I found a lump in my breast when I was 19. This is stressful at any time of life, of course, but I was 19, it was winter, and my mother was really far away. I wasn’t just at college, but doing my junior year abroad in England. Bonus: first-hand experience of the NHS!

I got a primary care appointment within a few days (January), and although the doctor gave me a little spiel on how young girls often imagine they feel something in the normal matter of the breast, he stopped very fast after actually checking the little pebble in my left breast.

He promptly sent me on to an actual hospital, a bus ride to the outskirts of the city, where it did take a few months (March) to get an appointment to check out a smooth, rounded, painless lump in the breast. And the appointment started late, too, but they stuck a long needle in my breast, sucked out some of the pebble, and told me to wait a bit for the same-day results.

All fine. A fibroadenoma, which is to say, benign fibrous mass, as opposed to a fluid-filled cyst. These are apparently the main options for smooth lumps. I said “oh, but it waxes and wanes.” They looked at me oddly and said, “well, fibroadenomas don’t wax and wane.” But had me come back in May for another needle biopsy, which still said fibroadenoma. It still waxed and waned, which I was very confident about, because for the first six months or so, it was pretty fascinating to have a lump in my breast.

Then I forgot about it until grad school, and since my records were in England in all, and I was pretty vague about things, the grad school clinic sent me off to the university hospital to have another needle stuck in it. Still a fibroadenoma. “It waxes and wanes.” “Fibroadenomas don’t wax and wane.”

Neglected for another few years—my doctor here was surprised: “So you’ve never had a mammogram?” “No, just the needle biopsies.” (So reassuring when doctors roll their eyes about what your previous doctors did.) And sent me off to the clinic to have my breast squished and squashed (back in the US, on a good health plan, still took a couple of months to be fit in for an appointment).

Results suggested it was just a fibroadenoma, I said, “well, you know it waxes and wanes.” Quizzical looks, and the decision to do a follow-up ultrasound that day. The ultrasound is rather cool—the technician slides a tool around in some goop on the breast and you can watch the results show up on the screen. Still a fibroadenoma.

A couple years later, next check-up, this past fall. More squishing, another ultrasound. Ooh, look, what looks like a second fibroadenoma, one that I can’t feel. But the original still waxes and wanes.

Anyhow, last week, back for the six-month followup on the ultrasound. Nothing has changed with the two lumps since December, apparently. Finally, FINALLY, I said “well, it waxes and wanes and I’ve been told fibroadenomas don’t do that” and after fourteen years of asking this question, someone FINALLY explained to me why a fibroadenoma might wax and wane.

I’ve forgotten the answer already, but luckily it’s in the breastcancer.about.com page I have linked above. Guess fourteen years is the price of not-googling.

I was composing this post in my head for the last few days, but reading Bardiac’s post about mammograms convinced me to actually write and publish it. Plus jo(e) tweeted about her appointment. Must be the season?