The morning after Valentine’s Day, I had finished my morning cardio workout and was going to head into the shower when Rambo (the artist formerly known as Blues) gripped me in his viselike bear hug. I finally managed to escape and mock-whined about the pain he had caused. But as I got ready for my shower, I did notice twinges of pain. I did a self-exam and found what felt like a small, hard mass. With heart pounding, I returned to our bedroom where I asked my boyfriend to confirm my suspicions. Yes, there was a lump. Yes, it was painful. I immediately called the advice nurse and I was booked an appointment with the breast clinic. My surgeon felt it was a benign cyst but I would still undergo a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy.
Due to my hectic work schedule and my usual desire to power through it, these tests were delayed by about a week. By then, what was a tiny lump became increasingly painful and swollen. I began to experience a low-grade fever. Life went on as usual, despite my overwhelming fear of breast cancer and my overall fatigue. To complicate matters, the biopsy site became infected and after two rounds of antibiotics, I had to undergo an incision and drainage of the abscess. I was back at work the following day despite the pain, with antibiotics and gauze dressings in tow. By then, a second surgeon had been consulted and I first heard of IGM, idiopathic granulomatous mastitis.
IGM is a rare disease. It is similar to mastitis which affects nursing mothers. The I in IGM means “I don’t know.” Researchers have yet to pinpoint the causes. Some women with IGM, like me, nursed their children between two to six years prior to experiencing symptoms. Some may not have had children at all. It’s an “I don’t know.” What is known is that IGM is a chronic condition like gout or arthritis. It won’t respond to antibiotics because it’s not a bacterial infection. It is an inflammation of normal tissue which can flare up. I had done some online research but I hadn’t yet been given an official diagnosis. There were plans for a possible lumpectomy if the symptoms didn’t clear.
I had stopped dancing with SambaFunk because of the pain of infection. However, as soon as I could after my first outpatient procedure, I was back in class, bandaged but determined to prepare for Carnaval. I resumed exercising daily. Work had never let up so I continued to balance the various demands on my time. Every day, I changed my dressings three times a day. Every day, the wound was not healing. Though my biopsy had shown no sign of cancer, I worried about my immune system. Was I pre-diabetic? Was something wrong with my white blood cells? I checked in with my surgeon via email and by phone but I failed to demand to be seen again. Follow up appointments were rescheduled and canceled. I was too focused on my work obligations to put up much of a fight.
The weekend before I was due to leave town for a school accreditation visit, I noticed pain in my ribcage after my morning workout. Upon inspection, I realized the pain was radiating from my original wound. I called the advice nurse. She booked me an appointment with an emergency room doctor. That doctor took one look at my wounds and said she needed to call my surgeon who happened to be in the OR on a Sunday afternoon. When she asked that I be transferred to the ER as a high priority, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving town. My surgeon, dressed in OR scrubs, came to see me and said I would be undergoing emergency surgery the following morning.
The good news is I don’t have cancer or diabetes or any other major illness. I came home on schedule Wednesday evening. I was placed on medical leave for four weeks and I have been wearing a Wound-Vac machine 24/7 since the day after my surgery. I am now being treated for IGM with anti-inflammatory meds. For the first time in months, I am not living with an infection. I miss dancing and exercising but I know that soon my body will heal and I can resume these activities. More importantly, I’m finally taking time for my health.