By Youlendree Appasamy
In Part 2 of my series about finding, diagnosing, treating and living with a giant fibroadenoma (aka a breast lump), I tackle my mother and the medical professionals assigned to my case (including two different male surgeons, two male radiographers and multiple female nurses).
It was something I noticed early on. The ‘professional people’ – that is, those with the skills and expertise to diagnose my lump – were male.
The female nurses were kind and matronly. They placated my nerves before getting a mammogram done, and held my hand while I had ultrasounds taken. I remember my first terrified trip to the radiographer’s offices. I wasn’t briefed on what was going to happen. I didn’t know whether my shirt would have to come off, whether I would need to be naked, whether anyone else would be allowed in. The first radiographer I went to was gentle and actually insisted that my mum sit in on the ultrasound. This lessened my discomfort and awkwardness. No other male had touched my breast before and I remember averting my eyes even after the appointment, fully-clothed.
When I went to see a surgeon for the first time, I realised that the power relations were definitely skewed in favour of the medical professional. You must, simply must, trust this stranger with your most pressing health issue (and in my case, in a very intimate area).
My shirt and bra were off for what felt like an eternity. My feelings of discomfort and violation grew the longer I was in the room. I was 17 at this point, and thought I could deal with being examined on my own, especially after noting how gentle the radiographer had been. The surgeon had hard eyes, crinkled skin and was balding. I felt that this man had no right whatsoever to be touching my body, even as a medical professional trying to help me. I still doubted his intentions.
My mom instantly disliked his brisk tone. She remembers the conversation they had immediately after the examination.
Surgeon: “We must remove the lump and insert a drain. This would be the biggest lump I’ve ever cut out. Because it’s a large lump, there will be a big hole left behind.’
Surgeon: “So now I have theatre appointments available from 23rd June. We will book you then.”
My mom didn’t take too well to this news. “Just receiving the cold, hard facts can be frightening,” she said of this monologue. Despite my growing anger at the surgeon about the examination, I wanted the lump out of my system as soon as possible. I pleaded with my mom to take the appointment, but she left without giving the receptionist a theatre date.
My mom is a firecracker. Bonkers. A mixture of traditional Indian values and New-Age mysticism. She put me on a homeopathic diet, a detox and sent me for many lymph drainage massages after this surgeon appointment. I resented her for this – my bodily autonomy was taken away from me by the person who had helped create this body. I didn’t believe a wholesome diet or Reiki would help me in getting rid of the unwanted (and now notorious) lump.
Since the homeopathic diet phase, which ended when I arrived at university, I’ve been in limbo about my lump. The question remains as open-ended as ever . The lump has swelled up in size. Earlier this year it was an estimated 8 cm x 13 cm, but it is benign.
Invasive surgery isn’t a path I will willingly take now because I’ve grown more than fond of my lump. My hand will subconsciously grab my breast when I feel uncomfortable or even sad. I am no longer conscious of the size disparity between my breasts. Growing up in the last few years, I’ve become less and less self-conscious of my odd breasts. I have accepted my giant fibro-adenoma as part of myself.
It is in me – I am in it.