Writing coach Sarah Bullen and her children were on the verge of returning home to South Africa to start another exciting chapter in their life after a wonderful two-year sojourn on a Greek island. Then she felt a lump in her left breast. This is her story…
* This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Fair Lady Magazine. You can read the text of the article below or read it as a pdf at the bottom of this page.**
Summer in Greece is so hot that even your breath sticks to your skin as it leaves your lips. It was the lazy height of summer and the air was buzzing with possibilities. Everything was good. I had been living on a tiny Greek island for two and a half years and was packing to return home. My kids were ready for high school and we were ready to let go of the island life and join the ‘real world’.
My mother and sister had just been to visit. The house was packed and ready and all that was left was a few days for cocktails, long walks and goodbyes. I had a beautiful man in my life who was coming months later to join the kids and me in our new home in Cape Town. I had a tan and an electric blue bikini and I was going to dine out on ouzo and sardines before I left.
I was standing naked in my room after a cold shower, letting the hot breeze dry the water and bring down the summer heat. I started to feel my breasts. Standing in front of the mirror I palmed them, felt their weight in my hands and then let my fingers feel more closely. No real reason, just a sudden hunch.
My fingers went straight to a lump on the left one. It was my smaller breast; the one I don’t love so much as the fuller right breast. The lump was hiding, just there, and it felt soft, but solid. My heart started thumping. Primal fear was coursing through me. Cancer. The word raced through my blood. I dropped my hand, terrified to even touch that small soft thing.
My rational mind told me to calm down. It is probably nothing, I told myself. But a lump is never nothing. I get every small lump and bumped checked out immediately.
I felt the other one. No lump. Could I have imagined it?
No it was there.
I got dressed and put on a tight bra to strap my breasts up hide them away.
But all afternoon that lump was on my mind. I had to sit on my hands to stop myself feeling for it. I wanted to feel for it, and I was scared to feel for it.
Later that day I Googled lumps and found out a whole load to put my mind at ease. I spent hours combing through information. Good news. Most lumps are benign. There were lots of checks and ‘how do you knows’. Mine felt soft and it moved – didn’t it? That was better than hard and fixed apparently. But still my monkey mind played with terrible thoughts. Or rather one thought. Cancer.
I had a week to wait before I got home and I told myself to stay calm and get it checked out then. My farewell week was supposed to be a round of parties but I was just waiting. Nothing else really mattered. I chatted, packed, laughed, drank wine, cried a bit when I said goodbye. But all the time my mind was really trained and focused on one thing. The lump.
I called my mom before I left and told her I had found a lump and to make me an appointment with the obstetrician for the day I returned. I also made one with my GP.
“Oh don't worry I have had so many of those lumps. I have lumpy breasts. It’s nothing,’ she said. I held tight onto that.
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Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, literary agent and book editor. She coaches writers on how to become authors and how to write to get published.