Christian and I were still reeling as we loaded Felix into the car to go…somewhere. As we talked, we realized that we probably should find someone to watch Felix for the afternoon, since we were going to start meeting with the care team after my biopsy. We called a close friend who agreed to take Felix and headed to her apartment. We drove, talking in disbelief about how quickly the doctors and techs had mobilized that morning. At 8 am, I had been filling out paper for a routine ultrasound. By 9:30, I was getting a mammogram, and people started using the word “cancer”. By 10:30, Dr. C was scheduling a biopsy for 12:30 pm and told the breast surgeon to clear time on her schedule for me after the biopsy.
I spoke to Dr. F briefly in the car – she and I were both in shock. Once I got to our friend’s apartment, I had to figure out, for the first time, how I wanted to break the news. It was a surreal moment, uttering those words. My voice shook, my hands shook, my whole body felt like it was trembling.
After we dropped Felix off, we stopped at a drugstore to pick up a notebook and pen for me to begin taking notes. Quickly, I was switching into crisis management mode. I have never been so thankful for my knowledge and experience as a case manager. We arrived for the biopsy, but first met with K, the nurse patient navigator, who gave us a brief overview of our next steps and answered our immediate questions. I was then taken in for the biopsy.
I think it’s safe to say that having a breast biopsy was not something that was on my schedule for the day. However, as the mother of a two-year-old who rarely gets to spend several hours forced to lie down and attend to no one, the whole biopsy experience would have been wonderful had it not involved, you know, a biopsy. For those fortunate enough not to have experienced this particular mechanism of medical torture, a breast biopsy requires that you lie face-down on a table (unpleasant for most people, but fairly comfortable for a stomach sleeper like myself) with your breast hanging through a hole in the table. At that point, your breast will be sandwiched as tightly as humanly possible in between two legal clamps to stabilize it, and the locations to be biopsied will be identified and marked. Once this is done, the breast tissue will be injected with lidocaine to numb the tissue, and a core excavator, er, hollow needle, will be inserted into the breast tissue to take a sample, which is then sent to pathology to determine whether the tissue is, in fact, cancer. Since I had two separate masses to be biopsied and needed a break between the first and second biopsy, the whole procedure took about two hours.
The biopsy itself was very uncomfortable, but manageable. However, being alone with my thoughts, strapped to a cold table, listening to the whirring of the surgical needle, the chatter of the doctor and radiology tech, was intensely difficult. I couldn’t stop replaying the events of the last few hours in my head. I had so many questions, and I felt so confused, so lost, and so frightened. At one point, I started to cry quietly, and said to the tech “I’m really scared I’m going to die from this.” She didn’t have a very good answer for me. We didn’t have a lot of answers at all, right there.