A Series of Unfortunate Breast Events

June 29, 2020

Breast pain during the pandemic is extra worrisome, but finding an explanation for it is sometimes much simpler.

The pain was a combination of burning, stinging and stabbing "jolts" in my left breast about every half hour. It started at approximately 4:00 in the afternoon on a Thursday.

Now what? I thought. A two-time cancer patient, whenever I experienced breast distress I always imagined the worst. The pains were strong enough that I cried out every time one came over me.

At about 6:00, I called my doctor and got her answering service. Luckily, they put me through to her.

"I'm having really bad burning, stinging, stabbing breast pain in my left breast, the one that didn't have the cancers."

"Call my secretary tomorrow and make an appointment. I want to see you."

She must have been pretty worried because it was during the COVID-19 pandemic and most of the time, she was simply giving telehealth phone calls.

"O.K., I'll see you tomorrow."

I went to bed around ten and slept for two hours. I was up at midnight. There it was again— the awful pain.

I considered going to the emergency room. But what would they do for me there? Probably give me an EKG. It wasn't chest pain; it was definitely breast pain. And they'd wake up my oncologist and ask her what to do. I didn't want to wake her up. I also was afraid of contracting COVID-19. Hospitals were germy places, especially at that time.

Oh, God, that pain!

Not knowing what else to do, I took two Ativan, knowing that would put me back to sleep.

Suddenly, it was morning.

"Does it still hurt?" my mother asked me over the telephone.

"Not really," I said.

"Are you going in?"

"Yes, I'd like to know what it is."

At 9:00, I made an appointment to see my doctor at 1:00. I had a couple of mild stings, but gladly, the huge pains seemed to have gone away.

For some reason, I didn't put a bra on but simply dressed in a loose shirt. Soon, I was in her office. Due to the pandemic, I hadn't been in a doctor's office in months. The waiting room was empty. I was glad about that. It seemed I was the only person on the doctor's face-to-face schedule. Consequently, I got right into an exam room. The nurse did the routine, preliminary tests and asked the routine questions. Her big question was "Are you having any pain?"

"No, I said, "but I was having terrific pain."

"Can you describe it?"

I told the nurse about the details of the problem.

"O.K.," she said. "The doctor will be right in."

It was so strange to not have to wait for my doctor; in a few seconds, she was there in the examination room.

"Take off your top," she said.

She got right to examining my left breast. She pushed and prodded the little saggy breast skin I had. There was no implant to deal with. That had been removed last summer.

Long story short, she found nothing.

"What could it be?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," she responded.

"I was wearing an extremely tight bra yesterday," I said.

"Really?" Her eyes opened widely.

"Yes, it was an old one. I've gained about 15 pounds and it was one that fit two years ago."

"Well, you've got really bad scar tissue from your mastectomy. A tight bra would compress the scar tissue. That's what it was, I think."

"Seriously?" I said.

"Seriously. That tightness could cause a great deal of pain."

"I'm so glad I didn't end up in Emergency."

"Me, too."

What is the upshot of this little tale? Take a lesson from me. If you're a mastectomy survivor, you too may have scar tissue, so avoid tight bras. This might save you a lot of pain and a trip to either the doctor or the hospital.

We're so programmed as cancer patients to suspect the worst. Sometimes, though, the explanation is simpler.


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