the living shit out of me. I have fought off numerous nurses, have fainted and woke up with the needle still in my arm, and have thrown up simply at the sight of a needle. Therefore when my new doctor requested a biopsy, my stomach flipped upside down.

There were so many thoughts going through my head on the car ride to the hospital for my biopsy. I thought about turning around several times, I thought about throwing a fit and fighting the doctor and then running away, and I thought about taking the high road a simply dealing with this like a champion. I sat in the waiting room nervously waiting for the nurse to call my name and drag me down the hallway. I was shaking, tapping my foot anxiously while chugging my water. I probably looked guilty of some crime. “Gianna?” the nurse called. Here goes nothing, or everything.

If you’re wondering how I decided to act during my procedure, I decided to deal with it like a champion. I wanted to be calm, cool, and collected, I wanted to find my inner Zen. The nurse asked me to change into a robe, I still haven’t gotten a drink before all these doctors and nurses have asked me to undress. I find that pretty rude. Ok, back to business. They took me to the back room that was dimly lit and ghostly quiet. My heart was in my throat. I could almost taste it pumping my blood to the rest of my body. The ultrasound technician came in and did a quick ultrasound, asking me how long this unwanted guest has been there, how I found it, you know normal small talk between strangers.

The doctor swung open the door and shook my hand, there was way too much going on in my head to remember his name. The nurse that breezed in after him was as sweet as a Disney princess, and she looked like one too. She instantly reminded me of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She could tell I was nervous and told me to try to relax as much as possible, “yeah right” I thought. I laid on the table waiting to get started, not because I was excited but because I wanted to get this over with. The doctor talked me through the entire procedure, but I wasn’t listening.

They cleaned the area, and numbed it with a needle, the doctor told me I would feel a small pinch, and to me a needle pinch is the worst feeling in the world. I shut my eyes and clenched the table with my fists. The nurse asked me if I was okay and I looked at her and said “I don’t do well with needles” and she spoke back softly, “you should keep your eyes closed then.” The Disney princess nurse rubbed my back and encouraged me the entire time with little sayings like “you’re doing great,” and “it’s almost over.”

She is my new best friend. If you have ever watched Botched or any plastic surgery on television or in movies, that’s what I felt like what was happening to me. I will never forget the feeling of them probing inside my chest, tugging and pulling, tugging and pulling, moving my entire body up and down, side to side. I held on to the table with all the strength I had in me. Every time I thought it was over, it wasn’t, and the whole numbing needle thing seems like a lie because I can literally feel their every move in my breast. Not a fun time for me.

After exactly thirty-eight minutes the biopsy was complete. The doctor asked me if I wanted to see the incision. I said ‘no thank you’ sweetly, but internally thought to myself, “this guy must be insane.” Who would that be fun for? I was thrilled it was over but was feeling light headed and weak. They put a butterfly stitch over the hole in my right breast, and covered it up with gauze and that medical tape that is painful to take off. I was sore already. They told me to do limited activity for the next two weeks and to try to relax as much as possible. I wasn’t allowed to shower for two days, I had to wear a sports bra religiously for two weeks, and I couldn’t lift my arm without wincing in pain. I’m on day three of recovering and I am in a constant pain on my right side. I sit next to my phone like an addict waiting for the phone call. I wait and wait and wait, but part of me doesn’t want to know. My journey of my health scares has been a long and dreary road, with bumps (literally) in the road, but it is far from over or complete, it really has just begun. No matter what information the phone call brings I know I can get through this.

My names Gianna Zeppilli. I aspire to be the next Tina Fey or the President of the United States, whatever comes first.

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