In 2014, Jenna was breastfeeding her newborn when she noticed an unusual inflammation around one of her nipples. Concerned, she visited her doctor, who diagnosed her with mastitis, an inflammation around the nipple often caused by a blocked milk duct or bacteria in the breast.
The symptoms of mastitis, which include breast pain, swelling, fever, and chills, are usually treatable with antibiotics and, under normal circumstances, resolve between three days to a week. This seemed to be the case for Jenna — at least at first. The mastitis disappeared after her first round of antibiotics and she returned to breastfeeding her newborn. That was until the inflammation returned.
Chronic Recurrent Subareolar Abscesses
Even more concerned than before, Jenna revisited her doctor, who sent her to a breast surgeon. The surgeon opted to treat the inflammation with a procedure called I&D, or incision and drainage, which involves making small cuts in the skin to release pressure and puss. The surgeon performed the I&D on Jenna’s inflamed breast right then and there, gave her more antibiotics and medication for the pain, and sent her on her way with the hope that this would clear up the mastitis once and for all.
When the mastitis recurred for the third time, however, the doctors treating Jenna began to wonder it was something more. As it turned out, they were correct.
The doctors called it chronic recurrent subareolar abscesses, an incurable and rare disease that none of them had ever seen before. Because it is so rare, there’s little information available about how best to treat it. Usually, doctors continue treating it like mastitis, by prescribing stronger and stronger antibiotics alternated with more I&D. In other words, not only are the chronic recurrent subareolar abscesses incredibly painful, so is the treatment, which involves cutting directly into the wound.
To make matters worse, soon after, the subareolar abscess transferred to Jenna’s other breast. She now had a chronic, rare disease in both nipples.
“It was very painful,” she says. “I became very depressed because I kept having to get my breast cut open at least five times on both sides every couple of weeks.”
This went on for almost a year. Jenna saw multiple breast surgeons and visited an infectious disease surgeon. She even had two procedures in the operating room where doctors put her under for especially deep I&Ds. Still, after every treatment, the subareolar abscesses returned.
“I have a breaking point,” she says. “I cried and just said, ‘I don’t know how much more cutting and packing the wounds I can take’.”
Out of Options
At that point, her original breast surgeon said they were out of options. So, Jenna tried one last breast surgeon, who attempted a procedure called roping and drainage where they placed several stitches in Jenna’s nipples to open them up and drain the infection.
“Of course, that didn’t work,” says Jenna.
After that, Jenna decided she wanted to have her nipples removed. The new breast surgeon even offered to try one last thing — acne treatment, which might ease the infection — but Jenna refused.
“Nothing had worked thus far,” she says.
Jenna was 29-years -old and had been battling severe nipple pain for a year. Her surgeon agreed and they made plans to remove her nipples.
Read part II of Jenna’s Testimonial here.