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Posts Tagged ‘breast biopsy

The day after we scheduled the biopsy, I walked around in a funk.

Do I have cancer, again?

I just got the all-clear in January: my vertebral artery dissection was healed. With my last chemo treatment 4 years behind me, and feeling really good, for the first time in nearly 5 years I am healthy. So, why? Why now?

Many thoughts raced through my mind. What about the kids? How would they handle it? Who would make their lunches and help with homework and take them to school? How would my husband handle this? Why can’t I just be healthy? I’d been healthy my entire life, until molar pregnancy ripped the rug out from under me, and caused a chain reaction of maladies that would impact every facet of my life and my family’s. I thought we were past this. So why? Why now?

I called a friend, who’s a nurse. She gave me a dose of tough love.

“It’s going to be fine. It’s probably nothing. I had the same thing happen years ago. It was nothing, and I’m fine. You’re going to be fine too. Stop worrying and get on with it.”

Get on with what? Life? Writing? Planning our summer vacation? All those things I’d put on hold until I had some concrete evidence – cancer or no cancer – because that would change everything.

She offered to accompany me to my appointment, for moral support. At that moment I felt like she was being insensitive. I was in despair; I called for comfort. I didn’t realize this until the next day. I was so grateful for that call. I’m glad she didn’t offer sympathy, or even pity. It was time to get on with life. I got a kick in the ass, and I’m so glad she did it. Why was I sitting around feeling sorry for myself? I’m fine. Everything’s fine. It’s time to get off my ass and do the things I have been putting off – planning that vacation, launching my website, enjoying my time off with my girls. Enough with the pity party. I prayed. And prayed. To God, to the Virgin Mary, to St. Nectarios (patron saint of cancer patients), to my deceased mother-in-law (who died from cancer nearly 10 years ago), to our angel baby. And then I prayed some more. And then it hit me.

Even if it is cancer, there is no time for feeling sorry for myself. So I went about my life, didn’t think about it, started writing, making plans, “getting on with it.” I also called my friend and told her I would appreciate if she’d accompany me to the appointment. I needed the support.

As the days went on, I reverted to old ways – I have this thing about bothering people and asking them for help. So I spent 2 days trying to convince her not to go with me. Lucky for me, she saw right through it.

Two days before, a mom I knew posted on Facebook. “I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and tomorrow I’m having surgery. I demand that you all go get your boobs checked. I had no symptoms. Do it. Don’t wait.” I sent her a private message. I wished her well, and shared my story. She couldn’t believe it. We cheered each other on. That morning, I posted an image of St. Nectarios on Facebook, asking him to pray for her. The prayer chain began. I stalked Facebook the entire day for news about her surgery. Finally, she posted, and she was OK. Thank God! Surgery went well. She would eagerly await my news. I prayed for both of us.

Tuesday. I shopped, cleaned, did laundry, prepared meals. I didn’t want to have to worry about it later, and I didn’t know what would happen next, but I felt better knowing it was done.

My appointment was downtown at 2:00 pm. With traffic and limited parking at the hospital, we left 1-1/2 hours early. My friend is sharp. She told me I had to drive, because she had to leave her SUV for her husband to drive kids around, and she didn’t feel comfortable driving his new car. So I drove, and the conversation was about everything but my impending biopsy. Thank God for her!

We arrived pretty early, parked, and made our way to the hospital. We approached the security desk. “4th floor please,” and the attendant handed us guest badges. “I really hate the 4th floor,” I told my friend. “After today, I’m not coming back. This is my last trip to that damned floor.”

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I was starting to get a little nervous, but was able to contain it. We checked in. Within 5 minutes, I was called to Registration and after signing consent forms, I was on my way. It was 1:45 pm. They told me to expect to be there 2-3 hours because they never run on time. Here they were running early. I was glad. To me, it was a good sign. It would save me some trepidation for what was to come, and get me home sooner.

Same routine: Go through the door and wait for the volunteer. Volunteer arrives, gives instructions, takes you to the dressing room, gives you a lovely green gown. Wait! It’s beige with stripes. Woo hoo! I’m liking the diversity. I take it as another good sign. After changing, I go to the waiting room. Quick! Quick! I’d just taken out my Kindle and started reading when they called me. Deep breath.

A nurse took me to a small room to explain the procedure. I asked some questions. Then the radiologist came in. She asked me if I had any further questions. I pulled out my handy list, printed from Cancer.org

“Hey, you’re prepared! I like that!” the doctor said. “I wish more people wrote their questions down, because once they’re here, anxiety takes over, and they forget to ask, or don’t write down responses, and forget what we discussed.” “I know,” I said. I spent a lot of time on the other side of this floor, and I learned quickly that you have to be prepared, and to take notes. “You’re a pro!” she said. “Will there be a scar?” I asked. She took out a pen. “I will make an incision like this,” and she drew a line :__________. “There is a chance for scarring, but more than likely, you will just have a bruise, because any time you break the skin, you will bruise.” Great. I bruise VERY easily. This should look lovely. “The nurse will come to get you in a minute to take you to the ultrasound room.”

There, I had to partially undress, and lie down on the table. Turn onto your left side, let’s put this pillow under you. Raise your arm above your head. Let’s put this rolled up towel under your arm for comfort.

We’ll give you a local anesthetic to numb the area. You will feel some burning. Then we’ll insert the instrument to extract the tissue. You will hear a clicking sound. Let me show you what it looks and sounds like.

The tech proceeded to show me a device that reminded me of those lighters that you hold a button and click and it lights at the end of the wand. Then she demonstrated the clicking. It startled me. She then said she’d go get the nurse and the radiologist and we’d get started. She left the room. I made the sign of the cross and I prayed. And prayed again. I’m Ok. Let’s get on with it. Deep breath.

The trio returned and the doctor advised she’d check the area with the ultrasound wand for accuracy. The screen was positioned so I couldn’t see. Maybe that’s better. I didn’t know what I was looking at anyway. She found the spot. “11 o’clock, 8 cm from the nipple,” she told the nurse, who scribbled some notes. And the doctor drew on the spot with a marker. “We’re ready to go.”

The anesthetic came with a long needle. I tried to block that from my mind. The needle went in – not so bad – but then it felt like she put in a needle with teeth—tiny saw-like teeth cutting away into my breast. It didn’t feel like burning, it felt like cutting. I prayed. Then the tears came streaming down my face; I couldn’t contain it. I was in full cry-mode. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “This won’t take too long.” Again, I thought of my kids. We can’t go through this again. I can’t. What will we do? We can’t do this again. We won’t.

The clicking instrument now bore a long, silver “stick” resembling a flat, thin screwdriver. The radiologist inserted it, there was a beep, the click, and another beep. She’d hand it to the nurse, who’d put the sample on the tray and hand it back. We’d repeat this 4 more times. All the while, the ultrasound tech was monitoring.

Once the tissue extractions were complete, a small titanium marker was implanted at the site. This marker would delineate a point to check carefully in each subsequent mammogram. Steri-strips closed the incision. Then it was time to visit “The Crusher “, again. Yup. They had to verify that the marker was placed correctly and was stable.

Step forward, lean in, turn your head, hold your other breast away. I have to pull this really tight, sorry. Take a deep breath, don’t move. Beep, beep. Ok, let’s do the side view. Sorry it will have to be a little tighter, as tight as I can get it. Lean in, deep breath, now don’t move. Beep, beep.

She checked the images, and we were done. Then she applied some gauze and tape, and advised me to leave it on for 24 hours, then remove it, but keep the Steri-strips in place for 4 days. Guess she didn’t want me to view the wound. They’d call me with results the next day at 4 pm. Go home, rest, no lifting, no exertion, take it easy. Page the doctor if anything unusual happens.

I quickly got dressed and went to meet my friend. I felt like I was walking in a fog. I was in another reality. What was happening to me? Who was I? I’m not a cancer patient! I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a writer. I’ll be damned if I surrender to this bullshit again. I still felt weird, as if I was straddling this world and another, waiting to learn my fate. We walked out the door, and I noticed the clock. 2:45. It took exactly one hour. Why did it feel like 5?

Check back later this week for Part 2.

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The next morning I got that message. The one we dread.

Huh?

I called. “Can you come on Tuesday?” I tried to keep it in perspective, since I was warned that I’d likely get the call. “Tuesday’s 3 days from now,” I thought. Perspective. I set the appointment, telling myself I’m OK.

Over the next few days, I’d remind myself repeatedly, that it was a formality; I’m OK. I even tried visualization: The doctor says, “We had to double check, because we don’t have any comparison images. Everything’s fine. See you next year.”

That morning, my husband and I discussed the day’s events. “Last week was the “Panini Treatment.’ Today, ‘The Crusher!’” I said, in my most sinister sounding voice. I thought he’d laugh, but he gave me a bewildered look. “Glad you’re keeping a sense of humor,” he responded. Do I have a choice?

I got the kids off to school and headed downtown. I approached the women’s hospital and thought, “I really hate this place!” This is the same place I went for my D&C, and chemo. I reminded myself that my younger daughter was born there. I walked inside, and remembered waiting with my husband by the front windows for the tour of the then-new hospital. Smile.

Then there was that familiar feeling: “Here I am again on the damned 4th floor!” I gazed to the right—the cancer center—where I’d spent so much time a few years before. I’m OK. I’m OK.

This time it was a left turn. The sign greeted me: “Diagnostic Mammography/Breast Ultrasound.” Couldn’t miss the big sign on the back wall: Lynn Sage Comprehensive Cancer Center. Deep breath. I’m OK. A volunteer greeted me and showed me the changing room. Ahhh, the lovely green ensemble. This one had a different print. How chic! NOT.Imaging Sign

“You brought a book!” the volunteer said. “You’ve been told how things work here.” “No,” I responded. “I spent a lot of time on the other side of this floor. I know how it goes.” She looked puzzled, but then gave me instructions.

I waited with 2 other ladies, all in lovely green gowns with different patterns. No one spoke. We all waited. One lady was called for her test. The other was told she would need an ultrasound for verification. No one made eye contact. Everyone seemed to do their best to keep calm. I opened my book, but then took out my notepad instead. I wrote: We just had to double check, because we don’t have any comparison images. Everything is fine. See you next year for your regular mammogram. I recited the mantra over and over. Everything is fine. It HAS to be.

Then it was my turn. “Microcalcifications,” the tech explained, showing me the original mammogram. “We don’t know why women get them, but usually they’re harmless. Oh, and it has nothing to do with how much calcium you get in your diet.” She also informed me that 1 in 4 women are summoned for further imaging, and of those, 75% are first-timers—meaning it’s the baseline mammogram, and they require additional imaging to see all angles so they have images to compare in the future, and also to get a closer look at anything suspicious. Both breasts were to be imaged, because both had these pesky, tiny “white” calcium spots. Again, I’m one of the “Chosen Few.” I’ve already been one, twice already. Enough.

Disrobe. Approach the torture machine. Be twisted, flattened (even more so than the last time).

I think she took four images on each side. She interchanged different pieces of the machine, then mushed and crushed, and basically put my breasts in a vice. “The Crusher” for sure.

Deep breath, hold it and don’t move. OK. Step back. Now come straight in, hold the other breast away, lean in, sorry I have to make this really tight…

The images would be viewed by the radiologist, and then they’d discuss them with me. I would leave with results! I was escorted back to the waiting room. Woman #1 was back, and was soon called to be told she needed ultrasound. A new woman was in there waiting. Was it the same routine for all?

Twenty minutes later, a new tech came, calling my name. “Come with me. We’re going for ultrasound.” She showed me the images, and told me they needed a closer look at several areas. As I lay on the table, arm behind my head, all I could think of, was “I hope my pits don’t stink too bad!” No deodorant is allowed day, as on the imaging, it can resemble something daunting.

I watched the screen. I was curious. I’d watched all the ultrasounds I had with my pregnancies – even the molar pregnancy. But these images were foreign. She clicked, measured, moved around. I don’t know how to read all the abbreviations on the screen, but it sure added to my anxiety level. At one point, I thought I saw a face, formed by things in the scan. I’ve seen this face before — in the ultrasound where we first suspected the molar pregnancy. I was sure my eyes were playing tricks on me.

“The radiologist is waiting. Just stay here and try to relax. Likely, she’ll want to come and double check.” A few minutes later, the tech and the radiologist entered the room. “The microcalcifications are nothing to be concerned about,” the radiologist said, and gave me the “baseline speech.” Phew! I’m in the clear!

Not so fast!

“This is the area that I wanted another set of eyes,” the tech said, pointing to the right side of my right breast. Using the ultrasound wand, the radiologist scanned. I didn’t know what she was looking for, as she click-clicked to capture images and measure things.

Then the other shoe dropped.

“It may likely be just an unusual convergence of the ducts, but something looks suspicious. I can’t really tell by the ultrasound. You have two options: scan again in 6 months, which I don’t recommend, or biopsy,” the radiologist explained.

Are you kidding me?

“It may be nothing. The only way we’ll know is to check. It’s small. We need to know what’s in there, and we can’t wait. Let’s do a biopsy.”

“Now?!” I murmured, trying not to freak out.

“We can’t do it today. Our scheduler will schedule it for the next few days. Let’s not wait.”

I walked the long hallway back to the changing room. It felt like the last mile. What just happened here? This can’t be happening. Slightly numb and feeling sick to my stomach, I changed and waited for the scheduler.

She wanted me to come back tomorrow. No-can-do. “OK, come back Tuesday at 2 pm. Arrive at 1:45, and plan to stay 2-3 hours. We never run on time.”

I have to wait a week until the biopsy. One week of all kinds of things running through my mind. One week of agonizing over the possibility of throwing my kids’ lives into chaos – again. As I drove home, I prayed. I asked God. “Am I missing something?” “Am I not grateful enough?” “Am I not doing something fast enough, and you’re trying to light a fire under me?” There’s a reason here. I just kept thinking about my kids—I don’t want them to suffer through another malady.

Now, I wonder: For a baseline, why aren’t women brought in for the full gamut of images from the start, instead of scaring the beejeezus out them by summoning them for further imaging? That would make sense, but nothing makes sense in the world of medicine and insurance.

Have you ever been summoned for further testing? Have you ever had to ponder the what-ifs of a life-changing or threatening illness? How did you react? Have you ever had a biopsy that showed everything was fine? Do share in the comments below.


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