Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lessons from a Lump; Part 3

Man, this story is taking forever to tell! But as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and I have a lot to process. Now that it has been over a week since this happened, it feels so surreal. It feels like it wasn't real and only a bad dream. A hiccup.

I went home on Tuesday, tired from my all-day ordeal with the doctors/hospitals/tests. While I fed Willow and took a moment to recuperate, Adam went to speak with our boss. He let him know the situation and that we might need to leave Shenyang without much notice. He was very supportive.  Adam, Willow and I went to our friends' home where many of our team members were gathered for dinner. It was weird to go on with the formalities and pretend like nothing was wrong. It was strange to answer questions about the future, such as the play, when I had a sinking feeling that I would be flying back to America any day. How this affected us most immediately was the soccer tournament. Adam was planning on leaving Thursday morning, but with the situation as it was, he didn't feel comfortable going any longer. He called the PE teacher who is charge of the sports to tell him that he might not be able to go to the tournament. I, on the other hand, called the assistant director and told her she might have to take Little Women over without much notice. We abstained from telling our families for a few reasons. My mom and sister were on a vacation/field trip and it would be difficult to get a hold of them. Plus, I didn't want to ruin their trip with bad news. More than that, I didn't know what to tell them since I had very few answers myself. Adam's parents were also out of town, so we decided to wait a little.

With the prospect of returning to the States before the school year was over, Adam decided to stay home from the soccer tournament (which literally killed him, he wanted to go so badly!) so that he could make lesson plans for the rest of the year. He already had subs lined up for Thursday and Friday, so it was convenient to use that time for lesson planning. Wednesday, he really felt like he had to go into work. I needed to return to the #4 Hospital to meet with a specialist in the oncology department. A friend graciously agreed to go with me. She even found a private driver to take us in, which was a blessing since the weather turned out to be cold, windy, and rainy that morning.

At 7am on Wednesday morning, I walked out of my room, got Willow and walked into our living room. I stopped in surprise to see Adam sitting on our couch. "Why are you still here, did you miss the bus?" He usually leaves at 5:45 every morning. That's when he told me that school had been canceled because of a power outage. The weather was also a bit nasty. I know that the 'no school' situation put a lot of students, parents, and teachers at an inconvenience, but I couldn't help thinking that it was a blessing. Now I didn't have to drag Willow out in the terrible weather, to a dank hospital, where I would have to wait for who knows how long. She wouldn't be able to crawl around, play, or nap in that situation. I was so thankful that Adam was no 'forced' to stay at home by the power outage, so that he could watch Willow. What an answer to prayer! While I was walking outside to meet the driver, I couldn't help feeling 100% relieved that Willow didn't have to go with me to the hospital. I had wanted Adam to stay home originally, but felt bad asking him when he  was already taking 3 days of absence that week. God really works small wonders.

My friend and I got to the foreign clinic in good time. We were then joined by a 4th year medical student and a nurse, and then went on to the Chinese hospital. Of course, once we were there, we had to go to several different counters to register and pay. I had to pay about 80 cents to meet with a specialist. We walked to the cancer wing and waited to see the director of the department. He was in the middle of a surgery, so we had to wait a few minutes. I was surprised that I got to meet with the head guy out of all the other doctors. He brought us to his office where he read my report, looked at my ultra sound and mammogram, and then did a quick exam. His opinion was very quick.

The tumor was most likely benign. It was probably not cancerous. Because of its size, it should be removed, but surgery could wait until the summer. A biopsy should be taken to see what the tissue is. It could be done that very same day! However, since I was nursing, I needed to wean Willow. He could give me some medicine that would dry me up in a week.

That was quite a lot to process! My friend, the nurse, and the medical student all have excellent Chinese--so I was the only one who could only understand every 100th word.

I didn't like the idea of waiting a week for a biopsy. I also didn't want to wean Willow cold turkey. I asked why I needed to stop nursing in order to get a biopsy. Apparently the risk was that in the process of taking a tissue sample, a milk duct might be pierced by the biopsy needle. This could cause a milk fistula that wouldn't be able to heal while nursing. It would cause constant leaking of milk and other fluids that wouldn't stop unless I weaned Willow. However, he said that the chances of this happening were pretty low, since the lump was close to the surface. I decided to risk the possibility of hitting a milk duct, but didn't want to get the biopsy on Wednesday. I went home feeling a lot better about the situation and my future. It was such a relief to hear from the lips of yet another professional that the tumor was probably benign.

Adam and I decided that Friday would be the best day for the biopsy, since he had subs lined up to teach his classes already. On Thursday, he told his soccer team and his colleagues what was happening with me. The response was instant. Skypes, emails, texts, phone calls...all people in our community telling us that they were praying for me. People offered us meals and help--we felt very supported. I think all the prayer did make a difference. So many friends and students were praying for us. The teams at the soccer tournament, the students at school, our teacher friends and team many faithful friends were lifting me up, and I could literally feel it. No one needed to tell me that there were praying, I could tell the difference. A few days before, only Adam and I knew about it, now there were many interceding--and it was tangible. Before, everything had felt so out of my hands and surreal. It was a hazy chaos filled with lots of denial. Now, i felt confident that God was taking care of me, regardless of what would happen. The situation felt the opposite of surreal--it felt like it was in His control and completely peaceful. I felt a real shift in my attitude and perception of what was going on around me. My dad called on skype while he was on the phone with my mom and I couldn't help but let them know what was going on. I felt a little bad for spilling the news, and could tell that they were worried.

Friday morning came and I wasn't nervous about the biopsy at all. Adam went with me this time and another friend volunteered to babysit Willow for us. I brought my iPod so that I wouldn't have to listen to the biopsy. Of course, once I got in the operation room, I realized that my iPod was dead. Dang! I had a moment of panic because I was worried that the sound would make me faint. The director of the department, who I had seen on Wednesday, came and did the biopsy himself. He was a very kind doctor--he had answered all our many questions on Wednesday, and wasn't offended by us at all. he was patient with all the translation and very helpful. He made the situation seem so easy. I was thankful that he was doing the biopsy, because I had been able to build some trust in him. He didn't seem corrupt. He wasn't making me stay in the hospital for three days (like I was told I would have to, originally). He wasn't making me pay a crazy amount of money...He'd been doing this sort of thing for over thirty years. I felt like I was in good hands.

He also reassured me. He told me in a loud voice, "No hurt! Because, I professional!" I laughed. Adam left the room because he was worried that his presence might make the Chinese doctors nervous. I had to listen to everything, but didn't feel a twinge of pain.

The doctor went in with his scary biopsy tool. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on something besides getting punctured by metal prongs. He took a tissue sample and immediately said, "It's definitely not cancer". He went in a second time for another sample, and then said, "Mei you le". Which basically means, "It's not there anymore".

I opened my eyes and looked at his face. He had a little bit of surprise written on his face. I looked at the medical student who had accompanied to the hospital again. She looked a little surprised too and started translating the situation for me. She described the situation too--she said that as he was puncturing me (he did several times over and over again), blood and milk were coming out. The Chinese doctor kept saying, "gone now. No more!" and he made me touch my breast where the lump had been.

Sure enough, the tumor that had been the size of a golf ball was gone!

What happened?
After the biopsy results came in, an hour later, it was confirmed that the lump was not a tumor, but only a form of mastitis.


Medical Explanation: several months prior, through a nursing related infection, a milk duct had closed off, forming an abscess. The milk that was trapped in the duct eventually began to harden so that the ultra sound did not pick up any traces of liquid. It also began to bleed, causing the skin discoloration. The hard mass of milk had basically become a solid. When the biopsy punctured the lump, it began to drain.

But, I'm prone to question this. Perhaps this is what happened, but it still leaves me with some questions. Why did I not experience any infection related symptoms like fever, inflammation, hot skin, etc? Why did the ultra sound and mammogram not indicate that it was a cyst or an abscess that could be easily drained? Why did it stump so many doctors as to what it was? Why did it appear, even to experienced doctors who deal with breast cancer every day, that it was a tumor?

Even the smallest miracles require faith. I really think that I was healed. And even if you are too skeptical to join me in this sentiment, you cannot deny the fact that I learned a lot through this experience. It was a life changing event. An Ebeneezer. My next post will be about all the things that God taught me during this storm.

All in all, there is no cancer, no tumor, no lump, and I don't even need surgery. I'm feeling great, can still nurse Willow, and have recovered from the biopsy/draining.

Thanks for your prayers! They were a catalyst and a comfort.


  1. This is great news, Julie! I am so glad and thanking God that this turned out well. Thank you for sharing your story and the lessons God was teaching you. His plans for us are always for our good!
    ~Mrs. Dunn

    1. Thanks for reading and praying for me. Come what may, He is always faithful!