I lucked out with cancer. I really did. First of all, I was not a rabid lump checker. I remembered to do it every few months, usually in the shower. I did not schedule a monthly visit with myself in between periods lying in my bed as is recommended. I would be showering or getting dressed and remember to check. It didn’t matter what time of the month it was. I had been told that some times of the month are lumpier than others. So when I felt the lump, I thought it was one of those hormonal lumps, the kind that go away. This one didn’t, so I had it mammogrammed. It turned out to be nothing, but the mammogram found cancer. Very early, very curable cancer.
After my initial biopsy and once the diagnosis had been made, my surgeon re-evaluated the ultrasound results and felt further examination of the original lump was warranted, the lump that led me to a mammogram in the first place. She called and explained that she just wanted to ensure the lump was nothing. She thought perhaps it was something benign, but thought it better to be safe than sorry. She said that in 99 percent of cases, the lumps were a kind of harmless benign tumor. Normally they do not even biopsy these types of tumors. However, considering I already had a known cancer, my risk was higher, so she wanted to be 100 percent certain.
She gave me the name of a radiologist and told me to schedule a needle biopsy. She wanted it done quickly, before my surgery at the end of the week. We were under the gun because we wanted to get my lumpectomy out of the way before Christmas. Otherwise I would likely have to wait until after the first of the year. I called the new doctor’s office and scheduled the biopsy for later that afternoon. I was not nervous. I have never been afraid of needles.
The office was in a strip mall. I have to say, it was the strangest doctor’s office I have ever visited. It looked like part of the strip mall, like it should be a store or something. But I went in and it was just a doctor’s office, albeit with really high ceilings. I remember the day was cool and bright. The sun was shining and even though I was wearing winter clothes, the day felt fresh because of the bright sun. I had the feeling again, walking into that office, that I did not feel like a cancer patient. I think at that point I still thought somewhere down the line I would turn into more of a cancer patient. I would have these moments where I would stop and think to myself, “Hey, I’m still me. I’m just me with cancer.” It was so surreal. I thought I should feel different or look different or something, but certainly not my normal regular self. Even going into the doctor’s office, it just did not feel like I belonged there.
I sat in the waiting room. My name was called a short time later. The fellow who took me back was an ultrasound technician. He led me to the examination area and showed me a dressing room. He handed me a gown and explained that he would search first for the questionable lump. Then the doctor would come in and perform the procedure.
As with most of the doctor’s offices I encountered, the room was freezing. Why is it that public buildings have to have the air conditioning turned up so high? It’s worse in summer. It’s like because it’s hot outside, the inside has to be colder. Or maybe it is because in summer we’re wearing less clothes. I don’t know. All I know is that in most doctor’s offices, I freeze, and this one was no exception.
I lay on the table in the darkened room, my arms above my head, my chest exposed. The technician covered my breast with warm KY goo and began to rub the wand all over, looking for the lumps. He asked me questions. He showed me the screen. He told me what he was looking for. He talked about the weather.
I thought this was weird. When I went in for the initial ultrasound back before I was diagnosed, the technician then had told me I could not talk. But this tech was downright chatty, and he seemed to want to include me in the conversation.
I finally asked him, “Are we allowed to talk?” He looked at me strangely, laughed, and said, “Sure. Why not?” I realized then that my previous technician was probably really just wanted me to shut up. Oh well.
After the technician found what he was looking for, he marked my boob with a Sharpie pen, turned on the light, and left to go get the doctor. I lay there, freezing, ruminating on lying there and freezing. Going to doctors for tests entails a lot of waiting around. Waiting in the waiting room. Waiting in the examination room. Waiting after changing clothes. Waiting with my breast on a mammogram machine. Waiting with slimy goo rapidly turning cold all over my chest.
The doctor came in and introduced himself. A shorter, slight man, he was friendly and talkative, and clearly able to do his job. He looked things over with the technician and the two discussed what they were seeing and where they were planning to biopsy, but he did not forget I was in the room with him, periodically explaining what the two of them were doing.
He finally put down the wand and briefly explained what my surgeon had already told me. She was concerned about the lumps seen on the original ultrasound and wanted a biopsy. They were going to insert a needle into the lumps and extract some of the tissue to analyze and determine whether the cells were cancerous.
To call the needle on the needle biopsy tool a needle is like calling a stalk of corn grass. The thing was huge! After the fact, I would tell people I had a straw biopsy. The doctor told me he would insert the “needle” into my breast. He would then push a button and I would hear a series of pops, and feel pounding. Because the procedure was somewhat invasive, I would be getting a shot to numb the area. Afterwards, he said I would probably feel like I had been punched.
They were not kidding. I felt worse after the needle biopsy than I felt after any procedure during the entire process. Nothing, neither surgery, the MRI, the CAT scan, or radiation left me hurting as much as that damn needle biopsy. How weird is that?
Luckily the biopsy confirmed what my surgeon thought in the first place. The lumps were benign. My surgeon ended up removing them when she went in and got the cancer because it was easy for her to do so, but thank goodness, they were nothing.