Friday, April 29, 2011

What is a Galactocele?

Five months ago, I discovered a breast lump but chalked it up to something that would go away as I continued to nurse our then 7-month-old.  A few weeks after first noticing it, my milk backed up to almost my armpit.  I did all the recommended blocked-milk-duct treatments -- nurse frequently, massage, warm showers, etc.  Three days later, things were back to normal...except that lump was still there.

Two months after noticing it, I made a doctor's appointment to have it looked at since it was noticeably bigger.  It wasn't particularly painful but by the time I saw the doctor, it was the size of a kiwi.  Having scoured the internet for information on what I was dealing with, I felt prepared to meet with the doctor.  I explained to her that because it would slowly change in size (sometimes a tad smaller and sometimes bigger) that I didn't feel I needed to have a mammogram.

As functional nursing breasts, mammograms often show skewed results.  I wanted an ultrasound but was told that as per "procedure", I *had* to have a mammogram first before I would be allowed to have an ultrasound.  I didn't take to that very well so went looking for another option.

In the meantime, I went to see a massage therapist who specializes in breast issues.  She showed me a few techniques that I had pretty much already been doing on my own.

Following the advice of regarding mastitis issues (even though I never had mastitis), I was taking Hepar Sulphur and Phytolacca which seemed to help for a time to make the lump softer and more palpable.

Then, I caught a bad cold and it seems that my breast caught the sniffles too.  That was the point where the lump ballooned and it was totally obvious from the outside that something the size of an apple was pushing against the back of my areola.  It was very painful at this point...a constant pain.

I went to see a new doctor, an ob-gyn, who agreed that an ultrasound would be the best option.  It was scheduled for a couple days later.

A galactocele is something I had considered from my reading online and the ob-gyn I went to see thought that was likely what it was although she was concerned that it felt harder than she thought it should.  On an ultrasound, a galactocele resembles breast cancer but due to my age, the fact I was nursing, that the lump had gotten large fast and would sometimes be smaller, the radiologist was confident that I had a galactocele.  Many women have breast cysts; some dangerous and others insignificant.  A galactocele is a breast cyst that is filled with (you guessed it) milk.

The radiologist and my ob-gyn said that this was the largest galactocele they have ever come across.  They are rare in general and usually only happen once a mother ends breastfeeding.  I was (and am) still breastfeeding.

At the ultrasound, I did agree to let the radiologist drain it even though I had read that they can refill.  Indeed, 2 hours later, it was completely full again (and painful).  At that point, I was ready to give up breastfeeding and just cry out of frustration.  In case you are wondering about the draining, the radiologist uses a small needle to freeze the area (in my case at the beginning and half way through) and then uses a larger needle to aspirate the liquid (milk) from the galactocele.  Since it had been accumulating for almost 5 months, it looked like sticky white glue.  Pure white though so no infection.

Fast forward 2 weeks after the aspiration... I had been working on reducing breastfeeding on the affected side but that was creating its own problems since milk would start backing up again.  Then... I caught a flu-bug.  Who would ever be thankful to be that sick?  I was!!  I noticed immediately that the galactocele was shrinking.  What else could it do when I couldn't drink and ended up losing 4lbs over the course of 12 hours in the bathroom.

I had been talking to our children about thanking God in every situation because He is always in control.  He was using my dehydration to get this galactocele back under control.  (And, unbelievably, no one else got sick!  I don't even know where I picked it up since it's usually one of the kids who brings home an illness).

Yes, it is still there, but it is now the size of a ping-pong ball and not painful.  Sometimes there will be a brief shot of pain but it's usually over as quickly as it started.  I'm continuing with the Phytolacca and Hepar Sulphur, and I'm working on going 100% gluten-free.  I stopped drinking coffee and caffeinated teas about 3 months ago.  I am continuing to take Sunflower Lecithin as it helps keep milk 'thinner'.  Stress is what I believe created the galactocele to begin with so continually giving my concerns over to the Lord before they become worries is what I work at daily.

I'm very thankful that this is a galactocele and not breast cancer.  There is apparently no correlation between the two.

As I'm still breastfeeding and still have the galactocele, I will update about anything significant that changes or anything new I learn that could help someone else out in a similar situation.  If you are reading this and have any questions due to your own circumstances or have experienced this in the past and have suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.

March 2015 Update - HERE

August 2011 Update - HERE