When we got home from the hospital, I asked my husband if he wanted the good news or the bad news… or the other good news… or the other bad news. He asked for the bad news. You, dear reader, get the whole story.
After ringing five breast surgeons on Tuesday, we were relieved to find one that could squeeze us in on Thursday. I met with the surgeon’s assistant first, who took my vitals and went over the situation with me: describe the pain… when does it come?… how bad is it?… do I eat much chocolate?… do I drink much caffeine? (no and no)
Then I met with the surgeon’s resident doctor, who when through the same things but in more detail. She asked if I drank much caffeine or ate much chocolate. She gave me a breast exam and said that my breasts felt remarkably lump-free, especially given that I am breastfeeding. Then she paused and said she thought she felt a possible… something.
The surgeon came in and examined me as well. The resident doctor showed him the something she thought she’d felt, but he did not think it was anything worrisome. He asked when the pain came, and how it felt. He also asked if I took in much caffeine or chocolate.
He was baffled as to what the pain might be — both he and the resident didn’t have any real guesses. He decided he wanted me to have a mammogram, and an ultrasound, and a possibly a breast MRI, and felt that those would shed some light on things. His office got me an appointment for later that afternoon, and my mother and the girls and I went off to find some lunch.
I had heard bad things about mammograms, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. The hospital had seemed to take special care to make the process as pleasant as possible. The whole place was beautifully appointed — it had a bright atrium lobby, more like a hotel than a hospital, with a grand piano that played itself to create a calm and pleasant atmosphere — and that thoughtful design extended to the mammography department. I might have been at a spa rather than a hospital. Everything exuded calm: the carpet was plush, the wood accents were richly toned, the flowers were tasteful. I got changed into my gown (heavy cotton, nicely patterned, big enough to keep me dignified) and a lady called my name. She was Linda, my technician — my personal technician, as she explained — and her remit was not only to conduct my mammogram, but to stay with me and hold my hand throughout the entire process. She asked me to explain the pain, and I walked her through the situation as I had the all others before her. She examined my breasts and remarked how smooth the were, and asked me the usual questions: did I eat much chocolate or drink much caffeine?
She took four mammogram shots (photos). I’d been told that mammograms really hurt and was nervous. But compared to the various physicalities I’ve experienced in the last 12 months (childbirth, breastfeeding, a biting baby, and these unbelievable mysterious breast pains), it was a walk in the park. Linda poked and pulled, I held the convoluted positions she shaped me into, the plates squished and compressed, the machine whirred and beeped. After examining the initial four shots, they requested three more.
The radiologist was pleased with what she saw on the screen during the ultrasound: my breasts were very dense, but the ducts were clear and clean, and she saw no lumps or cysts. She asked why I’d been sent in, and I explained the whole situation again. She didn’t have any answer — there was nothing on the mammograms or the ultrasound to explain what I was describing. She asked, like everyone before her, those same questions: did I drink much caffeine? Did I eat much chocolate?
But then she asked another question, “Do you eat much soy, or soy products?” I was surprised, and repeated her question back to her. Did I…? “Yes,” she said, “It’s well-known that eating soy products can cause extreme breast pain. I get pain if I have even a little soy-milk and my breasts aren’t all active and hormonal like yours are.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had changed to soy-milk when we realised that E2 has a dairy allergy. I have it every day in my cereal and all day long in my tea. No one had said anything about this to me before. “Well, I bet that’s it!” she said. It seems very likely — even down to the fact that this intense pain flared up a few days after we moved to the US, perhaps because the soy-milk here is of a different concentration than I got in the UK. She was confident this was the probable culprit, “Cut out the soy milk and see if that helps. It will take about two weeks to exit your system, but I’m guessing your pain will clear up.”
So, there you have it. The good news is that my breasts are clear of cysts and lumps and irregular shapes. I am massively relieved. The bad news is that it means that no one was able to actually diagnose anything. The other good news is that I think perhaps we may have our diagnosis anyway, and it’s simple and easy. I am incredibly excited at the prospect of ditching this pain for good. And, sadly, the other bad news is that this diagnosis — this spur-of-the-minute, coincidental, casual mentioning of a “well-known” fact that nobody seemed to know — came after I had to spoken to an ER doctor ($$$), an surgeon’s assistant ($$$), a resident doctor ($$$), a surgeon ($$$), had seven mammogram images ($$$), and two breast ultrasounds ($$$). I’m going to have to write a big cheque for something that could have come to light as easily at the beginning of all that as at the end.
Never mind. The soy milk is down the drain. I am surviving the continuing bouts of pain with renewed hope of future pain-free-ness, and an enormous amount of relief that it wasn’t anything truly serious. The money thing is a pity but, really, it’s not what matters. I am healthy and, it would appear, soy milk is… evil.