By Noelle dela Cruz

It was a year ago that puberty started for me: getting inches taller in a few months, beginning to wear baby bras, and almost being able to wear my mom’s shoes. However, a few months into this year I noticed my right breast growing larger than my left breast. I didn’t think much of it since hair had started to grow on one armpit and not on the other. I figured, these things will grow evenly in time. But last month the breast size discrepancy became so obvious as to having different cup sizes. I have long hair, and I don’t go around parading naked, so it took my grandma, a breast cancer survivor, to notice and she told my mom. My mom almost fainted when I undressed in front of her. That same day, I was scheduled to see a surgeon, and had an x-ray and ultrasound before the day ended. The next day, the results were picked up by my mom and I was found to have a lump in my right breast. A huge one. My family, already nervous from the day before, began consultations with family doctors, including a teleconsult with a Dr. Norman San Agustin of Asian Breast Center in Makati City, and we booked a flight for Manila that same week. 

The first time I met Dr. Norman in person, he was a cheerful doctor, which is a must for someone who can deliver doomsday news but also have the cure in his hands. I have been reading online regarding my condition, so when the words lump, tumor, benign, and malignant were mentioned, it held no surprises. I remember how the doctor would pause when the word malignant had to be said and my mom, would finish the word for him by saying it aloud herself, as matter-of-factly as she usually does. My mom is an advocate of cancer being  curable given early detection and treatment. So she talked to me about what the lump could mean after my biopsy results come out. lump=benign, good. lump/tumor=malignant, bad. But even if bad, it is curable. Good or bad, Lump needs to be taken out.

Why did the lump happen? We asked Doc Norman and this is how I understood it. All our cells in the body have a destiny dictated by our DNA. In many, there are abnormal cells and tissues that grow without heeding its destiny. That’s what happened to my lump… It’s unusual at my age, but it happens.

I returned to Asian Breast Center for my biopsy, and I watched the whole procedure of the doctor inserting a needle and taking  blood samples in 4 different areas of the lump. Everytime they take a sample, there is a sound like a stapler gun. A few days later they emailed the result: benign…and the Lump is suspected to be a giant juvenile fibroadenoma. A big contained lump in a teen. I was scheduled to have a Covid test before my surgery and my surgery date for Lump excision was set. They stuck a long cotton bud into my nostrils and my eyes watered a bit, but it was done faster than I could blink. I remembered to inhale as they stuck the long cue tip up my nose and exhale as they removed it. My covid test results: negative.

Surgery day came, and I was cool as a cucumber. It’s the first time I ever had a procedure so invasive and I was already told that I will have to sleep for the procedure so I knew it would be painless. Even as a kid I never shied away from the vaccination needles. I also like watching on youtube those surgical procedures that remove lumps of astronomical sizes from different body parts of humans. That’s just how I’m built. I even asked my mom if I could keep the lump as souvenir as they do the appendix after it’s taken out. But I found out after the surgery that the lump weighed 430 grams and was larger than my hand. So my mom, got the nurses to send pictures to us of the surgery and the lump instead. My mom told me later that the whole family had been praying for me, the families on both sides, from grandma and her friends, mom and dad’s friends.. rosaries prayed, masses offered, novenas held—all for me. Thank you so much for all the prayers!

After the surgery, I stayed in Asian Breast Center (ABC) overnight for observation and it was like staying at a hotel and I got fed with food from a famous restaurant that was part of the building where ABC is too. Afterall, the whole building is a medical mall called Centuria Makati Medical. So all my tests and procedures were done in one place.

I was bandaged for a week and told to return bringing a sports bra. My doctor and my mom conversed about how big the lump was. All it needed was to grow a head, hands and feet and it could have walked out of the operating room. I found out that giant juvenile fibroadenoma, though unusual, was not unique. Those that have had it were usually 14-16 year olds and the weight of my lump wasn’t the largest afterall, but average among giant lumps. And they were usually benign.

So I was finally separated forever with the Lump, with pictures as remembrances. Grateful at heart to God, my family, and the ABC team for the warmth and love. Now, I just have to regularly self-examine for lumps and have annual breast scanning (ultrasound) to ensure no more lumps grow. I shall continue to pray for that. Dr. Norman said to remind girls that BER-months are for Breast Examination Reminders. So remember, girls, early detection and treatment makes breast cancer curable. I hope my journey has helped you learn something.