The Day A Blocked Milk Duct Saved My Life

When a breastfeeding mother had what she thought was a blocked milk duct, she found the startling truth

My daughter was four months old when I found the lump. I had been experiencing some mild soreness in my right breast for a few days and had chalked it up to my milk ducts being irritated. After all, I had a newborn baby so this kind of thing was pretty common. On this day though, the pain was a little worse so I began feeling around my breast trying to locate the source... and there it was.

It was about the size of a marble on the right side of my breast. Of course, I wasn’t overly alarmed but I decided to make an appointment with my doctor since the pain didn’t seem to be getting any better.

About a week later, I arrived at my appointment and had the lump checked. The doctor felt it and then said she could feel two other tiny lumps in the same area. They were probably blocked milk ducts she assured me, but she was sending me to the breast clinic at the hospital just to be sure.

Another week passed and I am sitting in the waiting room at the breast clinic. There are a few other women in the waiting area and two of them are crying. I think to myself how sad it must be for these women who have been told they have breast cancer. I’m thankful that I’m only here to check out my blocked milk ducts. Soon I am called in for my mammogram and then my ultrasound. Everything seems pretty normal until the technician leaves the room and comes back with the radiologist. He takes the ultrasound wand, starts looking around and says, “You’ve got a lot going on in your right breast”. My heart stops for a second.

What does that mean? A lot of blocked ducts? I am waiting for him to elaborate but he just continues to scrutinize the images on the screen. I ask him, “Should I be concerned?” He responds, “It could go either way”. Again, I have no idea what that means.

I’m here for a blocked milk duct. What does he mean, “It could go either way”? I'm sent back out to the waiting room to wait to see the surgeon. At this point I'm shaking and crying and realizing that I probably shouldn’t have come to this appointment alone. The nurses are sweet and bring me cookies and a blanket.

After what seems like an hour, the surgeon calls me in and starts talking to me about what they are seeing. Seven suspicious areas in my right breast. SEVEN! I’m extremely alarmed when the doctor starts trying to ease my mind by telling me that there are plenty of treatment options for breast cancer. It seems like he’s trying to make me feel better but the second he says “breast cancer” I start to panic.

He tells me they need to do a biopsy immediately and I am sent back into the ultrasound room where the radiologist freezes me and proceeds to take eight samples of breast tissue. I am then sent on my merry way and told they will see me again in a week with the results. Only one week. It’s not like I’m going to spend an entire week obsessing about breast cancer right? (Wrong.)

The week passes and I find myself again sitting in the waiting room at the breast clinic. This time I’ve come with backup (my Aunt). One of the nurses from the previous week sees me and says hello. I’m trying to get a sense from her face if she knows my results and if they are good or bad. Was it a “You’re about to receive bad news” kind of hello? I can’t tell.

Finally we're called in to see the surgeon. My heart is racing as I prepare myself to hear bad news. The surgeon sits down at the table and says, “Unfortunately all of your biopsies tested positive for cancer”. I’m shocked but somehow not surprised. I think I might throw up and I eye the garbage can. I am trying to maintain my composure and remain calm. Freaking out isn’t going to change this. I simply say, “Okay” and wait for him to elaborate. I have what is called “invasive ductal carcinoma” which comprises about 80% of breast cancers. They won’t know how advanced it is until they do an MRI, CT and bone scan. Fortunately the nurse at the clinic is able to book me in for all my scans over the following two days.

Another week passes and my husband and I are sitting in the waiting room at the Oncologist’s office waiting for the results of my scans. I’m actually in pretty decent spirits. I’ve decided that whatever the results may be, we are going to handle this. I have to fill out some paperwork when I arrive which asks me what my “current condition” is. I write “breast cancer” and draw a little sad face because, let’s face it, this sucks!

We get called in and the doctor introduces himself. He looks grim. This is not a good sign. We sit down in his office and he pulls out a piece of paper and begins writing things. He starts by writing what I already know. Then he starts writing something else and I realize he’s written “early” on the paper. EARLY! He says that my breast cancer has been caught early. I break into tears of relief, the first time I’ve really cried since this entire roller coaster began. He says it’s curable and that I’m going to start treatment within the next two weeks. He tells me he’s never had a patient draw an emoticon on their paperwork before. He proceeds to draw a big smiling face beside the word “early”. I think I’m going to like this man.

So here I am a couple of months into treatment and doing well. I am thankful this cancer was caught early. I am thankful that when I felt the pain in my breast that I didn’t ignore it because I thought it was a blocked milk duct. If I hadn’t gone to the doctor then chances are, my prognosis would be much worse.

I am 35 years old and I have breast cancer. I have no risk factors. Nobody in my family has ever had breast cancer, I am negative for the BRCA 1 & 2 gene mutations. I don’t smoke or drink alcohol. What I am trying to say here, without being too alarmist, is that if it could happen to me then it could happen to anyone. So don’t ignore the “blocked milk duct” or that strange bump you see. That is the biggest take home from this whole experience for me—don’t ignore your symptoms. If you feel like something is off or there is something happening in your body that wasn’t there previously, get it checked! It could just save your life.

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