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I was sitting at my office desk–in the middle of the work day, when I turned to my colleague, whispered to her that I was experiencing crazy, painful tenderness in only my right breast for the past two weeks–so painful that it was warm to the touch, and wasn’t going away, I knew something was really off. Panicked, I ushered my bestie colleague of a friend into the bathroom stall at work, to see if she too thought it looked abnormal, or was simply PMS related…
She then called her cousin who was a doctor, and texted her my symptoms. That’s when a wave of panic hit–and she advised not to worry, but the beginnings of breast cancer sometimes begin exactly where my pain was isolated, my areola nipple area. Of course, I panicked! I immediately left work, made an excuse to leave a meeting, and walked down the block to the nearest Urgent Care in lower Manhattan. I should mention, my right nipple had been pierced for over 4 years–with multiple sexual partners, avid hot yoga, running, spinning–and not one single issue or infection with it! The (naive) thought that the gold barbell piercing at my nipple was causing the issue, didn’t even cross my mind!
The doctor there dismissed my pain as period related–and said, not to worry! She said,”if you are still really concerned, go to your gynecologist for a second opinion”–which is exactly what I did. Unsatisfied with the clinic doctor’s dismissed reply, I scheduled an appointment with the gyno, and was seen the following week. At that point, my breast was so hot and swollen to the touch, I couldn’t even sleep at night, and began imagining the worst. At the gyno appointment, my doctor immediately examined my left breast–told me not to panic, but during our appointment, he had personally called his friend, a breast surgeon, and the receptionist had scheduled me a next day appointment for a breast evaluation, and sonogram imaging. When I thanked the doctor profusely for helping me get to the bottom of my pain, he had advised he wasn’t sure what the issue was; ranging from anything cyst, abscess, tumor, or worst of all, breast cancer–I froze. The breast surgeon he had scheduled me with, was a known disease breast surgeon within the NYC area, and I was terrified of hearing the worst news possible.
Luckily, upon meeting the breast specialist/surgeon, she was warm–and after imaging and sonogram evaluating, she had determined it was a severe abscess of the breast, retro-areola, and that it would only take 1-2 appointments of (GROSS!) file needle syringing to extract quickly collecting pus, from the breast–which was causing all the tender swollen-ness, exacerbated by the piercing. A series of two rounds of ABX, and 7 appointments later, at both Mount Sinai + Lenox Hill to remove the abscess via needle extraction, the pus swelling was temporarily reducing and re-collecting after every appointment. Discouraged, and impatient with the returning pus re-filling my breast with 72mL of pus fluid, I walked into the ER on a Saturday morning with my same best, sweet colleague friend, to hopefully get the abscess finally removed. The ER staff on duty advised breast surgeries have precautions due to cosmetics involved, and can only be done with breast surgeon specialists due to potential scarring–but I begged. Finally, the following Monday, the breast surgeon met me at Mt Sinai-Amsterdam and she made the very painful breast incision, finally draining the abscess.
Although, I replaced my 14k gold barbell with a scar, and radically embarrassed myself profusely by whipping open my hospital gown to expose my infected breast when the ER doctor asked what was wrong, AND had to have 4 medical professionals hold me down during the incision-and-drainage opening of the breast–the takeaway here is, please listen listen listen to YOUR body! If something feels wrong, and you are dismissed–knock on all the doors to someone who will listen to your worries. You are your own advocate, and you know your body better than anyone else!! If I had listened to the first doctor’s opinion, who knows how long it would’ve taken to address what was wrong.