So back to work I went after a harrowing two hours of learning that my whole world was likely about to turn upside down. Ever the optimist, I tried to wear a smile while explaining to every person I passed what was going on with my breasts. Needless to say, my focus was not on work, but I plugged along, still hanging on to the hope that this was somehow all a big mistake and things would turn out fine. After all, people get false positives on mammograms all the time, right?
In the middle of lunch, the first call came. My OB/GYN was on the line after her conversation with the radiologist who had performed the ultrasound. She began, “Lisa, I’m really worried. I was worried when you came in the other day, but I was hoping that it would turn out ok. By the way, that guy is a jackass! He was very rude to everyone here, and I don’t want him touching you for the biopsy.” My thoughts were immediately divided between love for this woman, my bulldog protector, and sheer panic. She vowed to call in some favors and try to get me another radiologist stat. After I hung up, I couldn’t hold back the flood any longer. I collapsed in tears and was allowed to go home with my thoughts.
As it turned out, there was a different radiologist on call the next day who came with much more favorable reviews from those in the know. I had regrouped and was prepared for the next step. I had what is known as a core biopsy guided by ultrasound. This was for the breast tumor. First, I was given several shots all around the suspicious area to “numb” the breast. I use this term loosely because only certain spots were numb. The others felt like being stabbed in the boob with an ice pick. Once the shots had time to “work”, the doctor pulled out this device that looked like a weapon in Star Trek. It had a gun-like base with a metal rod protruding from the tip about 6 inches long. The rod was hollow, the better to “core” with. First, the doctor made a small incision. Then he stuck the rod through the incision and found the right spot with the ultrasound. At this point, he said “Now this shouldn’t hurt, but it will be very startling when I pull the trigger, so try to remain still”. Really!?! And I believed this bullshit. Let’s just say that it felt like a harpoon being launched into my breast by someone with a running start. He did this five times and then had the nerve to ask “Can I go for a sixth?” Why not? As long as I can do it to your balls after.
When the harpooning of the breast was over, we moved on to fresh hell. The lymph node under my arm would have to be accessed by needle biopsy. Dr. Wonderful told me that although the breast biopsy can be painful (now he admits it) I shouldn’t be bothered much at all by the underarm biopsy. Now I’m really sweating. Let’s just say that Doc’s credibility is shot all to hell. It hurt like a bitch. And I have a pretty high pain tolerance, so I can’t imagine how squeamish people get through this.
Once the medieval torture session had ended, there was a mad rush to get my tissue across the street to the lab to start the processing in order to have an answer by the next day. Fortunately, I work in the same area as the pathology crew, and I see them on a daily basis. They pulled out all the stops to make things happen quickly for me.
I slept fairly well that night, all considered. I was probably exhausted from the whirlwind of poking, prodding and worrying. The next morning, I walked into the lab with anticipation, my fate likely sitting in a tray on the pathologist’s desk. I poked my head into a doorway where the pathology assistant was sitting. She shot me a knowing glance. “He hasn’t looked at it yet. Give him about 15 minutes and then go back to his office.”
Fifteen minutes seemed like two hours. I walked down the hallway like a convict going to the chair. The pathologist was in his office and invited me to sit down. I could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t good news. “Well, kiddo, it’s definitely cancer. There are tumor cells in both the breast and the underarm node.” The knot in my stomach tightened. “On an ugly scale, your cells are medium-ugly”. The words dribbled out like honey in his slow, proper Charlestonian drawl. “That means that they are moderately differentiated or Grade 2. Actually, that’s a good thing. It tends to be less aggressive. Everything about your tumor cells is middle of the road, except the estrogen and progesterone receptors. I could see those without even putting them under the microscope. I’d say they are 95% positive for both. Again, that’s a good thing. It gives you more treatment options.” Good, hmm. I was thinking of things that I’d call “good” and none of this was right up there. He went on, “Of course, we won’t know your stage until they take out the nodes during surgery and look for more tumor cells.” We talked a while longer and he hugged me.
I went back to work, forever changed. I had come in that morning with a shred of hope that this was all some terrible mistake and that I could just go on with life somehow. I would now be a cancer patient beginning a journey of endless appointments, treatments, and surgeries. It was a lot to stomach for a girl who never even wanted a mammogram.